Monday, March 12, 2012

Déa Vu All Over Again — And the More Things Change, the More . . . .

The more things change the more things stay the same. You've heard it before, here on IWO — http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=5630711609871539058&postID=4861801994654717421   And you've heard it in many theres. So much more melodious in French. "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose ..."  

The learning is simple. In the big picture of nurture vs. nature, nothing much changes. Maybe that's the underlying reason I'm dismissive of new stuff about gender differences: old stuff with a different tilt. It's not news that culture influences people's behavior.

The recent research report about gender differences in science and math http://bigthink.com/ideas/gender-differences-in-science-and-math-abilities-not-in-this-matrilineal-society" concludes that in patrilineal societys, men's performance on spatial tasks is better than women's. In matrilineal societys, the performance of men and women is the same.  The study was carried out in India.

 In the US, the "old" reasons given for the finding that girls performed less well on science and math than boys were:

• Navigating spatial relationships is the only gender difference apparent at birth. Infant boys do it better than girls. 
• Boys continue to improve because they use the skill more than girls. E.g. baseball and other sports as very young children, Leggos, skooters, bikes, wagons, racecars and tracks, kites etc. Young girls are often playing with dolls, paper and other, art projects, and are less interested in toys and activities highly connected to spatial relationships.
• Culturally, there was a time when teachers and parents opined that girls weren't naturally good at math and science. Girls bought it and stuck with that belief.

Efforts were made to turn the tide, but so far not much noticeable progress. I'm thinking it's a good idea to encourage kids to try everything and anything and see if they enjoy it or not: whether it's peas, carrots, or broccoli — or numbers, letters, scooters or dolls, Leggos or puzzles, crayons or clay, iphone apps or fishing.

The exposure to experience isn't a one time deal. It's ongoing. Big transitions are at 2, 5, 11 or 12 and 15. Same issues of cultural influence pressing hard. Girls in particular need to be shepherded through these potentially ambivalent times. What's the most fun for me? What am I good at? Can I get better at things I like, but aren't so good at?  Do I like the same things as my brother — or not? Do I hate math or just think I do because my best friend does? Will boys still like me if I'm really smart? Or if I'm a jock? Do I care? Should I care?

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