Spare the rod and spoil the boy child.

January 27, 2005 | 53 comments

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.

The book’s not out yet, but here are some other reviews and references:
Advocates for Single-Sex Schools
The LA Times

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


53 Responses to Spare the rod and spoil the boy child.

  1. Lisa on January 27, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    What is a tar baby?

  2. Greg on January 27, 2005 at 3:57 pm
  3. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 3:57 pm
  4. Julie in Austin on January 27, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    Adam, I think it will be difficult to have this conversation without conflating the differing content of what might be taught in a single-sex church class with the different *methods* that might be used in a single sex class.

    These are important questions. I used to teach junior high, and I thought about this a bit. While it is generally true that most boys display different learning styles than most girls (and I would chalk that up to nurture, not nature), the problem is the minority of each gender that doesn’t. If we start teaching the boys one way and the girls another, the girls who learn better through compitition or whatever will be even more marginalized. As someone who experienced this as a student and who watched other students go through it, I can say that it has serious and sad consequences.

    So, I’m not convinced that it useful to use gender as the determinant of methodology. Far better to teach to the individual.

  5. Melissa on January 27, 2005 at 4:23 pm


    I heard about the Summer’s faux pas (calling this is a faux pas is my generous interpretation) on NPR a few nights ago. Since we were in the middle of the “other thread” I decided not to post about it. The most important point that was made during the show was that we know too little about the biological influences to assume that diffeence in performance can be traced to gender hormones. It seems much more likely that any differences are sociological.

    I obviously haven’t read Sax’s book so I can’t comment specifically on what he says. There are, of course, countless other books that present data that is different from what Sax is trying to argue. See Rosalind Barnett’s book _Same Difference_ and Kimberlee Schauman’s book _Women in Science_ for starters. However, one or two books on either side of this issue do not impress me much. A lot more research needs to be done to be able to say anything at all definitive.

    Having said that, I want to engage your specific questions, Adam. I have taught Relief Society as well as Gospel Doctrine classes and I have always experienced a marked difference. I strongly dislike teaching RS. On the contrary I love teaching GD and have for many years. I have always attributed this to my love of the scriptures and my general antipathy towards lesson manuals.

    I have noticed though that when I teach GD women rarely contribute to the lessons. Men make comments, ask questions, challenge my assumptions, stay after to get references and so forth. I think that women are afraid to speak out in GD because they don’t generally feel as scripturally literate as men. Even when they do feel theologically competent they are highly conscious of how they appear to the men when they make comments in GD. For example, I’ve had women ask me not to call on them when I teach. I’ve never had a man make this request.

    I am quite sure that my particular pedagogical style is disconcerting to LDS women, some of whom think I’m “mean” (a direct quote!) because I’m unafraid to correct someone if in the course of commenting they err in history or doctrine.

    I have never noticed this gender divide in my teaching outside the church. Regardless of what I’ve taught (Hebrew, Philosophy of Religion, Popular Culture, European History) the undergraduate women I’ve taught have always been as confident, outspoken and and eager to participate as the undergraduate men in my classes.

    I have to get back to work—-don’t interpret my silence as disinterest or disgust at whatever comes in response :)

  6. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    I hear ya, Julie, but there’s only so much teaching to the individual that can be done. Some things have to be said and done with the whole class.

    I remember one primary class I taught. I took a high energy approach with lots of bustle, acting out events, creativity, and so on. One boy got kind of left behind. He needed something more sedate and more passive, where he was taking the active role. But I couldn’t do both, not most of the time.

  7. Jonathan Green on January 27, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    Adam, interesting post, but what’s up with the title? I’m hesitant to contribute to a discussion of child education under the rubric of “spare the rod.”

  8. Nate Oman on January 27, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    Melissa: In defense of Summers, he did not say that there were innate biological differences between men and women with regard to scientific apptitude. He said that given the disparities in the profession it might be worth researching. He also, it should be pointed out, stated that he believed that social structures and discrimination were a more important determinant. (As it happens I like Larry Summers a lot and have a great deal of respect for the man. I think that he has been good for Harvard in general and the law school in particular.)

  9. Nate Oman on January 27, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Julie: It doesn’t seem to me that it is feasible to teach to the individual in most situations. It seems to me that a second best solution is to teach to a group that is more or less homogeneous with regard to their learning styles. Given a world of second best solutions, is gender a good signal of such homogeneity? Can we find better signals? Is there some low cost way of identifying and sorting by learning styles themselves? It seems to me that these are the relevant questions.

