Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stupid Lies, And Why They Matter

Over here is an article that makes steam shoot from my ears.

You've heard or read about the claims Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett discuss (by which I mean, debunk wholly) in this article: boys are hardwired differently than girls; boys have different brains that girls, so we need to educate boys in some different way than we do girls, boys are good at math and science, girls like words and, you know, fuzzy stuff, like, well, housekeeping, and nursing, and taking care of the little ones, and all that shit we don't actually pay much for.

Half a dozen or really, what is it now, dozens? of writers and pseudo-scientests have been happy to crank out books in the past few years claiming to provide scientific evidence that the male brain is, indeed, in fact, really different from the female brain. Honest!

But their scientific-sounding lingo turns out to be not especially rigorous. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2002 found there were no gender differences in the size of the corpus callosum, and recent studies using MRI images agree. Sax's argument that "boys have a brain-based advantage when it comes to learning math" is based on a very small study in which 19 participants looked either at faces or at a small white circle, while the blood flow in their brains was measured by an MRI. The data from the study, however, found so much variation among individuals that it would be meaningless to draw bigger conclusions about boys or girls as a group.

The SAT scores themselves are misleading as well. Though boys outnumber girls among top scorers, they also outnumber girls among the lowest scorers. The average score is nearly identical. And major new research finds that the gap at the top end is narrowing each year.
It's also not clear what very high SAT scores mean in practical terms. An exhaustive 2006 review of major studies, funded by the National Academy of Sciences, indicates no relationship between scoring in the upper tier of ability and eventual success in math or science careers.

Despite these findings, and others that disprove every one of these "studies" (most aren't studies at all; most are wishful thinking dressed up like studies), what's happening, here in the real world?

South Carolina, for instance, aims to have sex-segregated classrooms available in public schools for all children in five years, and gender difference theories are starting to drive curriculum. Teachers are allowing girls to evaluate cosmetics for science projects and assigning action novels for boys to read.

Gurian [one of these tools] has exploited his ideas with great success as an educational consultant, claiming to have trained 30,000 teachers in 1,500 schools. Sax [another one] runs a lobbying group for more single-sex public schools. When we gave a speech at a national teachers meeting, one private-school teacher in the audience stood up to say that his headmaster was revamping the entire curriculum based on Sax's theories of gender difference.

Which are the main aims this sort is after -- changing the curriculum to fit their agenda; and moving to sexual segregation in the schools.

Why would they want these things? Well, take a look at their funding, and who is behind them: right-wing thinktanks, mainly. It's the right-wing and fundamentalists who supoort them. No shock that S. Carolina is embracing them. We'll get sexually segregated classrooms, and do you suppose these will be separate but equal? Do you think girls will be taught math with the same rigor and determination as the boys? Or do you reckon we'll get told that girls can't handle and don't like math anyway, and so they'll just study more poetry instead? And home ec, because that's what girls like anyway, see, and here's studies to prove it?

And, in twenty years, when girls can't get into medical school or become engineers, it will be because, well, they can't do the math. Not the university's fault that's so, is it?

Besides! Girls don't want to be engineers! Girls like taking care of babies! And being wives! Everyone knows that!

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