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Books of Interest

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Posted: Jul 2, 2004 09:08


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By: James Tooley
Chicago:Ivan R. Dee:2003

Reviewed By: Lon Woodbury

Single sex schools and groups are becoming more common in the network of Emotional Growth/ Therapeutic schools and programs. This is because of a growing perception that in some areas boys and girls have different needs. For example, especially in sex related matters, boys and girls are very reluctant to discuss their deepest hopes and fears in a coed environment, but are more likely to openly discuss these issues in a group composed of a single sex. This move to more single sex activities is part of the drive to individualize instruction so that each child receives the education that fits their specific individual needs. If girls in general have some needs that are different from boys in general, then that should be taken into account in order to individualize instruction.

Although this book does not directly address the detailed concerns and problems of residential schools and programs, the author, who happens to be British, provides a different view from the conventional wisdom of what kind of education girls require that is unique to their individual needs. To whatever extent his arguments have merit, this book would be helpful as a background to any adult responsible for the education of girls. At the very least, it is a counterpoint argument to the standard view of how to raise girls and what they need educationally. His purpose in this book is to open the discussion, and insists there should be no “sacred cows” that are beyond discussion.

The author asserts that the British and United States education systems are so focused on establishing training and career equality for girls that they do a poor job of preparing young girls for real life as women. He believes that this results from an attempt to educate girls the same as boys, and thus treats as unimportant anything that might be unique to girls, such as motherhood. He relates personal discussions with bright girls in their late teens who had aspirations of becoming successful professionals, and predicted that based on his personal contacts and research, “perhaps two-thirds of these professional women will be childless by the time they reach their late thirties. And 90 percent will profoundly regret it.”

The author was an early feminist, absorbing the early writings of Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir and other leading feminists. In his early years, he enthusiastically worked to raise the consciousness of young women of his acquaintance, encouraging them to avoid the trap of family and children in order to help these young women free themselves to achieve their potential in careers and work. In light of later developments, he concluded that that view was not working, and only helped to create confusion and misery on the part of many women.

He based his change in attitude partly on the later writings of the early feminists. He saw in these later writings confusion as to why, with the unparalleled advancements of women in the public sphere, there was still a wide spread lack of fulfillment and there existed acute dis-satisfaction on the part of many women. He was especially struck by contacts from younger women in their thirties who had lived their lives according to the early recommendations, that is, postpone childhood and family in order to establish themselves in careers and thus free themselves from oppression. From these contacts, he frequently heard distress that their education had not prepared them for life as they had found it.

Another cause of his change in attitude was what he calls the “Bridget Jones Syndrome.” Bridget Jones is a fictional creation of Helen Fielding, a British writer. Her two books, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” and then the film, became wildly popular, selling millions of copies worldwide, and the film becoming “one of the most popular British movies ever.” The author asserts this fictional character has become “an icon for young and not-so-young women everywhere.” The character is thirty-something, successful in a challenging and promising career, and is “single and not happy with it.” A large part of the Bridget Jones story is her ‘marriage frenzy’ “in her search for a husband and father of her children.” The author attributes this publishing success to touching something very basic in women. He interprets that for millions of young women, though of course not all, something more than career success is necessary for personal fulfillment, a basic need that is almost totally ignored in the British and United States ways of raising young girls.

According to the author, the basic problem in public policy was that early feminist demands for “equality” was strongly embedded in British and United States public policy, especially in the education establishments. These laws still dominate education policy in these two countries, and he sees them as treating boys and girls as if they are the same. He suggests one possible reason this policy continues to be maintained is it creates more workers to satisfy the needs of industry. He also insists these policies are misleading young women. He laments that later “liberation” feminism, sees women as having a “different voice” than men, and often different priorities, is ignored in these education establishments. One result of public policy of ignoring later feminist views is that as girls mature, many of them are unprepared to create the kind of life they eventually find they really want.

The author admits he approached the publication of this book with some trepidation, anticipating angry accusations of “Neanderthal” and “Anti-female.” But what encouraged him to continue was that every public angry accusation was followed by scores of young and not-so-young women thanking him for expressing thoughts they thought only they had.

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