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Gender Experts: Boys, girls together may not be best

Source: the Times. Nov22,05.pageA5 By Wendy Plump special to the Times.

The brains of males and females are hard-wired differently - not better or worse, just differently. Ignore this basic fact of life and you put children at risk in school and in the larger social arena, so say two gender specialists and educators.

Olen Kalkus, headmaster of the Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Jeresy believes the reason we have gender issues in education is because people have wanted to pretend that the differences between boys and girls are not there. "That's what we learned in the '60s and '70s, that it's all socialization. Well, it's not true."

Girls hear better than boys, according to recent research, says Kalkus. "If you have a soft-spoken teacher, a boy in the back of a classroom will tune out the lesson, not because he is disagreeable or has attention deficit disorder, but because he often cannot hear his teacher. There is a difference in emotional responses to educational material introduced. "Ask a group of girls to respond to a particularly emotional book and they'll write reams and reams about it", says Kalkus, noting that negative emotions tend to activate complex thought areas in female brains. In boys, negative emotions often trigger the fight or flight response.

"Gender differences determine an adolescent's response to sexuality and drug use", says Dr. Leonard Sax, pediatrician and the author of "Why Gender Matters" published last February. In it, Dr. Sax, who is also executive director of the national Association for Single-Sex Public Education based in Maryland, argues that if you want adolescents to be responsible about education, drugs, sex, even parental relationships, you need to understand how differently they respond to information. One example is that math skills develop earlier in boys, verbal skills earlier in girls. If you teach all students the same subjects but ignore such differences, he said, there will be more girls who don't think they can do calculus and more boys who don't believe they are able to write well. The failings are not in the students, he said, but in the schools that neglect to adjust their teaching to how the genders learn best.

"The brain is a sexual organ… (in the sense that the reproductive hormones affect the tissues of the brain). Brains are also constructed differently in boys and girls", says Dr. Sax. "If you ignore these differences when you are dealing with children, then you will perpetuate gender problems and stereotypes."

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