How Boys And Girls Learn Differently

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 30, 2008
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St. Francis School shocked the state last week when it announced it was going to allow a pilot program to experiment with the idea of going co-ed. There was a quite hush of skepticism among private schools in Hawaii, which preach and practice the idea that girls learn more when they are separated from boys.

It’s been a heavily researched topic in education for many decades. Iolani shocked the local educational establishment when it went coed. Saint Louis tried to follow in its footsteps, but there was too much resistance and the idea was dropped.

This is a very emotional issue for some mothers who would like to send their daughters to their alma mater instead of a co-ed school.

Is contemporary education maliciously set against either males or females? The majority of the research strongly suggests the answer is no, but there is a good possibility that some of our schools do fail to recognize gender-specific needs.


New positron emission tomography (PET) and MRI technologies allow educators to look inside the brains of boys and girls, where they have found structural and functional differences that profoundly affect human learning. These gender differences in the brain are corroborated in males and females throughout the world and do not differ significantly across cultures (Rich, 2000; Conlin, 2003).

The 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that boys are one-and-a-half years behind girls in reading/writing (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000) and girls are only negligibly behind boys in math and science - areas in which boys have historically outperformed girls (Conlin, 2003). As the evidence suggests, it is the boys who need help these days, not the girls. In point of fact, boys earn 70 percent of the D’s and F’s and less than half of the A’s.

Furthermore, boys represent 90 percent of discipline referrals, and 80 percent of high school dropouts are male. Males make up less than 40 percent of college students (Gurian, 2001).

All these statistics hold true around the world. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released a three-year study of knowledge and skills of males and females in 35 industrialized countries. The selected findings showed the statistics that brought the males’ scores down most significantly were their reading and writing scores. There is little doubt that by the time its pilot study is completed, St. Francis will find similar results.

The evidence is clear that boys and girls do learn differently.

Simply put, effectively teaching boys and girls together, as we do in public schools, is not as easy as the public would like to believe. The practical application of new research will instruct new members in the teaching profession how to proceed in the future with a sense of renewed purpose and productivity, because boys and girls need to learn from within their own minds.


Educators in the future are going to need special training in male/female brain differences. Of course, this will be an easy task for private schools, but a severe challenge for the public school system, which does not have a lot of flexibility in dealing with such emotional issues.

It’s not so much that our educators are failing or not doing a good job of educating our youngsters. It’s more because of our renewed cultural sensitivity to issues of gender and learning. Make no mistake, the sensitivity was generated from advocacy groups that pointed out ways in which girls were challenged in school. This is most evident in co-curricular activities outside the classroom, like athletics. Now that the playing field has been leveled, there is little question that girls can perform as well as boys.

The research seems to indicate what the boys really need to catch up with the girls is their own advocacy group. After all, the world is populated with both boys and girls, and educational administrators can’t let gender differences spill over into the work force.

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