Good Research Paper Topic
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
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
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
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.
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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