Rosalind Barnett: Taking Gender Out of the Classroom

Truth About Boys and Girls, Rosalind Barnett“Claims of large gender differences are so pervasive and oft-repeated that they are assumed to be true. However, scores of peer-reviewed studies suggest that these claims are invalid. The fact that they are repeated over and over doesn’t make them true.”—Rosalind Barnett

The quote above is from a recent interview with Rosalind Barnett, coauthor of the forthcoming The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children, published in The Mark.

In the interview Barnett challenges those who argue that there are innate differences in the cognitive abilities of boys and girls and in the way they learn. She suggests that the differences that do emerge are a result of learned behavior and that the disparities between boys and girls in the classroom can be minimized by teachers being aware of their own gender stereotypes. Barnett says:

To date, there is scant evidence for innate gender differences of any magnitude on a range of cognitive and other abilities. Moreover, when gender differences are reported, they are due largely to differential and therefore modifiable (e.g., learning, encouragement, specific training). Thus, evidence of a gender difference is not necessarily evidence that the difference in question is innate.

Finally, teachers need to look beyond stereotypes and view each child as an individual. Some boys gravitate toward math, and so do some girls. Some girls excel in English, as do some boys. Some boys are athletic and so are some girls. Some girls prefer quiet activities and so do some boys.

Even if we admit that there are innate differences it should not lead to separating boys and girls in the classroom. Barnett responds:

Let’s say there are such differences. Is the argument then that homogeneity is better than heterogeneity? We’ve fought lots of battles to have heterogeneous classes, with respect to race and socioeconomic status and so forth – so why would you now introduce the notion that we should have homogeneity with respect to gender in learning environments? Why would this form of segregation be deemed beneficial when other forms of segregation are not? What’s the rationale? Wouldn’t learning be enhanced if children who learned one way were interacting with children who learned a different way?

If homogeneity is good, then is the argument that we should then re-segregate classes by race?

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