The United Colors of Fauxmogeneity

In the academic climate of MIT everything was outcome based, and no one really looked at who was having difficulty and why – you were admitted because you were supposed to be smart, so prove it – deliver, deliver, deliver!

Well, we’re not smart.  No one is.  We’re all stupid from birth, and absorb a filtered mix of what is presented to us and what we choose to  absorb.

These days, I am amazed on a day-to-day basis at how stupid some of my long-held beliefs are, how little I actually know about things that I thought I knew, for example:

  • Soviet culture during the Cold War
  • Meso-American and South American history
  • the best way to cook a turkey

Social learning and academic learning are two completely different things, and too often people think that school should be the main source of both.

Classrooms are much better organized to focus on academic learning, but social learning takes place everywhere in a school: in hallways, during after-school activities, and in the classrooms themselves.

So will boys and girls will learn more efficiently in same-sex classrooms?

Well, if the focus within the classroom is on academics then the social learning argument falls away – some people (like me five years ago) who claim that same-sex classrooms don’t prepare students for the real world, but now I see that the classroom itself is not necessarily designed to prepare students for the real world.

The real world is meant to prepare students for the real world, but if the classroom can be more efficient than the real world at making our students more interested, educated, and comfortable in their gender roles, the real world will be that much richer for it.

In “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Jared Diamond talks about how people learned in tribal societies and how tribal societies evolve as the population grows.

It seems possible that small societies with clearly defined gender roles might leave the men to educate the boys, and the women to educate the girls.  Outside of that informal educational structure, young men and young women randomly bump into each other in the social thermodynamics of human interaction.

Of course, the way that our Western society has developed, the idea that men are better suited to teach boys and that women are better suited to teach girls seems a bit archaic (although I may change my mind in five yers, who know), but that is because knowledge base is much less linked to gender role than it might be in the hypothetical hunter-gatherer society above.

However, I don’t think that it changes the fact that boys might be better classmates for other boys and that girls might be better classmates than other girls, primarily because I believe that we still do have biologically (and sure, maybe culturally) determined gender roles that cannot be left at the door of any classroom.

But this is fine!

  • Women and men are different.
  • Christians and Muslims are different.
  • Japanese and French are different.

Blindly believing that people the world over are fundamentally the same may feel right to people who aren’t at the interface of these differences, but in fact it actually interferes with international communication and policy setting from the UN right down to the US to its school system.

We are all different, and we need to affirm and own our differences before we can learn to accept them and love them in each other.

Never in my time in school, not in elementary, not in middle school, not in high school, not in college, not in art school, not in Japan, not in America, not in Canada, did we ever discuss in a classroom setting what it means to be White or Black or Latino or Asian; how these groups are perceived by the others, how various factions withing a given group interact, etc, etc, etc.

Sure, we saw it all ‘in theory;’ we learned abstractly about hate crimes through ‘Roots,’ and the Holocaust, and through after-school style educational videos.

But we never had the opportunity to say ‘All right, all cards on the table, this is what I think about Black people, Asian people, White people, and this is what I think they feel about me.’

But I do remember that there was a clear image in the minds of everyone – silent, but deafening in its pervasiveness and implicit acceptance, of how Black students were supposed to act, how the punks were supposed to act, how the Asian honors students were supposed to act…

I wonder if there would have been more openness to discuss this issue and to examine it carefully were I in a classroom full of other half-Japanese.

Where did these images come from?  Media, friends, history, parents?  How can we really sort the whole issue out without communicating in a raw way, and without getting emotional about the whole thing?  Without feeling threatened.

We are far from being able to divide everyone into classrooms with their clones; we do not have the racial and cultural homogeneity of tribal societies; so how far can we subdivide our educational experiences?

I feel like I can really argue it from both sides, so it is hard for me to find out what I actually believe.

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