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Stephen Eastwood
December 2016.
129
Is it true that there are 'male subjects' and 'female subjects' in education?
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No. We can teach all children to the highest level possible in every subject – although that’s an idea that’s being lost. I don’t believe that certain children can only learn to a certain level or that some children are more suited to certain subjects because of their cultural or social background. 

There’s been recent research saying ‘girls are narrowing the maths gap’, and the researchers say it’s a ‘cultural’ thing – but it’s hard to know what that actually means. If you just teach the subject that you have a passion for and that you know about, then the girl-boy distinction just disappears. 

"Don’t think of them as male and female or from different cultures or backgrounds. What I like about Descartes’ philosophy is his mind-body distinction, it liberated women. It meant that in their minds, if not their physical bodies, women were equal to men."

Girls are as passionate about science and boys as passionate about Latin and Art. But if teachers work on the assumption that girls are more suited to one subject than another, then they’ll bring that situation about. If you don’t believe you can teach all children, then you can’t teach. My central point is that if you think you can teach all children, then you will. 

Don’t think of them as male and female or from different cultures or backgrounds. What I like about Descartes’ philosophy is his mind-body distinction, it liberated women. It meant that in their minds, if not their physical bodies, women were equal to men. If you look at the Salons of the Enlightenment period, they were mostly run by women and had a great social, intellectual and even revolutionary role. But after that period, to use Marxist terminology, women continued to have a ‘dual oppression’ – they have to bring up a family unpaid and be used as a reserve army of labour.

"Single-sex girls’ schools are often very successful, and they tend to be in the independent sector, or they’re grammar schools, but they’re distinguished not by the fact that they’re single sex. It’s because they teach subjects, not because they teach girls."

That doesn’t have to be replicated in schools, however, because a school is a space outside of society, like the Salons of the Enlightenment. Single-sex girls’ schools are often very successful, and they tend to be in the independent sector, or they’re grammar schools, but they’re distinguished not by the fact that they’re single sex. It’s because they teach subjects, not because they teach girls. 

The successful schools teach a traditional liberal education. People get it the wrong way around – they think girls are successful because girls (or boys) are being educated separately, but it’s not that. It’s because they get a good knowledge-based curriculum.