Susan Jacoby (review date 9 September 1973)
SOURCE: “What Did You Learn in School Today?” in Washington Post Book World, September 9, 1973, p. 4.
[In the following mixed assessment of Unlearning the Lie, Jacoby considers Harrison's reportage incomplete, asserting that “she may have been too close to the situation to realize that she had left so many unanswered questions.”]
It is a truism among educators that girls do better than boys in the early years of school because they are “verbally oriented” and therefore have an easier time learning to read. At some point, usually in early adolescence, the boys begin to catch up, and by the end of formal education, the position of the sexes in academic achievement has been reversed. One of my favorite college professors attested to this syndrome when he told me: “My girl students are more diligent, but the most brilliant ones are usually boys.”
Whether the professor was a male chauvinist pig is beside the point—he was accurately describing the typical result, circa 1965, of coeducational schooling in the United States. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison [in her Unlearning the Lie: Sexism in School] attempts to examine the ways in which schools stereotype girls and boys, and the process by which concerned parents can cajole or coerce changes in the classroom. Fortunately, Harrison chose to confine her study to one school she knew well instead of drowning her case in generalities. Her own children attend the Woodward School, a private, progressive, racially integrated and highly respected institution in Brooklyn. If children are channeled into restrictive sex roles at a school like Woodward—where individualism is rampant and revered—it is easy to imagine how automatic sex stereotyping is in ordinary public schools.
Not surprisingly, Harrison is at her best when describing specific incidents at Woodward that would never come to the attention of an...
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