A new study finds that women have a “warming effect” on men, making them more inclined to generosity. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, author and Wharton School professor Adam Grant describes what he sees as the implications for classrooms.
Grant points to 1971 study by psychologist Elliot Aronson that, when taken with the new research, makes a case for “mixed-gender study groups.” He writes:
[Aronson's] core idea was that students would learn to respect and care about one another if they had to rely upon one another when collaborating in small groups toward shared goals. Professor Aronson made each student responsible for teaching the group about a different topic that would be covered on a coming test. It was like working on a jigsaw puzzle: the group needed pieces of information from every member in order to put together the general understanding that would be measured on the test. After the experiment, stereotypes and prejudice fell—the students became significantly less hostile toward one another—and the minority students got better grades.
What would happen if every classroom followed the jigsaw structure, with mixed-gender study groups providing boys with the opportunity to learn from girls? In addition to gaining knowledge, perhaps they would learn something about teaching, helping and caring for others. When some of those boys grow up to become rich men, they might be less like Scrooge and more like Mr. [Bill] Gates—or at least less likely to become your wealthy neighbor who refuses to pay his share of the hedge trimming.
To be clear, the jigsaw technique is now a common one in classrooms. And many (most?) teachers also use grouping as much for social development reasons as for academic ones—for instance, conscientiously pairing students who need positive influences with those who can play the role.
But teachers, what are your thoughts on Grant’s position that girls can make boys into better, more conscientious students—and, ultimately, better men? Do you group students for this reason? Or do you think it’s better to avoid this sort of gender generalizing?
Also, what’s the relationship between this type of thinking and the fact that boys tend to be disciplined more often than girls, and “consequently receive worse grades”?
(BTW it is not lost on me that some educators will be put off by Grant pointing to Bill Gates as an exemplary philanthropist. But I’ll leave that to another blogger’s musings.)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.