  10. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ is a universally recognized, controversial, and catchy reference to a certain vision of childrearing. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the boy child’ makes the point that our visions of childrearing may need to make sex distinctions.

  11. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    I didn’t explicitly rule it out earlier, but can I now? I would prefer that we keep our grievances and passions about whether women are or are not oppressed in the church or elsewhere, elsewhere. Thank you.

  12. Derek on January 27, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    They say that boys tend to be more autistic than girls, and girls more empathic than boys. If so, this might explain why boys and girls learn differently.

  13. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    Two additional questions to add to Nate Oman’s #9.
    First, are there any benefits to having students with different educational styles mix?
    Second, if anyone happens to know anything about the subject, are there any benefits to single-sex education besides the ability to teach to different learning styles? [Now that I write it, I realize that Julie has identified one. Segregating by sexes allows you to teach not only in a different way, but also on different topics. This doesn't seem all that useful at school, but it might be at church--the assumption being that men and women have different roles or face different challenges.]

  14. Kristine on January 27, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    Adam, Melissa (whose comment I assume you are referring to with “grievances about whether women are oppressed”) didn’t say anything about whether women are oppressed–she discussed differences of learning and teaching styles in mixed-sex vs. single sex classes in church. Isn’t that what you asked to discuss?

  15. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    I’m making the request no matter what Melissa says. The bulk of her post is as you describe it. But at the end she makes a marked contrast between the timid, self-conscious behavior of Mormon women and “confident, outspoken and and eager” behavior of non-Mormons. Rather than have people defend the honor of Mormon women against the percieved slight, or react to what they feel is an implied suggestion that Mormons oppress women, I prefer to rule the topic out of bounds.

  16. Matt Jacobsen on January 27, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    Rather than simply split kids into two groups, girls and boys, couldn’t we devise some tests that would indicate that a student was a competitive, abstract, visual, etc. type of learner. Even if 80% of the girls or boys all go into one group, at least we’d be accounting for those that don’t fit the typical learning type for their sex. We also wouldn’t be limited to two learning types. Probably a lot of the classroom work could be done without the need to split into these groups too.

    I’m assuming that if we’re smart enough to figure out how best to teach these different types of learners, then we’re also able to classify students into the proper learning group. Even if we make occassional mistakes on the classification, it would be easier to allow a student to switch from, say, the abstract to visual group, than to tell a boy that he learns like a girl and should go sit with them.

  17. Kristine on January 27, 2005 at 5:18 pm

    Adam, it seems to me that what you want is for only people who agree with you about innate gender differences, and who also agree that the Church’s mechanisms for dealing with whatever those differences are is perfect to comment on your thread.

    [Note: this comment has been edited by its author, who regrets her hasty sarcasm]

  18. Matt Jacobsen on January 27, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    You asked for experiences teaching same-sex classes. In a previous ward my wife taught the beehives while I taught the deacons. She always had at least one handout to share with the girls, and the handouts were usually kept in some sort of scrapbook. Good idea. I didn’t feel the need to do this every week, but I did decide to try it out so that the lesson would be more ‘memorable’ for the boys. So I made a simple handout the boys could take home and keep in their room or something, for at least a day. Unfortunately, almost all of them threw the handout in the trash on their way out the door. The one deacon who did not throw his paper away had actually *eaten* a good portion of it during class.

    Of course, if I had been bringing handouts every week, they might have known what to do with them.

  19. Nate Oman on January 27, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    Matt: It seems to me that this is exactly the right way to look at the issue. The question is whether or not it is easy to identify learning types or difficult. If it is difficult, are the costs of using gender as a proxy outweighed by the benefits of (admittedly imperfect) targetting of learning methods. We are thus faced with three emperical questions:

    1. Can we, en mass, identify learning types accurately?
    2. If the answer to (1) is “no,” how good of a proxy is gender?
    3. Assuming that gender is an imperfect proxy, what are the costs of misdirecting learning styles?

  20. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    “Even if we make occassional mistakes on the classification, it would be easier to allow a student to switch from, say, the abstract to visual group, than to tell a boy that he learns like a girl and should go sit with them.”

