Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why boys don't read and girls don't take things apart

'In the beginning, boys don't do well at school because their verbal abilities are inferior to those of girls. As a result, they perform poorly in languages, English and the arts...In later years, girls fall behine in physics and sciences where spatial ability is vital. But while remedial language classes are full of boys whose worried parents hope and pray that their sons will eventually be able to read, write and speak properly, no such caveat is put on girls to brush up on their spatial reasoning. They simply end up changing subjects.'

Allan and Barbara Pease, 'Why men don't listen and women can't read maps'

Was reading this book again and came across the above quote, very striking in relation to yesterday's Purves ponderings. I always said that the most important thing you need to take away from your education is the ability to read so would have previously supported this verbal bias in education unthinkingly. I am a 'typical' woman - I can't parallel park, navigate judge spaces - but significantly, I wanted to be an engineer at various times in my childhood (well, a coal miner actually, but what I was expressing was a yearning fascination with heavy machinery, not a desire to be underground.) I did go on to do science A-levels but did not end up in physics or engineering. One reason was that expressed by my Mum as 'You can't be an engineer, people who end up as engineers take things apart and you don't do that'. Well, I did try and make up for this in later years but lacked the instinct and the chutzpah shown by (usually) men when they take your bike/computer apart with the blithe conviction that they will be able to put it together again. I always thought that my Mum was right and I would have been a rubbish engineer anyway.

But let's turn it around. Little boy wants to be a historian because of a fascination with the olden days. Would a parent say 'You can't be a historian, people who end up as historians read a lot and you don't do that'... Hum, maybe, maybe not. But as the Peases point out, there is a huge public concern about the fact that boys don't read enough... and when was the last time you read a newspaper story about how appalling it is that girls don't play with construction toys enough?

No comments: