Home' Teacher : April 2010 Contents 12 TEACHER APRIL 2010
anxiety about how babies are dressed pro -
vides the clue about where we should really
look for explanations. The origin of the
disapproval of babies wearing the wrong
colours is deep disquiet over not knowing
how to treat the baby. Adults interact with
and interpret the behaviour of babies quite
differently according to whether the infant
is male or female.
The classic experiment on the issue was
performed in the 1960s when interactions
were observed between adults and a baby, at
times dressed in pink and called Jane and at
other times dressed in blue and called John.
Adults attempted to soothe baby Jane if she
cried because she was 'upset.' Baby John, on
the other hand, received more stimulating
or rough-and-tumble play and if he cried
he was 'angry.'
Research from developmental and edu-
cational psychology has shown how these
differences in treatment lead directly to dif-
ferences in school attainment.
Starting right at birth, girl and boy
babies are spoken to and interacted with in
quite different ways. The degree of differ-
ence varies from family to family and some
people treat their boys in similar ways to
their girls or vice a versa. Even so, there are
average differences in the type of parent-
ing that babies receive that have profound
effects in later life.
Parents tend to talk to girl babies more,
to show them more affection and, when
they're a little older, to give them more
instructions and make more attempts to
control them. Boys, on the other hand, are
spoken to less, controlled less and shown
less concern and affection.
Australian research has shown that the
differences persist when the babies become
toddlers and pre-schoolers. Girls are more
likely to receive 'authoritative' parent-
ing that is, to receive both high levels of
warmth and affection and lots of socialisa-
tion. They will be expected to learn how to
behave well, but will also have the rules and
expectations, and the reasons behind them,
explained, and will have some say in what
the rules are.
Boys, on the other hand, experience
a mixture of neglectful and authoritar-
ian -- 'Because I say so!' -- parenting. The
common pattern is to leave boys to get on
unguided and unhindered until their behav-
iour becomes too disruptive, dangerous or
unacceptable. At that point, some parents
come down hard, often by using corporal
punishment, but rarely by engaging in a rea-
soned discussion with the child.
Differences in parenting styles are known
to be associated with different outcomes for
children. Those who experience authorita-
tive parenting tend to be socially skilled,
mature, self-confident and responsible, and
to do well in school while mostly staying out
of trouble. Children who have been parented
in an authorita rian manner, or neglectfully,
miss out on many of these advantages.
Inconsistent parenting of the type boys often
receive has been shown to have negative out-
comes for children, who are likely to experi-
ence emotional, behavioural and cognitive
problems as a consequence.
It isn't hard to fit the typical boy and typ-
ical girl stereotypes to these outcomes and
patterns of behaviour. And it's easy to see
how differences in parenting set up boys and
girls for very different school experiences
and subsequent learning outcomes.
British researchers Pam Sammons, Karen
Elliot, Kathy Sylva, Edward Melhuish, Iram
Siraj-Blatchford and Brenda Taggart investi-
gated how home experiences influence edu-
cational outcomes. Their findings provide
more evidence for the argument that gender
differences aren't brain differences but the
result of variations in the ways boys and
girls are treated. Their studies reveal that
parentsdiffer in the 'homelearning environ-
ment' that they provide for their children
and that this predicts how well their chil-
dren do in school.
Children who have parents who play
games with them designed to teach let-
ters and number concepts, sing songs and
regularly read to them, take them to the
library and provide them with art and craft
equipment do well in school. These good
outcomes are experienced regardless of the
family's social class. Children from families
with few resources or low income but who
have been provided with a good home learn-
ing environment are just as likely to do well
at school as children from better-resourced
homes. On the other hand, children from
wealthy homes that don't offer a good learn-
ing environment do poorly in school.
Significantly, Sammons and colleagues
found, boys and girls often differ in the
home learning environment they experi-
ence: girls, they found, are more likely to
experience a good home learning environ-
ment than are boys, and the difference
translates into higher levels of school attain-
ment for girls.
The idea that male and female brains dif-
fer in large and significant ways is intuitively
appealing because we're wedded to the idea
that gender really matters. It is, after all, a
basic part of our own identity. Gender does
matter, but it matters because it determines
how we treat other people, most signifi-
cantly, how we treat children and what we
expect from them.
Those who advocate the necessity for
special 'boys' education' are asking that
boys continue to be treated differently, when
boys behave as they do and do less well than
they could precisely because they've been
subjected to the kinds of male socialisa-
tion I've already described. If we wish to
erase the achievement differences between
boys and girls at school we should take a
long, hard look at what we think boys need.
Doing more of what we're already doing
won't be the answer.
Dr Catherine Scott is a se nior research fel-
low in the area of teaching, learning and
leadership at the Australian Council for
Sammons, P., Elliot, K., Sylva, K.,
Melhuish, E. , Siraj-Blatchford, I. &
Taggart, B. (2004). The impact of pre-
school on young children's cognitive attain-
ments at entry to reception . British Educa-
tion al Research Journal. 30(5): 691-712.
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