After watching my granddaughter play volleyball at a tournament, I concluded that girls compete differently than boys (Schlagbyte, May 23, 2005). When girls play competitive sports, I get the sense of more joyful, expressive and supportive camaraderie. When I watch my grandsons compete, I sense they play on a team but compete individually— they all want to be the MVP.
Are boys and girls wired differently? There is a growing sentiment among neuroscientists that girls’ and boys’ brains are, indeed, wired differently. Using sophisticated imaging techniques (MRI and PET scans), brain researchers found that female brains have more active frontal lobes, stronger connections between brain hemispheres, and language centers that mature earlier than their male counterparts.
These findings have led to a recent movement in some schools to separate boys and girls in the classroom. Part of this is driven by the push toward standardized competitive exams. School budgets are now supported on the basis of these performance indicators. When school administrators looked at test results, they saw that boys are more likely to score lower than girls are. They also discovered that 70% of the children diagnosed with learning disabilities are boys. The theory is that separating boys and girls and teaching to their strengths differently will maximize their potential and close the educational gender gap.
Separating boys and girls during childhood, however, may make it more difficult for us to live together later on. Sooner or later, we have to discover how to learn and grow together anyway, so let’s start earlier not later.
As a rule, I get queasy whenever we put people in categories that reinforce stereotypes. But if such neurological, hormonal and cognitive differences are real — if boys don’t see or hear as well as girls do — maybe we can find innovative ways to present visual and auditory material that best promote learning for both sexes.