    True. Life being cruel, however, if learning types do have rough correlation with gender, then some unfortunate lad is going to get sent to the ‘girl’s’ class, even if its not officially called that. Just one more thing to think about, though probably not a reason to not segregate by learning styles.

  21. Steve Evans on January 27, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    Nate, those are excellent questions. Unfortunately, the answer to number one is a definite “no”. There is no answer to number two. So, what we’re really talking about is the cost of misdirected learning styles, but I wonder if that characterization adequately takes into account the socialization of children — the way you’re phrasing it, you make it sound as if education is about nothing more than raw information-transfer.

    And Adam, I think you’re barking after phantom menaces in Melissa’s post, but if you deem it necessary to maintain quality control, you’re the boss.

  22. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    The tar baby is making me cautious, Steve E.

    Also, I think your absolutely right to wonder about socialization and not just education simpliciter. That’s part of what I was getting at in #13.

  23. Nate Oman on January 27, 2005 at 5:48 pm

    Steve: I didn’t mean to take any position at all on the true nature or essence of education. I don’t think that the costs that we assess are simply the costs of failed information transfer. Perhaps girls in all girl schools suffer some debilitating sense of marginalization. That is a cost and we ought to think about it.

    I wonder, however, if we should be as pessmistic about 1 and 2 as you seem to be. My own sense is that there are probably gendered learning differences but that gender is probably a pretty ham fisted singnal. On the other hand, if we are talking about primary and secondary education, we are primarily in the world of ham fisted decision making any way. The real issue it seems to me is not one about absolute accuracy but of comparative accuracy. Suppose that I agree with Melissa or Kristine that gender is just not a particularlly good signal for learning style. This doesn’t actually tell me all that much. What I need to know is whether or not we have other signals that are better.

  24. marta on January 27, 2005 at 5:54 pm

    My experience both as a student and as a very bad primary teacher, mediocre Relief Society Teacher, and barely willing and uninspired co-op preschool teacher and as the parent of bright but learning impaired (challenged?) boys and girls leads me to agree whole-heartedly with Julie’s assessment. My three boys’ learning styles are as much different from each others’ as they are from their two sisters’, whose styles are likewise vastly different.

    And since there is limited time for teaching to the individual in the traditional classroom, the whole class should be taught using as wide a variety of styles as is possible and practical. I have many times, in many classes, asked teachers the same questions over again in several different ways in an attempt to get them to explain things in several different ways, and watched the lightbulbs come on around the room. It only works when the teacher is *able* to explain differently. Many cannot, including me, which is why I am a bad teacher.

  25. Steve Evans on January 27, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    Nate, I have largely come to similar conclusions: we know very little about ways of learning, and certainly not enough to generalize. Gender lines are a quick and easy way to distinguish, but not one that’s been clinically shown more effective, IMHO.

    You’re right that when we talk about education, we’re dealing with a realm where decisions need to be made, but it’s unfortunate that our children (well, yours, I guess) need to be the subject of our experimentation.

  26. annegb on January 27, 2005 at 6:07 pm

    Yeah, I’m nervous about that tar baby, too. I’m not even sure which one it is.

    Marta, I suck at teaching, also. I’m inconsistent at public speaking, sometimes I’m flat out brilliant, and sometimes people look at me with their eyes crossed. Sort of like here. :)

    I think the question was should boys and girls have separate schools, I think?
    Avoiding tar babies, I think no. Life is hard. Perfection will not be attained in this life, not with home schooling, not with public school, nowhere. It’s destined to get worse.

    I think the public school system in America, (with the caveat that I know high school is mostly hell for most of the kids), is a pretty good system. All in all. Well, not all things considered. Since I don’t know everything. But almost.

    Now I’m really going to shake things up: I do not know any normal home schooled kids. I’ve read about them, heard about them, seen them on TV, but the ones I know personally, are seriously socially flawed. In a word, weird. That is my opinion. It could be changed.

  27. Julie in Austin on January 27, 2005 at 6:21 pm

    Melissa wrote, have noticed though that when I teach GD women rarely contribute to the lessons. Men make comments, ask questions, challenge my assumptions, stay after to get references and so forth. I think that women are afraid to speak out in GD because they don’t generally feel as scripturally literate as men. Even when they do feel theologically competent they are highly conscious of how they appear to the men when they make comments in GD.

    This is absolutely not my experience. Women ‘outparticipate’ men 60-40, maybe 70-30 in my class. I wonder what other factors besides gender may account for this. (For example, our ward has a disproportionate number of male tech geeks . . .)

