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Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, Leonard Sax, Doubleday 2005, 312 pp., $24.95

When a mother told Dr. Leonard Sax that he should write a book on biological differences affecting how girls and boys learn, he assured her there were many such books already. When he looked for the books himself, however, he found that books on gender fit neatly into two categories. In the first, much larger category were books extolling gender-neutral parenting. These books presupposed that gender differences were socially constructed, with no biological basis. In the second category were books that proclaimed the importance of gender differences, but consistently resorted to stereotypes: "'Girls are more emotional than boys.' 'Boys have a brain-based advantage when it comes to learning math.'"

Neither set of books presented evidence for the claims they made, but Dr. Sax knew that there was research showing important differences in boys' and girls' brains: how they're structured, how they work, and as a result, how boys and girls learn. This book is Sax's careful effort to present that research to parents and teachers, and help them apply it to the challenges of raising and educating both boys and girls.

The innate differences between male and female brains turn out to be so significant that Sax believes the brain is the organ most differentiated by sex after the reproductive organs. Not only are adult male and female brains observably different, but boys' and girls' brains develop according to their own order, timetable, and processes. Children's brains are much more different from each other according to their gender than adults' brains are. This has immediate relevance for the classroom. For example, Sax demonstrates that today's supposedly "gender-neutral" kindergarten works toward objectives that are not developmentally appropriate for most kindergarten-age boys.

Throughout the book, Sax argues that teaching and parenting that fail to account for gender differences shortchange both boys and girls. His suggestions for change are practical, and follow logically from the research he presents.

The chapter on discipline strikes straight to the heart of the even broader problem of "the transfer of authority from parent to child," and offers insightful criticism and suggestions for improvement. The chapters on sex, drugs, and homosexuality contain some material that is quite disturbing, but useful for understanding the different pressures that boys and girls now face in their teen years, and even younger.

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