Larry Summers and innate sex differences are getting all the press lately. But I’m taking this post in a different direction.
In the Corner, Stanley Kurtz profiles a new book by one Leonard Sax called Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences.
Sax’s counterintuitive thesis is that downplaying sex differences promotes them. Says Kurtz,
“Sax is sharply critical of social constructionism. He hates the idea of androgynous child rearing and argues that there are powerful and biologically based rooted sex differences that do influence learning. On the other hand, Sax thinks the best way to get beyond stereotypes is to first acknowledge the power of real sex differences. Yes, says Sax, girls do more poorly at math because they are bored by the abstractions that fascinate boys. According to Sax, that difference is rooted in brain biology. But Sax says that if you teach girls math using concrete examples, they’ll do just as well as boys. Similarly, if you teach boys using languages or arts by using their strong spacial perception abilities, or their love of competition, boys will do much better at these subjects than they usually do. . . . The best way to raise your son to be a man who is caring and nurturing, says Sax, is to first of all let him be a boy. The best way to produce a female mathematician is first of all let her be a girl.”
Kurtz agrees: “Mature men and women do draw on qualities that stereotypically belong to the opposite sex. But the easiest way to get them to that point is to first make them confident about being a man or a woman.”
Other Sax arguments that promise to be interesting: children are less happy and confident in part because of lack of clear roles for forming identities as men and women. Also, a new take on ADD.
I would not be surprised if Sax had a point. Take my interest in literature, for instance. It started with Science Fiction, mainly old Heinlein. Starship Troopers and stuff like that. In middle school I discovered Tolkien–
And before the Sun had fallen far from the noon out of the East there came a great Eagle flying, and he bore tidings beyond hope from the Lords of the West, crying:
‘Sing now ye people of Minas Anor
for the realm of Sauron is ended for ever
and the Dark Tower is thrown down.
Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Guard
for your watch hath not been in vain,
and the Black Gate is broken,
and your King hath passed through,
and he is victorious. ‘
To put it crudely, I partly loved Tolkien because I found my “love of competition” in it along with good literary value. That was one step. In the next step I read the Odyssey as a high school freshman. I was overcome with something in it, a certain flavor of bright skies over the wine-dark sea and hot, juicy beef ripped from the spit and physicality, especially in violence, and Ulysses besting the suitors. It would not be far off to say that I’ve never looked back. I read all kinds of literature now, sometimes even good literature; I think it’s made me more understanding and more empathetic.
Now I realize this is an anecdote, whose plural is not data. I have not yet read the book–it hasn’t come out yet–and even if I had I’d be in no real position to evaluate it. I’ll probably just have to go on thinking there might be something to it because it fits with my preconceptions. Libenter homines id quod volunt credunt:
Men gladly believe that which they wish for.
Still, I’m interested in what light you can shed. Per the Faulconer-Huff proposal, let me say that I am not interested in (1) arguing about whether there are deeply rooted differences between men and women at all, (2) whether those differences are biological or not and, above all, (3) whether or not church doctrine teaches us that men are providers and priesthood holders and women are nurturers and homemakers. A recent thread has turned into a tar baby in addressing all those points. If anyone is wanting to tangle with the tar baby, they’re welcome to do it there. [One caveat: Sax's book is mainly about deeply-rooted learning differences between boys and girls. If anyone has good rebuttal data, go ahead and link to it or redact it for us.]
Here’s the discussion that would be very informative to me. What are the costs and benefits of single-sex education from an LDS perspective? Does anyone have any experience teaching single-sex church classes versus coed church classes. What were the differences? In a single-sex church class, YM or YW, say, are there ways of tailoring the teaching to the sex? In coed classes, are there ways of teaching that disproportionately turn off one sex?
But really, I’m interested in everything that this post brings to mind, just as long as it isn’t the tar baby.
Let’s not also turn this into a forum about whether women are oppressed in the church or society doesn’t respect men enough and all that. Thanks