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Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Differences Between Men and Women

I came across this week's issue of Time Magazine yesterday. The cover article was about the (possible) disparity between men and women's science and math aptitudes. There has been a lot made about this topic ever since Harvard's Lawrence Summers made a controversial statement regarding the fact that there might be inherent differences between men and women's ability when it comes to science and math abilities. I found the article interesting for several different levels. One of the things that is interesting is the fact that the data shows that men have more of the extreme values when it comes to ability in math and science. Yes, they have more of the extremely high scorers, but they also have more of the extremely low scorers. You average these out, you still end up in the middle. The article also talked about the differences in brain functioning between men and women. Some studies have shown that men and women's brain function in very different manners. Women's brains typically seem to be more interconnected throughout the brain - they use all parts of the brain together. Whereas men seem to use their brains much more specifically, and tend to compartmentalize processes within. The other difference in brain functioning mentioned in the article was that men and women's brains mature at different rates, and the optimum time for teaching men and women different skills comes at different stages of their lives. This is interesting because if you are teaching both men and women the same things at the same times, you could be hitting one of the genders with something that their brains are not currently ready to handle, which could turn them off for life to that specific subject. The final point that I found interesting that the article touched upon was the suggestion that gender-separated schools might be in the best interest for students, for many reasons. First, the presence of men and women together in the lower levels of school can be a socially impacting event. From personal experience, I remember "dumbing down" in order to feel normal and interesting to the guys in my school. No guy in junior high and high school liked the smart nerd or the girl that was always doing better than him (those fragile male egos, to throw in just one more stereotype). The other reason for separating the sexes in school referred to the fact if our brains do, in fact, develop at different levels, then separate schools would enable teachers to focus their curriculum separately on those subjects that would be most beneficial to the students at specific ages. It would be interesting to see curriculum developed along these guidelines, and if the results showed that the disparity between achievement in the math and sciences between genders was narrowed by high school graduation time, it would go a long way to showing a point I think is important in more ways than just the gender difference - that the route one takes towards reaching a goal is not nearly as important as whether the goal is met at the end. I wish I had the opportunity to be in on the research of this blossoming area. For now, I will have to be content reading about it.

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