Monday, March 3, 2008

Girls as justification for social classrooms

In the cover story of yesterday's New York Times Magazine, which asks whether we should teach girls and boys separately, we see yet another education professional repeating one of the most commonly cited justifications for social classrooms:  the purported needs of girls.  David Chadwell, the coordinator of Single Gender Initiatives at the South Carolina Department of Education, says that girl-only classrooms should focus on "the connections girls have (a) with the content, (b) with each other and (c) with the teacher."  He recommends "a lot of meeting in circles, where every girl can share something from her own life that relates to the content in class."

Such unstructured, personal-sharing sessions serve left-brain girls no better than left-brain boys. Left-brainers of both genders tend to find other people's personal connections to classroom lesson content far less interesting than the content itself, and the shyer, more private ones are loathe to offer up their own personal connections.

If we are going to assign classrooms based on Chadwell's considerations, it might make more sense to partition children not by gender, but by how right- or left-brained they are.

Except that Chadwell's recommendations for boys are also right-brained--in a different way. Citing boys' energy levels, he advocates a kind of  hands-on learning that often bores and disengages the abstract, analytical thinker--for example "do[ing] physical representations of number lines."  Left-brain math buffs quickly grasp the symbolic number line representation offered by traditional textbooks. The more energetic of them--boys and girls alike--would much rather spend the time it takes to get in line and act out a number line in the classroom instead running around for a few extra minutes at recess.

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