The mantra of "choice" and why it is bad news for girls and boys

// 13 March 2006

The Independent runs with an interesting story today, about what girls and boys want to learn in science class.

Leeds University asked a bunch of 15 year olds what they were interested in being taught. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given our cultural climate:

Boys like …

* Explosive chemicals.

* How it feels to be weightless in space.

* How the atom bomb functions.

* Biological and chemical weapons and what they do to the human body.

* Black holes and other spectacular objects in outer space.

* How meteors, comets or asteroids can cause disasters on earth.

* The possibility of life outside earth.

* How computers work.

* The effects of strong electric shocks and lightning on the human body.

* Brutal, dangerous and threatening animals.

Girls like …

* Why we dream and what it means.

* Cancer, what we know and how can we treat it.

* How to perform first aid and use basic medical equipment.

* How to exercise to keep the body fit.

* How we can protect ourselves against sexually transmitted diseases.

* What we know about HIV/Aids and how to control it.

* Life and death and the human soul.

* Biological and human aspects of abortion.

* Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

* How alcohol might affect the body.

This can be summed up as: boys are interested in explosions, death, space and technology; girls are interested in their bodies and medicine.

To me, there is something a little melancholy about the preferences of these 15 year olds. Is the lesson that girls are so obsessed with body image that they don’t have room for an interest in what it feels like to be weightless in space?

But it is also revealing that this is rooted in their own lives: how to deal with sex, how to deal with drink, the prospect of cancer. Are the 15 year old boys honestly seeing themselves as astronauts? Perhaps not, but the suggestion of these Leeds researchers, that the Government should introduce a seperate curriculum for each of the sexes, would mean that only boys would have a chance of becoming one.

Oh, and none of them would know anything about STDs. Great idea, guys!

This is just another example of where too much choice, too early, is a bad thing. Teenagers might be breaking away from the authority of their parents, but they find refuge in conformism. They are little barometres of social mores. As this poll reveals, I would say.

The answer isn’t to cater for them, allow their lives to be shaped by a brief period of dizzy social monoculture, but to force them to try everything so they can make true, non-conformist choices later on if they want to.

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