Boys and Elementary School
Does gender really matter, if you’re a six-year-old boy?
Sigmund Freud popularized the notion of the “latency period.” According to Freud, children from the age of 5 until the onset of puberty were more or less gender-neutral. For girls and boys in elementary school, according to this perspective, gender doesn’t matter much. Only after the onset of puberty, in middle school and high school, does gender become salient.
Or so Freud and many others believed.
They were wrong. The world’s largest study of brain development – conducted primarily by investigators at the National Institutes of Health – has demonstrated that the trajectories of brain development are profoundly different in girls and boys. These differences are just as evident in 6-year-olds as they are in 15-year-olds, and in many ways more pronounced than the sex differences between the brains of adult men and women. In other words, sex differences in brain development tare more substantial for 6-year-olds than they are for 30-year-olds. You can read the full text of the 2007 update of the NIH/NIMH study, at no charge, at this link (PDF; Adobe Acrobat required).
This study and others (reviewed in chapter 2 of my second book Boys Adrift) demonstrate that in the language areas of the brain, the brains of many 5-year-old boys look like the brains of 3- or 3½-year-old girls. Many boys mature at a different developmental pace than most girls do, not because boys are dumb, but because boys are different. Why does that matter?
In the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic acceleration of the early elementary curriculum, beginning in kindergarten. In most kindergartens today, children are expected to do what 1st-graders were expected to do in previous generations. In many American kindergartens today, children are expected to sit for long periods doing paper-and-pencil exercises. In some ways it's analogous to giving scrambled eggs to a baby (see my previous post). You're subjecting the boy to a stress which may not be developmentally appropriate.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. © 2006 NASSPE
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