Are You Pink- or Blue-Brained?

Think that single-sex education is a sensible idea, since boys and girls learn so differently? Think again. In Slate recently, neuroscientist Lise Eliot, who researches child brain development, and social psychology professor Rebecca Bigler explained their recently published peer-reviewed article in Science, which examines an “overwhelming body of research on the topic.” They had three main findings:

  • “Decades of research on academic outcomes from around the world has failed to demonstrate an advantage to single-sex schooling, in spite of popular belief to the contrary.”
  • “Thousands of studies comparing brain and behavioral function between adult men and women have found small to insignificant differences, and even smaller differences between boys and girls.”
  • “Single-sex schooling facilitates social stereotypes and prejudice in children.”

If facts, not ideology, have any hope of carrying the day, this article should be essential reading in the Mars/Venus-at-school debates. Part of the problem is that so many parents, aunts, and friends personally know boys whose first word was “truck” and girls who can’t be separated from their dolls. Yes, there are certainly some variations in interests, which often (though not always) coincide with gender expectations. But we have a narcissism of small differences problem: Males and females love to exaggerate those differences because we have to live with each other. But while men and women on average may have different heights, weights, and interests, that doesn’t predict much else about individuals—and the variation isn’t as vast as we like to pretend. In fact, when you read the actual science, you might even start to believe that men and women are the same species. (The real test, of course: Can they reproduce? I can’t weigh in on that one, I’m afraid.)

Slate has been fabulous on this general topic; it’s worth going back to look at the 2008 Amanda Schaffer and Emily Bazelon series “The Sex Difference Evangelists.” And for more in-depth (but still highly readable) evidence that pink and blue brains might instead be—wait for it—gray, pick up Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett’s latest book, The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children.