Dr. Sax Visit to Marshall Middle School December 11, 2006 Afternoon Visit Dr. Larry Summers, President of Harvard kicking up a duststorm when he asked, “Why are so few women in computer science, physics, and engineering?” He hypothesized: 1. Discrimination? If there were a lot of well qualified women at universities they would be found in private industry. 2. Lifestyle choices – to earn tenure in physics and biology you must work 70 hours a week. With small children this may be impossible. 3. Innate differences in “intrinsic aptitude” in womens’ ability. Harvard faculty said Summer’s comment was “idiotic” – March 15, 2005. Eventually, he stepped down in 2006. Conservative columnists (Linda Chavez, Cathy Young): boys like trucks, girls like dolls. Conservatives said there are hardwired differences, THEREFORE girls/women can’t do math and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Liberal columnists asserted gender differences are socially constructed. Liberals said there were no differences Both sides were wrong. Sax asserts: 1. Girls at girls schools outperform boys in computer science and physics 2. Girls who graduate from girls’ schools are 6 times more likely to earn degrees in physics and computer science (13% vs. 2% vs. 10%) 3. Mount Holyoke College has graduated more women who have earned Ph.D’s in physics than Harvard and Yale combined. (Bauerlein and Stosky, 2005) National Endowment of the Arts were interested in who reads for leisure among teenagers. The gender gap has widened. Boys have stopped reading altogether. “… a marker of gender identity: girls read, boys don’t” Ernest Hemingway has been replaced by Toni Morrison… perhaps. It’s not just that boys are falling behind girls. They are getting worse. Successful males tend to be disproportionately Asian. The dichotomy of jock vs. geek; you need to be either an athlete or scholar. For white, black and Latino boys academic excellence is now seen as UNMASCULINE. Caring about your school – identifying with your school- has become the ultimate in UNcool. In 1984, women earned 51% of undergraduate computer science degree. In 2005, women are less than 15% of computer science degrees. Gender gaps exist, and they cut both ways. How and why do they arise? There are gender gaps in what kids study: Maybe girls are just better with “people things”; boys better with numbers. Historical Perspective 1800-1850 Public education ended with grammar schools. Girls: 78% of girls’ schools taught physics, chemistry and astronomy. Only 1 in 7 boys schools taught such courses. High schools were mostly private. Most of the textbooks were gender specific (girls’ chemistry books vs. boys’ chemistry book). Boston, 1845 Sports did not exist; high schools competed academically. Results were published in local newspapers. On the Physics exam, girls did twice as well, despite the fact the boys’ schools only sent their best students (54 boys, 150 girls). “Science for ladies; classics for gentlemen.” 2002 “Boys and Girls Learn Differently” Mike Gurian. Pg. 293-294 – Females are believed by the author to be less capable in mathematics. So not true. Sex Differences in Vision Visual System: There are hard wired differences in how men and women see. Between 1972 and 1997, the general consensus was the differences are socially constructed. Parents and peers interact differently based on the gender. These differences are evident on the first day of life. Dad being introduced to baby girl is very different than when being introduced to their son. Girls play pat-a – cake, jump rope and talk with each other – they are facing one another. Boys work, play side to side – don’t look at each other directly. Baron-Cohen and Connelan Studied 100 babies within 24 hours of birth. Spinning mobile and stationary women. The girls looked at the women and the boys look at the mobile. Sex differences in the retina. Rods and cones. Ganglion cells (P (small) cells and M (large) cells) P cells answered the question “What is it? The big M cells, answer the question “Where is it going?” Female retinas are rich in P cells. Male retinas were thicker due to the larger M cells. Why should educators care? What do kindergarteners draw? Girls draw – 3 or 4 people, pets, flower, or trees - facing the viewer (regardless of country) colors expansive to 7 or 8 colors (warm colors: orange, red, yellow green, brown, blue) Girls drawn nouns… Boys draw – action items (rocket blast off) – colors are limited to 4 or 5 – cold colors: blue, gray, black, red. Often no people. How do you get boys interested in drawing? Offer specific suggestions for what to do with various colors and items. Sex Differences in Brain Development 1999 (Harriet Hanlon) study of 224 girls, 284 boys, age 2 months to 16 years. Areas involved in fine motor skills and language were about four years ahead. Areas involved in gross motor skills, spatial memory, and visual targeting: boys were about 4 years ahead. 1903 – Dr. Summers (Germany) Examine the skull of a woman and of a man of the same height. The cranial capacity of the man’s skulls is about 8% larger, on average…Men have much more “empty space”. The female brain has 20% higher blood flow per gram of tissue. Forget about brain advantages or disadvantages ; just accept the differences. Best Practices for Reading and Language Arts Subcortical vs. Cortical –what areas of the brain light up when a child is experiencing several emotions: 5-6 year olds, who were read a sad story, the amygdala was the locus of emotional activity. 12-13 year old girl, emotion moved out of the amygdala to the cerebral cortex – the locus of emotional activity has moved up to the cerebral cortex. 17 year old boys – the difference in brain activity is no different than 5 year olds. How to turn boys off literature Ask, “How would you feel if…” What does work? “Boy friendly books”? Not necessarily. Boys may not like fiction; however, exposure is a must, and teachers could adjust how to teach fiction to make it more palatable. Great literature is not just for girls. Jane Eyre must be taught differently to girls and boys. Boys are introduced to the book by picking it up in the middle of the book. That is where the action is. Go backwards from there. Must be prepared to accept aggressive (violent) and transgressive responses. Gender-aware teaching can break down gender stereotypes.
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