  28. Jeremiah J. on January 27, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    I graduated from an all-male college, so I have a bit of unique knowledge in this area. The biggest differences I saw had to do not with teaching styles and learning styles, but the fact that the men were much more comfortable participating in class when women were not present. Those who teach at and attend women’s colleges say that the phenomenon is even more pronounced there.

    It seems that the idea that men and women really are different, “naturally”, is an idea that you can find in many places, from third wave feminists to social conservatives (despite the anathemas pronounced here and there upon ‘gender essentialism’). The differences in conclusions often come then from judgements about which nature is being repressed. But the real question concerns what *difference* these gender differences actually make for the individual student. Learning to become a man in the full sense (the concern for which might be motivating our interesting in studies about how boys learn) is something quite different from learning like an average male (which is what the Sax book actually seems to be about). The former is of very significant and ultimately spiritual importance. The latter may be only factor among many others which affects how an individual learns. It was probably much more important that I was able to be in small classes with merit scholars at Hampden-Sydney than that I was able to be in classes with men only.

  29. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 6:28 pm

    Much can be learned about homeschooling on this thread:

  30. Kelly Knight on January 27, 2005 at 6:37 pm

    I am the father of five- three boys, two girls. (boy girl boy girl boy)

    My oldest, a boy (19), graduated suma cum laude from a high school class of more than 500 students. I rarely saw him study, he seemed to absorb everything during class. He enjoyed sports, but was never a star athlete, but he was also no a “geek” in the typical sense of the word. On the other hand, I have a standing joke with him that he better be rich when he grows up because any work remotely mechanical will have to be hired out.

    My oldest daughter (17), on the otherhand, is a voracious home-work doer. Very self disciplined, she will come home every day, pull out the books, and get her studies done, even if it takes hours. She is a good student, in the top ten percent of her class. Unlike her brother, she prefers helping me change the brakes on the car to cleaning her room. One day, she and a friend (another girl) pulled the brakes and rotors themselves.

    My second son (15) is a near genious with math (he enjoys manipulating numbers just for something to do), but is really struggling with English and History. I have never seen him do homework either; he claims he does it during class. Yet, he is struggling to keep his GPA above bad. On the other hand, he prefers to tear things apart and put them back together in order to learn how they work.

    My second daughter (13) is a near mirror image of her oldest brother. Straight A’s, athletic. She is also like her older sister and actually volunteers to work at the transmission shop of a member of our ward. She like the grease and the challenge.

    My youngest boy (10) prefers play to pretty much anything else.

    Why do I bring up these examples? It is evident, in my family at least, that there are no norms for learning. Each child has his or her own method of learning that suites them best. It would be impossible to lump learning styles into groups for the purpose of education. While charter schools may be a reasonable alternative, many are based on styles of learning, mass education can never address the issue with any measure of success.

    When all is said and done, I think we need to get our children to do the best they can in whatever school we choose for them, and then supplement that learning at home with options and activities that are more suited to the individual.

  31. Rosalynde Welch on January 27, 2005 at 6:47 pm

    When Sax argues that “girls do more poorly at math because they are bored by the abstractions that fascinate boys,” does he think this will be palatable simply because he suggests that the girls are bored and not stupid?

    I’m skeptical of liberal pedagogical orthodoxies such as “diversity creates a better learning environment,” and I think same-sex schools could be a good option for some children–as long as curriculum and teaching methods were kept rigorously equal. That is, I think the benefits of same-sex education are sociological and not pedagogical, because I am simply not convinced that girls learn differently than boys–or at least I’m not convinced that changes in teaching methods will significantly address those differences. (Perhaps this is because I have always excelled in the analytical and abstract.) Girls will learn geometry if we just give them story problems? Boys will learn to read if we just turn it into a race? Nope, I’m not convinced. Not even almost.

  32. Ivan Wolfe on January 27, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    Rosalynde -

    it’s hard to be convinced when all your paraphrases of Sax’s arguments are straw man versions. Sax is not say we “just” turn it into a race/story problem.

    It’s a bit out of date, but my favorite tome on this Subject is Cristina Hoff Sommers’ “The War against Boys” where she argues much that is wrong with current educational theory is that it is aimed at turning boys into girls (and that boys suffer more from secondary education, given they have lower grades, higher drop out rates and higher suicide rates).

