I spent the day in London, dashing between Kingston University in Surbiton and Bush House for BBC World Service.
I'll write on the substance of the conference tomorrow as well as the radio discussion, because both were fascinating (even though I missed half of the conference because of my dashings to and fro).
In The Times today, a short article by Nicola Woodcock about research claims that 'Girls as young as four believe that they are cleverer and more hard-working than boys.' And, she adds, 'they also manage to convince male classmates of their apparent superiority by the age of eight.'
The article goes on:
From the first year of primary school they [girls] think they are more intelligent and better behaved than boys. Although boys in the first years of school try to stick up for themselves, by the age of eight they are resigned to thinking of themselves as naughtier, less able to focus and not as good at their schoolwork.
'Adults endorse this stereotype,' think the female researchers, considering that, '[t]here are signs that these expectations have the potential to become self-fulfilling'.
Of course it may be so: maybe boys are more stupid, and maybe everyone thinking so and expecting them to be is proof that they are. And maybe there is history to this. But there used to be a certain redemption for them even through their disability or, as it may be, unwillingness, to conform, and to perform the acts that schools and parents deem to be the only signs of intelligence. They might have deployed their own peculiar intelligence in refusal and rebellion. They might, for example, have fiddled in a bored and alienated sort of way with miscellaneous parts of their environment and become excited by possibilities. They might have devised things, or invented things, or turned over ideas in that fixed-attention sort of way they have when they finally do get interested in something, and some of these things might have been bad or even wicked, but others might have been clever and even wonderful.
And maybe the world, in its heart of hearts, knew this, and understood that this was how the world had come to be as it was. That this was why the world had plumbing and clean water and public transport and complex instruments and strange but fascinating games; that it was why they had medicine and astrophysics and the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, as well as gangsters, murderers, weapons of mass destruction and the whole range of political systems including the very best and the very worst. So, knowing this capacity, and recognising that it wasn't primarily to do with being well behaved in primary school, or paying proper attention to the things the lady teacher was expecting them to do (because they are practically all lady teachers), that is to say things, and ways of doing things, that they were frankly not very interested in but which were the official values with which they were presented, and by which they themselves were evaluated, the unofficial world might have thought, yes, but they might become worthwhile and oddly dynamic in some other way, and allowed for that possibility.
And it is also possible that by not allowing for that possibility, by regarding boys simply as stupid wastes of space with no talent and no application, and as nothing but that, the world might find that boys conclude that it is only the violent, criminal and vicious alternatives that remain to them as acts of non-conformity; after all, by eight they are convinced they are too stupid to be anything else but misfits, and that they are potentially criminal anyway.
On the other hand that may not be a bright prospect for anyone, including the smug little eight year old girls.