Expert says boys, girls learn differently
Vianna Davila, San Antonio Express-News, 21 January 2004

Boys will be boys, girls will be girls, and according to an expert on the subject, that's one of the most important lessons today's teachers can learn.

Leonard Sax, founder and executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, spoke to an assembly of San Antonio School District middle school teachers about the different ways boys and girls learn on Jan. 8 at the district's Campus Leadership Center.

Sax also is a family physician and holds a Ph.D. in psychology. He cited his own research and experience, as well as the studies of countless others, as reasons why he thinks single-gender education is more beneficial to both sexes than coed instruction.

"Co-education reinforces gender stereotypes," Sax said. "Single-sex classrooms break down gender stereotypes."

For Sax, the key to a successful single-sex environment is remembering that there is no difference between what girls and boys do, but there is a difference in how they do it.

The lecture was SASD's first professional-development seminar on the subject since district leadership initiated single-sex classes at 12 of its 17 middle schools this past August.

Peggy Stark is executive director of SASD Non-Traditional Campuses & Special Programs. Her office organized the event.

"We recognize that there are differences in learning styles between girls and guys. We feel like that if we can make our teachers more aware of those, they can incorporate them into their own teaching styles. The students can benefit, and there will be an increase in their academic performances," Stark said.

Sax contends that an educator's inability to identify the differences between male and female learning styles causes inadequate education for both genders and increases the incidence of attention deficit disorder misdiagnoses in boys.

What some teachers see as inattention and laziness in boys actually is a simple distinction in physiology - boys do not hear as well as girls, Sax said.

"The boy's failure to pay attention may be that the teacher does not talk loud enough," he said.

The list of differences only gets longer, according to Sax.

Research shows that boys and girls see differently. The female eye is built to identify an object; the male eye is built to identify the location of an object. This could explain why a sample of children's drawings from across the world typically produces the same results: girls draw first-person pictures, where people face forward, and boys draw objects that move, like cars.

Studies also show that the brain's cerebral cortex controls a teenage female's ability to think and feel. In males, these two abilities are located in completely different parts of the brain, perhaps explaining why boys are less inclined to talk about emotions.

The worst thing a teacher can do, Sax said, is ask a male student "How would you feel if. . . .".

Since boys generally do better in high-stress environments, a teacher with an all-male classroom must be comfortable getting in their faces, keeping them engaged, he said.

Mindy Nunez attended Sax's talk and teaches a sixth-grade single-sex language arts and social studies class at Longfellow Middle School.

"I have referred so many boys (for ADD)," Nunez said. "I didn't realize I had to be loud (with them)."

The evidence for pursuing single-sex education, Sax emphasized, is not evidence for pursuing gender inequality.

"We certainly don't want to go back to what we used to have in this country, where girls were assigned to do home ed and boys were assigned to do woodworking just because of their sex," he said. "We see single-sex education as a way of broadening educational horizons."

Stark said SASD plans another professional-development seminar on single-sex education in April.

For more information about single-sex education, go to singlesexschools.org.

Copyright 2004 San Antonio Express-News. All Rights Reserved.

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