    It seems to me that essentialism may be very, very sparse, but bare biological facts must create some essential differences between the sexes.

    And how come, when people say that women are better with language skills and artistic ability, no one claims its unfair to the men to say so?

  33. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    What are the sociological benefits you see, R. Welch? And how would you apply your insight that the benefits are sociological, not pedagogical, to teaching the 14 year old Sunday School class versus teaching Teachers Quorum or Mia Maids?

  34. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 7:09 pm

    Rosalynde and Ivan:

    I’ve asked people to stay away from debates about whether boys and girls have different learning styles. I’m trying to avoid a thread meltdown. Help me out, will ya?

  35. Ivan Wolfe on January 27, 2005 at 7:09 pm

    Adam -


  36. Derek on January 27, 2005 at 7:21 pm

    Boys will learn to read if we just turn it into a race? Nope, I’m not convinced. Not even almost.

    Rocket science then.

  37. Derek on January 27, 2005 at 7:22 pm

    (oops, sorry)

  38. Deborah on January 27, 2005 at 7:27 pm


    Honest questions. In your original post your queried, “In coed classes, are there ways of teaching that disproportionately turn off one sex?” If you don’t want us to discuss whether (hence leading to *how*) boys and girls learn differently (#35), how do we approach answering this question except in andecdotal generalities? Would you prefer we operate on the assumption of general, notable learning style differences and proceed from there? Are you asking, mostly, for anecdotal accounts of church single sex vs. co-ed teaching experiences to see if we can glean some group wisdom?

  39. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    If you’re answer is “boys and girls do not learn differently,’ fine. Just don’t use this thread to debate the point. Both of the approaches you suggest are fine with me. Or, if you think there are certain sex differences in learning, and you think they’re different than the ones most people recognize, sure, let us know.

  40. Clark Goble on January 27, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Not to get off topic since the thread already has numerous comments. However the issue of biological sex difference related to math isn’t as clear cut as the original post suggests in the quotation of Sax.

    One of my favorite blogs is Mixing Memory which analysis many issues from the perspective of cognitive science. He had three posts on the Summers issue which went through the science which seems to be lost in all this, with a lot of bad assertions being made by both sides. (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3)

  41. Clark Goble on January 27, 2005 at 7:48 pm

    Just to add one point that is more on topic. Even if it turns out that many differences in learning and capabilities are mainly due to socialization, I don’t think that entails we simply ignore those differences. Differences due to socialization are just as much differences as are genetic ones. The focus on genetics can be a red herring.

    The point is discerning how individuals learn and adapting to it. Why they learn in that fashion is useful only up to a point.

    Hopefully that isn’t too controversial. But if you are helping your daughter with calculus and her behavior is the result of subtle and perhaps unrecognized discrimination in elementary school, then I’m not sure how that is helpful. By and large that aspect of her is set. You can modify it a little. But you are probably better off discerning how she does learn and teaching her via those methods.

    On the other hand knowing that most difference with respect to science is due to rather subtle discrimination probably is helpful in the early ages especially. (And here I’ll undercut my earlier comments) I think it especially important with young girls to make them feel good about the potential for doing math and science and having possible careers in those fields. Further I think it very important to allow them to have positive experiences with science to counteract what I feel are opposite experiences in school. I think that still applies for teenagers, but not to the same extent.

  42. Rosalynde Welch on January 27, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    Adam, if the question is not whether or how boys and girls have different learning styles, I’m genuinely mystified as to what we *are* allowed to discuss. If you are asking me to avoid debate, I’ll do my best. I have no great love for thread meltdowns, either.

    Ivan, I may be working with strawmen, but I have taken my quote and examples from Kurtz’s paraphrase of Sax, so take it up with him. I concede that there are physiological differences in the brain functions of men and women; ten years ago one might have made a strong argument against it, but recent (though still very much inconclusive and introductory) research seems to be suggesting that these differences exist. I contend that a) the ramifications of these differences are not well understood, and b) the differences are not likely to be addressed by the kinds of superficial changes that could be introduced into the prevailing pedagogical model. (And I promise valiantly to defend men against charges that they are disadvantaged in the language arts; indeed, my PhD in Renaissance literature provides an entire CV of evidence to the contrary.)

