Gender and Epistemological Development
I am somewhat torn between the belief that there is a difference between the ways in which men and women learn and that there is no difference. Having read Kegan’s beliefs about the lack of a difference (1994) and having viewed Tarule’s video about the belief in a difference (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008) have further clouded my thoughts. In this post, I will attempt to present both sides. Then, I will make a conclusion that reflects my strongest belief at the moment.
Kegan (1994) views learning as stages that do not account for gender. Instead, he believes that all people go through varying stages as they learn and that gender does not matter. To clarify his belief more, Kegan seems to see gender differences as nothing more than a type of cultural preference. He asks, “What happens, then, if we think of gender differences as more like cultural differences? What happens, for example, if we make use of recent research on gender styles to consider communication between men and women at work as something closer to a cross-cultural event” (Kegan, 1994, p. 211)? In this regard, it is not that there are gender differences when it comes to learning. Surely, there are stylistic preferences, yet Kegan believes them to be just that: preferences.
Tarule (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008) seems to take a very different stance. Her research has ostensibly shown that there are indeed differences between genders. For example, she believes that women have five positions of knowing and that most women are connected learners (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). She sees this as problematic because, in her research, it would seem that most institutions are designed for separate learners (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). Moreover, she sees this as problematic because educators need to be able to address the needs of the entire population (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008).
While both Kegan (1994) and Tarule (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008) present compelling arguments, I am forced to side with Kegan. Moreover, I side with Kegan because of what Tarule presented, not in spite of it. Tarule described five positions of women’s ways of knowing (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008), yet men go through those same positions. In other words, I do not disagree with Tarule’s findings—I simply believe that they apply to both genders. In addition, Tarule herself admits that women, though mostly connected learners, can be separate learners (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). The same is true for men. In truth, there is no way to say that all men learn one way and all women learn another way. It will vary from person to person because every individual is unique, and our Corporate Training Programs should reflect that.
Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). How adults learn: Theory and research [DVD]. Baltimore, MD.