Sunday, January 1, 2012

Gender: It's all in your head you know ....

I just finished reading Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender and highly recommend it.  In fact I think it should be required reading for all teachers and parents.  Anyway, I wanted to write about a few highlights from an educational standpoint.

One of the greatest challenges facing science (and computer science) is the lack of female students (and non-white students).  In fact, it is such an issue that many believe it is more data that woman are not capable of mathematics and science due to their brain structure.  In fact, one educational consultant even gave a number of talks to this very topic.  He spoke about a region of the brain known as the 'crockus' -- a region that is four times larger in girls than in boys.  Due to this, girls see the details but not the whole picture whereas the reverse is true for boys.  This is great news from an educational standpoint as it could help us tailor our teaching methods to how the brain is geared for learning.  Great news ... if it was even remotely true.  There is no region known as the crockus, let along having it be at least 4 times the size in girls.  However, sadly, the fact that a consultant is spouting this garbage is true (see here and here).

Sadly, this misinformation is impacting our approach to education and most of it is as much of a crock as the idea of the crockus (I did not make that name up, but couldn't resist the last sentence).

Fine demolishes much of the current tripe that amounts for gender based (perhaps biased is a better choice) neuroscience on the market, instead exploring the socio-cultural roots of our ideas of gender.  For example, the very act of marking your sex on a test (a common occurrence on standardized tests) caused European American women to feel more confident about their verbal abilities (a trait commonly thought of as 'female') and less confident with their math abilities (a skill associated with maleness).  For men, the results were reversed.  The simple act of checking a box can change performance.  As educators we need to be aware of these sociological effects so that we can mitigate them in our classrooms.  For example, if gender must be recorded (to appease the powers that be), place the question at the end of the test.  Or have a proctor track gender by seating plan (which could be correlated with the tests afterwards).

I highly recommend the book and would consider it to be mandatory reading for all educators and parents.  Make it your first New Year's resolution.

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