    Adam again: the sociological benefits to same-sex education could include avoiding the preference for or predominance of boys’ participation in classrooms, removing the distraction of the teenage libido, and subduing the cutthroat social dynamics that are often fueled by heterosexual competition. As for church, to be honest, I don’t think any of this applies at church, because I don’t think church classes “teach” in any way resembling the ways the schools “teach”–and I don’t think they’re intended to. Church classes don’t convey new information that must be understood and manipulated; instead, they reinforce and illustrate information that is largely already understood. I have no problem with the same-gender portions of Sunday instruction, but I think they will differ from the integrated Sunday School primarily in the content conveyed, not in the pedagogical manner in which it is conveyed.

  43. Adam Greenwood on January 27, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    “removing the distraction of the teenage libido, and subduing the cutthroat social dynamics that are often fueled by heterosexual competition”

    At least these last two seem like they’d apply to church classes. But my only experience with YM/YW and with teenage Sunday School is as a participant, and literally remember nothing at all about Sunday School as a teenager. Well, that’s not exactly true, but its close. I remember an image of leaning a brown-gray metal chair against a white wall next to a window, with light streaming in. That’s it.

  44. annegb on January 28, 2005 at 12:46 am

    I totally missed those questions at the end. I re-read it after Adam’s comment, which made me realize that I didn’t remember anything either and then I thought, “what is the subject?”

    Well, I think of course we teach differently. Of course we do. If I could see all your faces, I would probably temper my remarks. It’s who you’re looking at. I’m looking at my favorite thing here, myself. Not you.

    Crap, (pardon, anybody from South Africa), I hate when I get confused. Cognitive loss, whatever.

  45. Sheri Lynn on January 28, 2005 at 10:24 am

    Men with normal brains use six times the grey brain matter solving an intellectual problem than women use. Women with normal brains use nine times the white brain matter solving an intellectual problem than men use. That’s a pretty huge difference in brain activity as grey matter is organized, necessarily, mostly in a crumpled 2-dimensional array, while white matter has far more 3-D connectivity.

    Sorry, don’t know how to make it poppable:,10117,12033956-13762,00.html

  46. Mark Martin on January 28, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    After reading a segment today on school reform by Lynn Stoddard, I think he defines the goal of education in a way that transcends the question of same-sex classrooms. Rather than the standard approach of enforcing a curriculum on all students, the mission is to “develop great human beings who are contributors — not burdens — to society.” The focus is helping students foster identity, inquiry, and interaction. Here’s a link, for those interested.

  47. Dan Richards on January 28, 2005 at 10:54 pm

    I have taught both mixed-sex (14-15 year-old Sunday School) and single-sex (Valiant 10-12 primary boys) classes. I vastly preferred the latter class, and although the age difference certainly played a role, I think the absence of girls was more important. My teaching style was to look at the lesson manual to determine what passage of scripture was central to the lesson, and then chuck the manual and read that passage closely with the students. Most of my primary boys struggled to read KJV English initially, but persevered and became quite adept at finding meaning in even convoluted verses. I sensed that students in the mixed-sex class were less willing to risk embarrassment and more prone to mask insecurity with general sillines and misbehavior. Early adolescents are hypersensitive to the presence of the opposite sex, and I think it’s easier to learn something and have the Spirit in the room when the students are not constantly trying to tease / impress / flirt with / attract each other.

  48. Adam Greenwood on January 28, 2005 at 11:40 pm

    I have to think you’re right. On the other hand, I think primary classes work better mixed. At least that’s my experience.

  49. Diebold on January 29, 2005 at 12:56 am

    Assume that the church has a good working system. We meet as male and female together in Sunday School but in seperate classes for YM/YW RS/EQ. We discuss many attributes of one subject: truth. With the men and women together we gain a certain dynamic, when seperate by sexes, we gain a certain focus. Although different, neither role is more important or exculsive of the other. Part of our learning is gaining strength from the other, we must also learn our own strength. This system works and strengthens our community. How do we bring this system to our public and private schools, including post-secondary education?

    Annecdotal aside: In 15 years of education I only experienced one class of single sex education: 6th grade PE. Metal & wood works, cooking and sewing were taught with both male and female students attending. Hard on the teacher, but I loved metal and wood works as much as cooking and sewing class. Perhaps the male students felt differently about cooking and sewing, but I think those life skills are important for men to value.

