Education, Genetic Explanations

Gender based learning difficulties – why do many more boys struggle than girls?

Boys Learning Disabilities

Sian Griffiths, writing in The Times recommends that you should  “Give your son a leg-up: treat him like a girl.”

According to this article it is parents who are mostly to blame for the lack of educational attainment in their sons.  The rest is caused by a gender-biased society influencing academic achievement.

Ms. Griffiths and the authors of this study seem to be keen advocates of the flawed “blank slate hypothesis”.  This believes that who and what we are as individuals is solely dictated by our environment, education and upbringing.

This article notes two phenomena:

  1. There is a difference in the rate and level of educational attainment between the sexes, with many more boys struggling at school than girls.  This is not new.  We’ve known this for decades.
  1. Parents treat male and female children slightly differently.  Again not new.  We’ve known this for millennia.

However, in a startlingly unscientific and unsubstantiated way they have rammed these two phenomena together and assumed that they are causative.  Not only that, but they have assumed that the way parents treat boys affects their educational attainment.  There is no reason why they should not have chosen the equally unverified and unsubstantiated assumption that parents treat boys differently because their educational attainment is different.

Both assumptions are demonstrably untrue.  Identical twin, sibling twin and adoption studies have conclusively proven that the primary factor driving intelligence and academic achievement in a modern, progressive, relatively socially mobile environment (such as the UK) is genetic.

There is also a demonstrable genetic difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  Not only do girls mature mentally and physically before boys but there is a difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  There are many more males than females with learning difficulties and many more males of very high intelligence than females.  The average intelligence of both sexes is broadly similar.

The references cited below have separated out what is caused by inherited DNA sequence and what is caused by everything else.  So we know these differences are not cultural.  Additionally, this article deals with the extremes.  There is no controversy that there are more males than females with learning difficulties.  This article refers to a million boys over the last decade who have fallen behind.  This is the extreme “left tail” of the standard distribution curve of male intelligence.  These results are what we would expect to see.  We have known about this issue since at least 1932.

If Ms. Griffiths wants to be taken seriously as an educational journalist, she should refer to the proven differences in educational achievement caused by genetic inheritance to ensure balance in her writing.  After all, the “blank slate hypothesis” has been comprehensively discredited so she needs to find another explanation for these differences.

It seems that political correctness continues to overcome scientific fact.


Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different  (3 Podcasts from The BBC on the genetics of intelligence).

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.