There would be nothing wrong with teachers diagnosing their students as long as they had the trainingand the resources, and adequate timeto distinguish the boy with ADD from the boy who just doesn't hear as well as most girls do. But after talking to dozens of teachers in our county, I didn't find one who was aware of the studies showing that girls hear better than boys.
"You should write a book, Dr. Sax," one of these parents told me. "Write a book so that teachers know about the differences in how girls and boys hear."
I allowed myself a patronizing smile. "I'm sure that there must already be dozens of such books for teachers, and for parents," I said.
"There aren't," she said.
"I'll find some for you," I said.
That conversation took place about seven years ago. Since then I've read lots of popular books about differences between girls and boys. And guess what. That mom was right.
Not only do most of the books currently in print about girls and boys fail to state the basic facts about innate differences between the sexes, many of them promote a bizarre form of political correctness, suggesting that it is somehow chauvinistic even to hint that any innate differences exist between female and male. A tenured professor at Brown University recently published a book in which she claims that the division of the human race into two sexes, female and male, is an artificial invention of our culture. "Nature really offers us more than two sexes," she claims, adding, "Our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits." The decision to "label" a child as a girl or a boy is "a social decision," according to this expert. We should not label any child as being either a girl or a boy, this professor proclaimed. "There is no either/or. Rather, there are shades of difference." This book received courteous mention in the New York Times and the Washington Post. America's most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, praised the author for her "careful and insightful" approach to gender.
I soon assembled a small library of best-selling books that counsel parents that the best child-rearing is gender-neutral child-rearing. These books tell parents that true virtue is to be found in training your child to play with toys traditionally associated with the opposite sex. You should buy dolls for your son, to teach him how to nurture. You should buy an Erector set for your daughter. The underlying assumptionsthat giving dolls to boys will cause boys to become more nurturing, or that giving girls Erector sets will improve girls' spatial relations skillsare never questioned. In fact, no scientific evidence exists to support the claim that gender-neutral child-rearing has any measurable benefit, regardless of which parameter you measure.
On the same bookshelf you can find books that do affirm the existence of innate differences in how girls and boys learn. But what books! Books with titles like The Wonder of Boys and Girls Will Be Girls promote antiquated and inaccurate gender stereotypes. "Girls are more emotional than boys." "Boys have a brain-based advantage when it comes to learning math." As we'll see, those familiar notions turn out to be false.
On one hand, you have books claiming that there are no innate differences between girls and boys, and that anybody who thinks otherwise is a reactionary stuck in the 1950s. On the other, you have books affirming innate differences between girls and boysbut these authors interpret these differences in a manner which reinforces gender stereotypes.
These books have only one thing in common. They are based less on fact, and more on their authors' personal beliefs or political agendaeither to deny innate sex differences, or to use sex differences in child development as a justification for maintaining traditional sex roles.
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