  50. Sarah on January 30, 2005 at 3:32 am

    I’d be happier if I could find a way to get two of the six kids attending my Primary class their own individual teachers, than I’d be at trading for all girls (or boys) in that age range. We have enough kids in the CTR-7 class (18 on the rolls) to split by gender — for whatever reason they gave me my mix (plus two inactive girls), and gave the other teacher 6 boys (1 less active — comes about once a month; mine haven’t been in at least 3 months) and 4 girls (1 comes every other week or so, as far as I can tell).

    Anyway, I see far more difference between the two and the rest, than between the boys and the girls. Both of the two are female — one whose behavior seems to be at least 2 or 3 years behind the others (difficulty forming complete sentences, except for prayers and other by-rote recitations, etc.), while the other is just demanding in general, up to and including temper tantrums when she isn’t called to give an answer(she also bullies and dominates the attention of the girl who seems to be behind), and there’s no way to address her behavior the way my teaching manuals suggest and also teach a lesson — at least, without making the lesson “this is how to get all of the teacher’s time every week.” I almost envy elementary school teachers — they can spend an hour a week on one child’s behavior, and still have 30 more such hours to get things done with everyone else.

    Now, the boys are more likely to actually hurt each other while goofing around (almost had a good head+doorknob meeting last week, and both have fallen out of their chairs and/or pushed the other out of their chair at least twice in the last month). So there are some differences. ^_^

    Oh, and I did notice that the boys both fold up and rip apart the bookmarks I gave them last week. I’m thinking of having something — possibly beanbags — for them to fidget with. All of them have trouble with fidgeting; I suspect that’s a function of them being 6 years old. The girls just play with their hair (and dresses, and they take off their shoes and put them back on a lot)

    Come to think of it, it’s rather miraculous that we get through lessons at all. Most of the other teachers in our Primary don’t expect to finish a whole lesson, except when teaching the upper end of the Senior Primary.

    More anecdotally… in my experience, YW was always more painful behavior-wise than Sunday School. But, the other girls hated me (they apologized to my mother 4 years after I graduated) in YW… and for whatever reason, they let me do my own thing in Sunday School. In Sunday School you were at least rewarded for being smart and doing the reading and so forth — in YW, it was more or less a great big “talk about ourselves” session, with lots and LOTS of discussion of soccer, rugby, and high school band practices (also track — I was the only non-track team member in my branch’s youth group, for almost a year). My younger sister claims that her YW classes are filled predominantly with girls who talk over the teacher and ignore what the lesson is supposed to be (she comes home with thank you notes for listening in class). Her Sunday School class is smaller, and she never complains about it, but it might just be that it’s not as annoying as YW, or that she expects more of the girls (who are actually her friends).

    I used to dream of going to a womens’ college, the finances never worked out. My predominantly female classes at Ohio State, though, were frustrating; I found college women to be… silly. In elementary school, it was the same way.

  51. annegb on January 30, 2005 at 10:15 am

    I was the first in my family to graduate high school. That was a big deal, a long time ago.

    I went to college for two years, it took me that long to complete my freshman year. I was a grandma of three then. I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process, jumping spiritedly, as you can imagine, into anything we were discussing. I loved college, but I got sick and dropped out, perhaps never to return. Who knows?

    I continue to study and learn, often at the school of hard knocks.

    I agree with Sarah, above, my experience was that the girls were universally silly, giggly, whispering, twirling their hair, fussing with clothes and makeup, while the boys were universally seriously considering their future and education. They knew they had to make their living. I bonded with the boys.

    I don’t know, that was in southern Utah, maybe it was the societal thing of older returned missionaries, vs. Mormon girls just wanting to get married. But maybe if they were separated, they would have taken their education more seriously. Does that break your rule, Adam?

  52. Adam Greenwood on January 31, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    Anne GB,
    you come in under the grandmother-with-three-grandchildren exception.

    You know, comparing primary classes to Sunday School classes for teenagers makes me think that if single-sex education is a good idea for older kids, which I’m inclined to think it may be, its probably not because of learning differences but for Other Reasons.

  53. diebold on February 2, 2005 at 1:44 am

    Other Reasons aside, I again draw to your attention that from puberty on we seperate at church for part of our learning, but before puberty we stay together. Since your post involves teaching “the boy child” I think that to follow the example set up in church, giving our boys extra time or opportunity doesn’t seem necessary until they ripen a little. Then by choice they can get involved in studies that interest them more than they interest girls.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.