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Archaeology strives to reconstruct the past life ways of mankind, largely through material remains found preserved on former sites. Such remains are often limited to relatively imperishable artifacts made of stone, antler or fired clay, but sometimes remarkable cases of preservation occur in dry caves or bogs. Post-mold patterns, rock alignments, hearths, rock paintings and petroglyphs can furnish important details about past campsites, villages, and ceremonial-religious features. Burials yield information not only about mortuary practices, but often provide direct biological facts about the past people themselves. Dietary practices can be reconstructed from preserved faunal and floral remains, and some archaeologists even attempt to determine past economic, social, religious and political life of ancient populations.

In recent years, the learning styles approach to education has become popular and is still growing. This approach claims, quite reasonably, that different people learn in different ways. Some people learn best in a logical, sequential fashion. Others learn better from numerous concrete examples, others from practical, hands-on activities, or from social communication with their peers. The traditional models of learning, including listening to lectures, reading, memorizing are perhaps appropriate only for a fraction of students, and other approaches involving practical action, concrete examples, group discussion, or role playing may be appropriate for many students.

The Jungian-influenced theory of learning styles -- the Myers-Briggs model -- separates learners through an elaborate self-assessment into sixteen different types based on "learning preferences" or tendencies between four dualisms: Introvert versus Extrovert, Sensor versus Intuiter, Thinker versus Feeler, and Perceiver versus Judger. Briefly, the Myers-Briggs delineations mean the following: Extroverts are people who spend their time involved with things around them and look outward for opinions and advice, whereas Introverts look inward for advice and spend their time largely in reflection; an Intuitive sees the world in terms of possibilities, whereas a sensor sees the world through practical facts; a Feeler makes decisions based on subjective judgment, whereas a Thinker makes decisions on objective analysis; lastly, a Judger lives in an orderly, decisive manner, whereas a Perceiver lives in a spontaneous, flexible way.


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It appears that the Myers-Briggs learning styles model is the most popular and influential one among educators, followed by the Gregoric model. The Gregoric model also uses an extensive self-assessment to determine two polarities of concrete versus abstract and sequential versus random -- yielding the possibilities of abstract-sequential, concrete-sequential, abstract-random, and concrete-random. Learning styles theory and approach is itself almost totally devoid of any explicit sexism (or racism for that matter). Both the Myers- Briggs and the Gregoric models claim no gender differences or influences in the distribution of their varied learning styles. Howard Gardner explicitly denies that his seven intelligences are innately sex-correlated. However, in discussing one of the seven multiple intelligences -- spatial ability -- he does buy into the old, sociobiological line that boys seem to out-perform girls on spatial tests due to an evolutionary adaptive strategy. He says, "To the extent that hunting and wandering were preminently male preoccupations, there would be more of a selective advantage for males to evolve highly developed visual-spatial abilities, and more likely an early death for those who lacked such skills". He fails to take into account anthropological theories that play down or dismiss the rigid "hunter-gatherer" sexual division of labor.

The books, both those directed to teachers and popular books directed to parents, on the learning styles and multiple-intelligences approaches do not mention gender differences. Many of these popular and practical books do mention brain lateralization, that is, they accept claims that for right-handed people, logical, conceptual, linguistic processing occurs in the left hemisphere, and pictorial, intuitive and context- dependent recognition and memory occur in the right hemisphere. But these works do not combine that notion with claims about innate differences in the brain. Indeed the whole learning styles approach is tied to the liberal-individualistic notion that each child is to be treated as an individual, and appropriate learning style is to be used which best suits the child. However, teachers are exposed both to the progressive learning styles approach and, separately in the media and in social science and biology courses, to the claims concerning innate hard- wired differences to the male and female brains which, coincidentally, happen to correspond with all the stereotypical views about differences in ways of thinking of men and women. (At the University of New Hampshire, freshman biology lectures are enlivened by claims about the XYY chromosomal male and criminal violence, claims, which were shown false, and misleading twenty years ago, and by lectures on "facts" of the highly conjectural differences between male and female brains. One psychology professor teaches David Barash's views on the "naturalness" of rape, and a sociology course uses Barash's other book that says, "Ironically Mother Nature appears to be a sexist.")

