Gender debate heats up, Dr. Lise Eliot’s work adds fuel

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By Chris Wondra

If you’ve been following the posts at We Teach We Learn, you know that a healthy percentage of posts have been about brain-based gender differentiation–in part because that was the focus my action research while studying for my M.Ed.

So we were thrilled when We Teach We Learn recently received a comment from Lise Eliot, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science.  It was a great comment.  Unfortunately, she left it on a pretty obscure post–an annotation of an article written by Michael Gurian entitled, With boys and girls in mind.  Anyway, you can read the annotation and Dr. Eliot’s comment here.

Please do.

Eliot raises some very valid concerns, and, as a neuroscientist who has written extensively on the brain development of children, she should know.  Still, as a teacher who has read extensively on the topic of gender differentiation, and also having done a considerable amount of action research in my own classroom, much of what she said seemed to fly in the face of what I have so far learned on the subject.

Obviously this concerned me.

Still, not having read her books, What’s Going On In There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, and Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps–and What We Can Do About It, I’m not certain that her message is that much different from what I learned in my own research.

Based on her comment, though, I decided to see if I could find out.

So I emailed Dr. Eliot, inviting her to comment more specifically in a short post, an article, or excerpt from her book–something we could publish here in a more prominent place.

For the record, Dr. Eliot did email me back, but was less than enthusiastic about writing an original piece for for us. Still, she had some pretty pointed things to say about much of the current information floating around related to gender differentiation.

So, alas, I guess we won’t be getting any direct commentary from Dr. Eliot, though she did say that if she had time, she might edit her last email to me to make it more, shall we say, professional. I hope she does. She’s got a lot of important things to say about this.

So for now, and until I have the time to find her books and journal articles, read them and report on them directly, I have found the following video of Eliot addressing many of the issues of gender differentiation herself.

Teachers need to know that there IS some debate. Based on the very little I’ve read by her, and our brief correspondence, her message seems to be that gender differences are not as hardwired as some would have you believe. I believe she would say that the real reason boys don’t read as well as girls is because they don’t do as much of it. Experiences change the brain, and it’s those experiences that are most responsible (not hardwired gender differences) for shaping our aptitudes, skills and abilities.

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One Comment

  1. Lise Eliot has a lot of very important things to say. She is much more thoughtful and measured and realistic than most “researchers” out there. Gurian’s stuff is highly suspect but he is trotted out a lot to back up nonsense stuff in the classroom. Good teaching is not about letting boys bounce balls unless they are practicing for the bball tourney.