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Forum addresses gender differences

By : Eric Coker

An emphasis on teaching gender differences will be beneficial for both instructors and students, a prominent educator and therapist said at the Binghamton University Forum on March 20.

“When we talk about boys and girls and their development, we’re talking about a million years of human history that is very active in our DNA, active in our brains and active in our civilization as males and females,” Michael Gurian told Forum members at the Binghamton Regency in a talk called “The Minds of Boys and Girls: How to Help Our Sons and Daughters Do Their Best in School and Life.”

Gurian is co-founder of the Gurian Institute, which conducts research and trains professionals. The author of numerous best sellers, Gurian specializes in bringing brain research and science into schools and parenting.

Schools of education have historically focused on gender roles as opposed to examining the “genetic, chromosomal and hard-wire differences between males and females that we bring into our human endeavors,” he said. Examining how the male and female brains process information differently will help young teachers.

“They can look at boys and girls not doing well and have another tool,” he said. “This is a tool that can be added to the toolbox.”

Gurian used several examples to demonstrate the gender differences. He told a story about 13-year-old boys playing a game in which they would hide in the dark and hit each other with darts.

“In any continent you go to, you’ll find that males will relate to each other using these mediating objects more than females will,” he said. “Females will relate to each other more verbally. … These 13-year-olds aren’t throwing darts because they hate each other. They’re throwing darts because they love each other.”

Gurian also showed a video in which babies as young as 6 weeks old pulled on a string to change a picture. When the string was disconnected, the males kept pulling and got angry, while the females stopped, cried and reached out for help.

More blood flows in the female brain, Gurian said, making them able to quickly realize the situation they are in. The male baby’s angry response is seen in a different way years later.

“Let’s say he is 13 years old,” Gurian said. “Now he’s big and angry. It’s no wonder communities don’t realize he is reaching out for help.

“I would argue that both kids are reaching out to their bonding systems, but doing it in different ways. The male way will elicit more distance from human communities. The female way is trying as quickly as possible to close these gaps.”

A downside to the young female brain is that it is more active and girls tend to ruminate more over things, Gurian said. So teenage girls are more likely to ruminate for days about a relationship or something at school and then go on the Internet and say something mean.

“One of the challenges is that we need to socialize girls to understand that this is almost violence,” Gurian said of the online harassment. “They’re not getting enough supervision in their bonding system to know that this isn’t appropriate behavior.”

From a classroom perspective, Gurian reminded the audience about the boy in school who is always tapping his pen or pencil on the desk.

A teacher may not be helping the boy by talking constantly or not using graphics to stimulate the brain’s right side, he said. The teacher, instead, may see the behavior as a discipline problem.

“Young teachers often don’t realize that this tapping is going on because the boy’s brain is entering the rest stage,” Gurian said. “He’s bored and he’s starting to zone out. But he’s a good kid, so he’s tapping to get his brain to stay awake.”

Gurian said studies show that when  students, especially boys, use an object such as a squeeze ball to “keep the brain awake,” test scores and grades will rise.

“This is an immediate application of the science,” he said. “We look at science and say, ‘How can we get this to help people?’ That’s one of the ways it can help.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08