J. B. Dusek surveyed the effect of teacher expectations on student performance. The situation is complex, but teachers do form expectations that have effects on the performance of their students. There was no nationally known research at the time of Dusek's survey on the effect of differential expectations of the performance of boys and girls on boys' and girls' behavior and achievement, according to Elizabeth Fennema. Some results since then, however, have shown that when grouping students in ability groups in mathematics, teachers tend to underestimate girls' abilities and overestimate boys' abilities in math and to place high-ability girls on the average in slightly lower ability groupings and low-ability boys in slightly higher ability groupings than their actual achievements would warrant (Koehler 144). Also, teachers tend to give much more encouragement to boys in mathematics than to girls. Teachers also tend to give more time to girls in reading and to boys in mathematics. Teachers often attribute qualities such as logical ability, competitiveness, and adventurousness in intellectual activities to boys much more than to girls. Even interviews with parents from National Honor Award ceremonies reveal that parents commonly attribute their boys' science success to innate genius and their daughters' success to hard work. Anecdotes from teachers during gender equity workshops often center around the socialized "dumbing down" that happens to even the brightest of preteen girls.

In addition, there is the much discussed research of the Sadkers and others who have developed teacher training models on the fact that both male and female teachers give more attention to boys than to girls. Despite the criticisms by Christina Sommers of a misreferencing footnote (which she seems to think demolishes the Sadkers' results), the results found by the Sadkers are the same as those of many other researchers over two decades. The AAUW report, How Schools Shortchange Girls (Wellesley Center), does not give us new data. Rather, the study merely summarizes over a thousand research studies on issues of gender and education over the last twenty-five years. Those who have studied the behavior of math teachers with girls and boys have found that when students are working on problems, the well-meaning teachers tend to solve the math problems for the girls, while giving hints or encouragement to the boys. Thus, the teachers deny the experience of successful independent problem solving even to high-ability girls.


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Media stereotypes
Given the variety of ways in which teacher expectations and gender stereotypes have been found to encourage girls to undertake gender- stereotyped activities and to reward them more highly for achievement in gender "appropriate" areas and less highly in "inappropriate" areas, it is likely that stereotypes concerning "appropriate" learning styles may function non-consciously in teachers with even the best of intentions. Recall that teachers who finish math problems for girls, rather than letting the girls struggle with them themselves, are doing so with good intentions. They don't want the girls to be frustrated or to cry. But they thereby deny the experience of successful problem solving to the girls. The teachers, who give more attention to boys than to girls, and least attention to high-achieving girls, are often female teachers who have the best intentions toward girls. These teachers initially deny and reject the researchers' results and, if at all, accept them only after watching videotapes of themselves in class. Thus, it is likely that teachers using the learning styles approach to teaching, although valuable in itself and used with the best of intentions, will be subconsciously biased to fit the students to the stereotypical sex-linked mental abilities which the supposed "scientific facts" about sex-linked brain differences encourage them to accept.

Robert Sylwester, with his lively presentations, has become a popular lecturer at educational leadership and educational equity conferences. He appeals to "science" to justify innate evolved differences in thinking between sexes (and races). Sylwester, however, sometimes interprets works to say the very opposite of what they claim. He cites Edelman's popularized work, Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind, to justify the claim that brain development is primarily determined by nature not nurture. But, in fact, one of the central claims of Edelman's neural selection theory in his original work, Neural Darwinism, is that sensory stimulation selects which brain cells grow and which ones die off. Sylwester confuses genetic natural selection with high levels of neural selection.

The article "The Educational Applications of Male-Female Brain Differences" by Robert Sylwester, along with his other articles in Educating Leadership, explicitly links the sex-difference (and even race-difference) brain research to Howard Gardner's seven types of intelligence. Educational Leadership is a journal read by educational administrators. Thus, articles, which appear in it, have a much higher probability of directly and rapidly influencing educational policies and programs in the schools than do articles in research journals. Sylwester writes, For example, females appear to have more capable sensory/perceptual systems than males.... A brain that develops in the high end of the human range in a given domain, such as Howard Gardner's seven types of intelligence, would more easily function effectively in that domain. Although Sylwester's manner of presentation is positive and attractive, this benign formulation conceals some of the more dangerous implications of this approach. Sylwester is claiming that teachers' emphasis on the type of intelligence encouraged can be guided by the alleged sex differences in human brains.


