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Reviews of Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax

Why Gender Matters

What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences

by Leonard Sax

Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax X
Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2005, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2006, 336 pages

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Book Summary

Dr. Sax explores the psychological and physiological differences between boys and girls, and the role these differences play in how children are raised, disciplined, and educated.

Are boys and girls really that different? Twenty years ago, doctors and researchers didn’t think so. Back then, most experts believed that differences in how girls and boys behave are mainly due to differences in how they were treated by their parents, teachers, and friends.

It's hard to cling to that belief today. An avalanche of research over the past twenty years has shown that sex differences are more significant and profound than anybody guessed. Sex differences are real, biologically programmed, and important to how children are raised, disciplined, and educated.

In Why Gender Matters, psychologist and family physician Dr. Leonard Sax leads parents through the mystifying world of gender differences by explaining the biologically different ways in which children think, feel, and act. He addresses a host of issues, including discipline, learning, risk taking, aggression, sex, and drugs, and shows how boys and girls react in predictable ways to different situations.

For example, girls are born with more sensitive hearing than boys, and those differences increase as kids grow up. So when a grown man speaks to a girl in what he thinks is a normal voice, she may hear it as yelling. Conversely, boys who appear to be inattentive in class may just be sitting too far away to hear the teacher—especially if the teacher is female.

Likewise, negative emotions are seated in an ancient structure of the brain called the amygdala. Girls develop an early connection between this area and the cerebral cortex, enabling them to talk about their feelings. In boys these links develop later. So if you ask a troubled adolescent boy to tell you what his feelings are, he often literally cannot say.

Dr. Sax offers fresh approaches to disciplining children, as well as gender-specific ways to help girls and boys avoid drugs and early sexual activity. He wants parents to understand and work with hardwired differences in children, but he also encourages them to push beyond gender-based stereotypes.

A leading proponent of single-sex education, Dr. Sax points out specific instances where keeping boys and girls separate in the classroom has yielded striking educational, social, and interpersonal benefits. Despite the view of many educators and experts on child-rearing that sex differences should be ignored or overcome, parents and teachers would do better to recognize, understand, and make use of the biological differences that make a girl a girl, and a boy a boy.

1

DIFFERENCES

We're entering a new period in science, in which the rewards will come less from the breakthrough investigations of individual scientists than from fitting together the pieces of research to see what it all means . . . Social and biological insights are leaping together, part of a large and complex jigsaw puzzle to which the contributions of many sciences are essential.

--Shelley Taylor, professor of psychology, UCLA, 20021

Matthew turned five years old the summer before kindergarten started. He was looking forward to it. From what he had heard, kindergarten sounded like just one long play date with friends. He could hardly wait. So his mother, Cindy, was surprised when, in October, Matthew started refusing to go to school, refusing even to get dressed in the morning. More than once, Cindy had to dress him, carry him writhing and thrashing into the car, and then drag him from the car into the school. She decided to investigate. She sat in on his ...

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If you read Time Magazine you may remember this book from a cover story on gender differences that ran in March 2005.  Sax's opinion (always backed up by data) is that girls and boys are innately different and the effect of 'gender neutral' education benefits neither and actually reinforces gender stereotypes.  

My only criticism of this book is that Sax is very definitive in his opinions. There are exceptions to every rule but he doesn't give much, if any space, to discussing these. Having said that, when the pendulum of opinion has swung so firmly in favor of gender neutral co-ed public education (to the point that in most states single-sex education isn't even on the table for discussion) it takes someone who feels as strongly as Sax to push the balance back, even a little.

From kindergarten through to high-school Sax makes compelling points for single-sex education.  Here are just a few examples:

A seven-year-old girl is likely to have hearing that is 2-4 times as acute as a seven-year-old boy - so the tone of voice that is comfortable for a female teacher to speak at simply may not be audible to the boys sitting at the back of the class, or maybe at a level where it is just plain boring to listen to. Conversely, the constant tap-tap-tapping and fidgeting of a boy having trouble sitting still will be easily filtered out by the other boys, but is likely to be a substantial distraction to the girls.

Girls tend to be excessively critical in evaluating their own academic performance. Conversely, boys tend to have unrealistically high estimates of their own academic abilities and accomplishments - so the teaching methods to best reach each group need to be quite different.

Boys tend to prefer books with male protagonists that are exciting, whereas girls usually prefer books which focus on relationships.  The vast majority of books read in elementary schools (and the way they're discussed) favor the way girls think (unsurprising considering the majority of elementary school teachers are women), which leaves many boys concluding that reading is boring.

Girls at single-sex schools have just as many heterosexual relationships as girls at coed schools. Teens in single-sex schools tend to date, whereas teens in co-ed schools increasingly 'hook up' (have sexual encounters with no emotional attachment or long-term commitment). At a single-sex school, even if you do have a boyfriend, your social network at school is likely to be separate from your boyfriend's group of friends. So, it's easier to say no. You have more autonomy over your sexual decision-making. It's easier to contemplate life without the boyfriend.

Single-sex schools break down stereotypes - girls become more competitive, boys become more collaborative.  In single-sex schools boys usually consider it much cooler to study than they do in a co-ed environment, even if they're 'jocks'.  Girls tend to study more science related subjects in single-sex schools, and boys tend to study more arts...continued

Full Review (604 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Media Reviews

The New York Post
Convincing. . . Psychologist and family physician Leonard Sax, using 20 years of published research, offers a guide to the growing mountain of evidence that girls and boys really are different. . . This extremely readable book also includes shrewd advice on discipline, and on helping youngsters avoid drugs and early sexual activity. Sax's findings, insights and provocative point-of-view should be of interest and help to many parents.

Time Magazine
Until recently, there have been two groups of people: those who argue sex differences are innate and should be embraced and those who insist that they are learned and should be eliminated by changing the environment. Sax is one of the few in the middle -- convinced that boys and girls are innately different and that we must change the environment so differences don't become limitations.

New York Post
Sax's findings, insights and provocative point-of-view should be of interest and help to many parents.

Publisher's Weekly
His readable prose... makes this book accessible to a range of readers.

Scientific American
His volume is a worthy read for those who care about how best to prepare children for the challenges they face on the path to adulthood.

Reader Reviews

jkennedy

Why Gender Matters
Leonard Sax makes an excellent case for why we should respect the biological differences between boys and girls and how we can approach teaching our children about life by using those differences. This should be required reading for all teachers as ...   Read More
Vin

Read with a critical eye
There are a number of valid points in this book, but it is important to be reading it with a critical eye. Some points are backed by valid studies, but others are assertions without evidence and hasty generalizations. A lot is boiled down to gender ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Sax is the founder of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education - the NASSPE website is extremely comprehensive and contains much of the same information as his book.

Eight years ago, only four public schools in the United States offered single-sex educational opportunities. As of January 2006, at least 211 public schools in the United States are offering gender-separate educational opportunities. Most of those are coeducational schools with all or some of their classrooms run on a single-sex basis, but 44 are completely single-sex (see the list).

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