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The BS Files: Boys Are Less Verbal Than Girls

When my second daughter was the age my son is now, I was sweating the fact that she wasn’t really talking. From other parents, I heard reassuring things like, “don’t worry,” and “every child is different,” and “my girl didn’t really start talking until she was older.” My son also isn’t saying words yet. Here’s how I’m reassured:

“Don’t worry, he’s a boy.”

Sometimes, followed by this: “He’s too busy figuring out his world to bother learning to speak.” At which point, we look over and he’s opening a cabinet door. “See!” the reassuring speaker says.

When my son opens a cabinet door or empties a basket of toys, he is doing this not because he’s curious and 17 months old and strong and into the whole action/reaction, cause/effect thing. It’s because, all together now, he’s a boy. Never mind the fact that my girls did the exact same thing.

I’m not saying there aren’t differences between boys and girls, I just suspect we’re seeing too many especially when it comes to brain development. Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Chait Barnett, journalism and women’s studies professors respectively, agree. Writing for Women’s eNews, they argue this idea that boys aren’t verbal is a story the media has been telling for a decade, based on misinterpreting research results.

They say it’s the boy version of “girls are bad at math.” Which, ew. Right?

A sampling of how serious news organizations have perpetuated this idea:

An ABC News blog on March 17 said that: “While girls’ brains are more verbally oriented, often making reading skills easier for them, boys’ brains are visually oriented.” There is no reliable scientific evidence for that statement.

Meanwhile, reporting on the study, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote: “Some people think that boys are hardwired so that they learn more slowly, perhaps because they evolved to fight off wolves more than to raise their hands in classrooms.”

The New Republic claimed in 2006 that a “verbally drenched curriculum” is “leaving boys in the dust.” That same year, The Hartford Courant suggested that “because boys don’t want to read books from beginning to end, informational texts are ideal.”

But what of the studies that showed girls were outperforming boys in reading tasks? Turns out, that’s just the headline. The girls bested boys but not by much. They also showed no improvement in reading over a six-year period when boys actually did.

Once the numbers are teased apart, they say, you see the real story: poor and disadvantaged kids, especially minorities, perform worse on the tests than their well-funded suburban counterparts. That’s girls and boys.

Yet this idea that boys aren’t verbal persists and some teachers and education leaders have bought it. They’ve even organized classrooms and curriculum to combat this problem that doesn’t exist. No more asking boys about a character’s emotions! Some classes show boys videos, instead of requiring them to read.

Some boys are good at talking, reading and writing; some girls are. Some girls are good at calculating, solving for x and determining the length of the hypotenuse; some boys are. It’s not inherent, it’s not gender based. No matter what an expert or a teacher may have told you.

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Photo: SheKnows.com

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