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Why Don`t They Hear What I Say?

Did others see David Brooks`s The Gender Gap at School in the Sunday Times? I know FairerScience.org friend Jo Sanders did, because I read her response in Wednesday`s paper. For those who missed it, Brooks`s column alerts us to the "problem" that "in most classrooms boys and girls are taught the same books in the same ways." He proposes this as the reason that girls are performing more strongly as readers than boys are.

"Young boys are compelled to sit still in schools that have sacrificed recess for test prep. Many are told in a thousand subtle ways they are not really good students. They are sent home with these new-wave young adult problem novels, which all seem to be about introspectively morose young women whose parents are either suicidal drug addicts or fatally ill manic depressives."

Besides being a vast overgeneralization and oversimplification, Brooks also forgot to bring in good science in favor for sensationalizing rhetoric, i.e., "boys are compelled to sit still".

My first thought was to replay the Frustrating Adventures of Dr. X!. You know: write yet another letter explaining yet again that the differences between individual girls and between individual boys is much, much greater than differences between the average girl and the average boy. I was going to remind people (yet again) that making decisions about individual kids based on the average kid is just stupid (and bad for the kid).

We know that there are differences between genders, just as we know that the concept of an "average" person is a statistical construction and doesn`t mean that every man you meet will match the average male, nor every woman match the average female. We also know that the differences that exist are caused by a multiplicity of factors, from genetics to other biological factors to cultural influences. For those of you interested in a more complete critique of Brooks`s piece, check out David Brooks, Cognitive Neuroscientist at Language Log.

I`d like to send Brooks a copy of Why Don`t they hear what I say? But I wonder: Would he be unable to connect because the main character is a woman? And would the subtleties of the plot, also lacking violence, bore him too much?


Brooks actually captured my attention in his commentary about gender differences in learning. But his comment that consciousness raising was useless seemed ironic. Why would he bother writing this article if he really believed that?

However, I do agree with him that our classrooms need improvements. To this end, we must build on research that shows the benefits of instructional approaches that actively involve students. Electronic games (formerly the domain of boys and men) offer unique opportunities to support learning in a way that appeals to a range of learning styles. These electronic opportunites for learning were discussed at a recent conference called Games + Learning + Society(www.glsconference.org).

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