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He similarly applies this approach to race and ethic differences in brains. "It's culturally dangerous to diminish the capacities of any gender/racial/ethnic/age group of people simply because some of us can't easily respond to their current potential contributions in non-traditional roles". This sounds benign in that it emphasizes the possible positive contributions of alternative intelligence to problem solving, but it presupposes that indeed different gender, racial, and ethnic groups are evolved to have different brains with different capacities. It disposes the reader or listener to accept the notion that men and women, whites and various "races" of peoples of color are shown by "modern science" to have evolved different talents. Obviously, this assumption, combined with traditional stereotypes about what the talents and appropriate jobs for women (or for people of color) are, can lead to reinforcement of tracking at school or on the job, in the name scientifically based and tolerant acceptance of different talents for different gender (as well as ethnic and racial age) groups.

Sylwester also accepts the usual speculative "man the hunter" theory of the biologically based naturally selected gender division of labor. He writes, "Gender differences in processing language space, etc. undoubtedly evolved to enhance the division of tasks in relatively small communities of hunter-gatherers". Sylwester accepts the widely criticized "nuclear family" theory of human evolution of the sort that Lovejoy and Johanson of "Lucy" fame presented (including sexist jokes in the footnotes of their scientific data) and the similar "men hunt and women stay home" theory, which has been used by the sociobiologist such as E. O. Wilson and numerous popularizers to claim that women are not suited for politics, law, or science because during the hunter-gatherer era they were evolved to stay at home (Lovejoy p 341, 1981). One reviewer called it a theory to make the "Moral Majority happy". (Tuttle p 798, 1981) What is especially disturbing is that feminist educational equity workers in Sylwester's popular lectures almost unanimously respond favorably to his uncritical appeal to popularizations and even openly sexist interpretations of the brain research, accepting the benign pluralism of the phrasing of the presentations, but oblivious to the reinforcement of the very stereotypes that have led to gender discrimination in the school and workplace in the first place. If people whose specialty is the fight against gender discrimination accept these biased stereotypes when presented under the guise of science, how much more likely will the average teacher, who is not particularly concerned with gender equity issues, imbibe traditional biases from this interpretation and application of the learning styles and multiple intelligence literature.
One of the recent reports from sex-difference research through brain imaging (this time through PET scans) said that women activate eight times as much of their brains during depression than do men. This result, along with other, interestingly unpublished, "results," was interpreted for the news media by its author, Mark George, to "explain" the fact that women are depressed more frequently than men (Goldman). This theory ties in with the sociobiological theory of David Barash and others that female depression is "adaptive" in an evolutionary sense to get help and support from men. No reference to the feminization of poverty or the constraints of traditional marriage on women's self- actualization or social stigmas on women's expression of aggression or independence is made. If divorced women whose child support payments are denied by deadbeat dads, who are denied day care but are called "lazy" for not working get depressed, this can be explained away by the new PET scan data.

Biological theories of sex differences are a Trojan Horse within the sex-equity community of educators in particular and within the women' s movement in general. It seems that too many of us are quick to accept hastily or sloppily conducted research that purports to show sex differences in the brain without looking at the political motivations of the funders of such "science" or the social implications of the "results." There is a centuries-long history of this same research being used to argue for the inferiority of women, blacks, gays, and other minority groups. Banning of women from university education, of blacks from civil rights, and of gays from civil liberties were justified by older and fraudulent biological theories that rested on eugenically assumptions of innate superiority. Let us remember that sterilization laws used mainly against blacks and the mentally ill were passed in twenty-six states of the U.S., most of which have not yet been repealed. On the basis of the laws, sexually promiscuous or "loose" and rowdy women were sterilized. In agreement with Shulamith Firestone in The Dialectic of Sex there is much to be said for the feminist goal of eradicating the cultural significance of genital difference. However, those concerned with sex equity in education that believe that girls and boys have radically different ways of cognition and learning need to beware of the implications of the "new eugenics, " as history is replete with such examples.

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