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Expert: Boys, girls see the world differently

By Scott Elliott

Dayton Daily News

MIAMI TWP., MONTGOMERY COUNTY | The 6-year-old girl's picture is quite detailed, showing herself skipping rope in a red shirt next to a yellow flower, staring out from the page with a bright smile as a friend holds a balloon.

The boy's picture is different. A huge blue and black truck takes up most of the page, speeding down a road under a blue sky with no people in view.

The differences are not in the eye of the beholder — they are in the eye of the artist.

That's what Leonard Sax, a doctor and psychologist who is an expert in gender differences, told teachers from Dayton's new Charity Adams Earley Academy for Girls in a training session Wednesday at Cox Arboretum.

Sax's book, Why Gender Matters, cites research that shows the eyes of young girls are thicker with cells that collect information about texture and color. Boys' eyes are thicker with cells that follow motion and direction.

So when a young girl draws a picture, she will most often focus on details — especially people, pets and flowers — while using red, orange, yellow, green, beige and brown colors.

Boys like to depict motion, often drawing speeding vehicles or action scenes and emphasizing the colors black, gray, silver and blue.

Their eyes don't stay that way. By age 30, gender differences are very small, Sax said. The gap is widest at age 11.

For teachers and parents, understanding the sequence of brain development and how it differs for boys and girls can help them learn more effectively.

Sax said he imagines a typical teacher might look at the boy's truck drawing and ask "where are the people?"

"Boys figure out quickly they are not drawing the right way," Sax said. "At free time, girls will sit and draw while the boys run around throwing things."

This is one reason Sax advocates separate schools for boys and girls.

There are other good reasons — another example he cited was a study that suggests girls learn better in a 75-degree room while boys do best at 69 degrees.

"That isn't something you can account for just with teacher training," Sax said.

Dayton has decided to experiment with the single-gender concept. The Earley Academy opens next month and a boys-only school is planned for 2006.

Superintendent Percy Mack said the district will even try single-gender classrooms at Edison Elementary School because the enrollment there is heavily tilted toward boys.

Advocates of equality in education have long fought separating students — whether by race, gender or disability — out of fear that the quality of instruction would be unequal. But single-sex schools are a growing trend. Sax's Web site counts at least 161 single-gender public schools in the United States, up from four schools in just eight years.

Earley Academy Principal Peggy Burks said she fears attention paid to the problems of boys may overshadow the obstacles to learning for girls.

"When I think back on my 35 years of teaching, all my memories are wrapped up with little boys," she said. "In actuality, we've been ignoring the girls."

Single-gender schools can reduce pressures that discourage learning, Sax said.

Can boys learn to draw with texture and color? Sure, Sax said, pointing to Picasso, Monet and DaVinci. What did those masters have in common?

"They all went to boys schools," Sax said.

For more information, go to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education Web site at singlesexschools.org.

Contact Scott Elliott at 225-2485.

 
 
 
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