Do boys and girls think differently? Are their brains actually different? Leonard Sax, in Why Gender Matters, says yes to both. Much of our society will recoil at this idea; we’ve all been brought up to believe the blank slate theory. But Sax has some compelling things to say about why so many boys are diagnosed as ADHD and put on drugs. I’m certain that too many kids are on that train and if for no other reason than this, Sax deserves a thorough hearing. So I’ll have a few posts on his book.
Most germane right now with respect to EA are his thoughts on teaching physics to boys and girls. On pages 255-257, Sax says that in the 1800’s more women studied physics than men and he attributes that to the teaching methods. He claims that in the 1800’s the focus was on understanding, while today the emphasis is on skateboards, bullets, and bombs. He doesn’t explicitly say so but my take is that he’s saying that today’s physics focus on what happens and formulae can provide those answers. The why isn’t answered with formulae and he says that girls don’t find simply plugging numbers into formulae very satisfying.
Well, I’m a male who never found plugging numbers in a formula satisfying. I found it to be a necessary evil throughout my engineering education (and almost intolerable in physics). I’m postulating that there is a subset of boys for whom manipulating formulae is interesting and they are very good at it. They excel in “physics” and the girls and the rest of the boys tend not to. My experiences teaching males and females is that there’s a near universal attraction to delivering understanding. So the formulae oriented methodology may be blocking out many boys as well as lots of girls.
At EA we strive for understanding, arrived at intuitively within a clear context. I confess that up to now I haven’t been alert to gender differences in my classes and have not taken any such thing into account in our curriculum. My observation to date is the both genders are able to grasp business and economics far younger than is commonly thought by using the approach above. But henceforth I’ll be on the look out, and should I see gender impacts, will look for ways to make our curriculum better suited for both genders.
Regardless, I’m appreciative to Sax for opening this new window for me.