Home' Teacher : April 2010 Contents PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT 11
Psychologists who study attitudes have discovered that the most dif-
ficult attitudes to change are those that are connected to peoples' iden-
tities. Absolutely central to identity is gender. What's the first thing
we want to know about a new baby? Is it a boy or a girl? Parents are
careful to dress their babies in particular ways to signal their baby's
gender to the world, and if they dress their infant in the 'wrong' col-
our, others are quick to let them know that they strongly disapprove.
It's not surprising when it comes to attitudes to gender, then, that
there are hot debates over the nature of men and women, and boys
and girls, and that these continue despite some decades of evidence
and argument that gender differences are small and often not par-
ticularly significa nt. Differences that do exist often disappear where
boys and girls are treated the same. An example is the gap in attain-
ment in mathematics between boys and girls, which doesn't occur in
societies characterised by more gender equality than our own, for
example in Scandinavia.
Despite this, maintaining traditional gender beliefs is certainly the
case in education, where supposed differences between boys and girls
are regularly rediscovered, and where such rediscoveries usually lead
to calls for boys to be educated differently.
The motivation for the search for the right way to educate boys is the
continuing underperformance of a significant subgroup of boys, and
note, this is a subgroup, not all boys. The trouble, because gender is so
significant for personal identity, is that we're particularly susceptible
to arguments that there are fundamental, biological differences in, say,
'male' and 'female' brains and that these explain variations in educa-
tional achievement. We're also susceptible to arguments that boys have
a different 'learning style' that requires different teaching approaches.
The real reason why a significant group of boys, and also many
girls, underperform at school doesn't lie in biology, and people's
-- and girls
FORGET THE IDEA OF MALE AND FEMALE BRAINS; IT'S
THE DIFFERENT WAYS WE TREAT BOYS AND GIRLS
THAT LEAD TO DIFFERENCES IN SCHOOL ATTAINMENT,
SAYS CATHERINE SCOTT.
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