Diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are on the rise, most notably amongst boys – something Dr Sax partly ascribes to an approach to child-rearing that is ‘gender-neutral’. Perhaps by wilfully ignoring the differences between boys and girls we are not educating them as well as we could be.
There is gathering evidence that, on average, boys and girls process all sorts of stimuli in quite different ways. There is evidence for hemispheric differences, with male brains being more compartmentalised, female brains better integrated.
Perhaps as a result, girls are better at interpreting facial expressions and talking about emotions. Boys, on the other hand, take more risks, are more likely to over-estimate their own ability and are generally more attracted to violence and conflict.
Apart from that, boys and girls’ learning styles are different, with girls tending to ask for help while boys use the teacher as a last resort. Similarly, the two sexes respond to different motivational techniques – boys responding much better to time-constrained tasks and pressure situations than girls.
Dr Sax also points out that attributing the differences between boys and girls to the idea that girls mature quicker than boys is too simplistic. Certainly linguistic abilities develop more quickly in girls, but it is the spatial abilities that develop more quickly in boys.
This not a strong enough argument for single-sex education (not something it seems Dr Sax is advocating), but certainly these are differences that need to be understood by educators. Acceptance of these findings is particularly important in a society where to talk about the average psychological differences between boys and girls can be extremely controversial.
Zenit (Article on Dr Sax)
Dr Leonard Sax’s website
Published: 11 July 2005