Men and women: we need each other - interview

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In the continuation of our conversation with Dr. Allyson Jule, Dr. Jule continues giving her insights into how gender affects learning and the discusses the stereo-types women and men have to deal with and fight against both as children and then later as adults. She speaks out against uni-sex classrooms and how they limit interaction, growth and proper human development.

Part I

Robles: As far as gender goes, I mean, as far as I know, pretty much the gender of the individual; this starts at 5 years old, 4 or 5, and you were talking about 7-year-olds. Usually at that point they’ve already been, pretty much, if you want to call it, programmed, that it is either a boy or a girl, and they are being pushed in that direction all the time.

Jule: With some of the studies we now have we can go in with MRIs and see some fetal development and incredible things that science can tell us but one of the main things is that the synapse patterns of the brain continue to function and develop their own pathways after birth and there is a gendered response at birth: it’s a boy, it’s a girl, or now with new technology you know if you are having a boy or a girl and that the gendered reaction happens before birth, in the rooms decorated in a certain way, certain clothes are purchased, the names chose etc,and then the response of the parents.

They have studies now, quite interesting studies of newborns and how parents hold the eye gaze of a boy child versus a girl child or how they speak to a boy or a girl baby, or handle the boy or a girl baby, bouncing the baby boy “bouncing baby boy”, or holding this beautiful baby girl. And so to say that gender emerges around the age of 7 we can probably no longer say that.

Robles: No, I mean, I was just saying it is already determined at that level. I think most studies say it’s set at 3 or 4

Jule: I’d say at 2.

Robles: You’d say by 2? I see.

Jule: I think I would go with as early as 2. When I walk through some of the toy stores here in Canada, I think: “Oh my goodness, there is probably nothing that could be purchased for child that is not gendered somehow.” Even the LEGO now comes in girl colors and boy colors.

Robles: Really?

Jule: I think it is a strange development in light of the more feminist ideas that are coming through the school system, there seems to be this backlash almost back to like a Victorian kind of view that boys have a very boy-life. They have certain things they do and certain games they play, and that that’s radically different from what girls do. I think that is very surprising.

Robles: I think here in Russia that is even worse, I mean, as far as the differences between boys and girls go. I mean boys are programmed pretty much: never to cry. Even in the classrooms. I mean when I first started teaching here myself, the first thing I noticed was: all the girls were sitting on one side of the room, all the boys were on the other, and I would do boy-girl, boy-girl, and at first they were kind of against that and then they started to like it and they started to talk to each other and started to interact really well.

Jule: What I am worried about particularly emerging in the States are these single-gendered classrooms that are happening in the public schools system, and there have always been schools for boys, schools for girls, in private schools often, but this is in a public system, so that of these, I would call them even pseudo-science kind of studies, that say that boys need certain methods and girls need certain methods, so guess what? We should put all the boys in one room and teach them math, and put all the girls in a different room and teach them math together and then they can learn in their different ways together, and I just think, “Holy Mackerel !”

Robles: What century is that?

Jule: Yes, it seems so popular and yet problematic and teachers themselves seem to be taking this on saying, yes, the boy’s class, we can focus on these sorts of things and the girl’s class we can focus on these sorts of things, but what it takes away, is what you are describing: when you have a variety, you can add a dynamic to the room.

That is really important in presenting our children with a more well-rounded sense of humanity. Which is we need each other: male and female in relationship, in business, in educating our children. To segregate and to reinforcement just seems to me a major step backwards.

Robles: Now you’ve taught around the world, you’ve been around the world. What about gender in classrooms and in education in general in different countries as far as methodologies go, as far as the approach, and the acceptance of, for example, women being achievers?

Jule: Yes, we do know that particularly in the West that girls have been outperforming boys for about 25-30 years and critics of education are saying: “Well that is because there has been a feminization of education that now privileges girls over boys”, girls are outperforming entering law schools.

Robles: So why aren’t women/girls, in all the top management posts and running things?

Jule: A study that came out to Harvard maybe 10 years now, that looked at some of the top educated women, some in the US, that would have emerged from Harvard law school around mid 1980s, so that they would have all of the benefits of new opportunities and affirmative action and whatever, that gave them best education in the world, and followed their career trajectories to see what happens throughout, like “Did they become then the heads of law firms around the world?”, as you would expect with that kind of education and preparation, but what they found is that of course they did not, they went part-time, some of them stayed home, some of them changed careers, calling it the opt-out generation because when they asked these very women: “Why with that kind of education and privilege did they not have gone out to do public service, run for president, or other, sort of levels of leadership”, their responses all aligned with this: “Well, it’s not what I wanted for my life. Like I wanted a family, or I wanted relationships, or I wanted a work-life balance. Which was just an interesting kind of set of things to consider because what we have been asking of men in our society? That they have to give up family, relationship, work-life balance to be those leaders. It is an interesting set of requirements for both genders. One would have to give up that kind of career to have those kinds of relationships, but then so does the other.

Robles: What kind of pressure do you think that puts on men? Do you think that is fair?

Jule: Tremendous pressure, and unfair, but I think that a well-lived-life includes some accomplishments, areas of interest, relationship, family, work-life balance. I think whether you are a male of a female, all of those things going to a well-rounded life are important, and to set up things that are gender-based that take away the other options, I think that is so sad and I get frustrated when I hear, educators in particular, come on strong with this: “Boys need this and they need this kind of life and that is the kind of life they are going to live”, and I think: “Why limit?”