The problem? Anxiety is strongly linked to reduction in capacity to learn. This anxiety can result in part from negative stereotyping in the minds of learners, ie and eg: women believe that women can't do maths and therefore they can't. From the 13th January edition of the The New Scientist, (sub needed for full article), a team of psychologists have tested a possible solution to the problem of stereotyping. They
"asked a group of African Amercan 12 - 13 year olds to spend a few minutes examinging a list of values, based on things such as friendship and family, and to indicate which they felt were most important. The students than wrote a short paragraph explaining why they felt the values they had chosen were meaningful to them.
This self-affirming exercise took just 15 minute, yet it had a remarkable impact. Compared to their peers, these students showed more resilience in the face of failures and earned higher grades throughout the term. The exercies reduced the achievement gap between them and white students by 40 per cent. "
Great - now I can see the argue for the importance of those self-affirming posts!
Of course it seems to be the case that this kind of stereotyping is much less likely to happen when the pressure to compare that happens all the time in the school system is taken off, so yet again it would appear that HE has a structural advantage. And yes, this does seem to bear out in the effects - it is often the case that it is often quite hard to insist on a stereotyping a long-term HEk in any way, shape or form, since they so often cannot see the point of these sorts of apparent limitations.
Also of course, simply reducing anxiety by not being put in the pressured situation of school can be extremely beneficial to learning. My maths immediately improved when I do am not in a pressurized situation such as school, where I went from the top set in the first year, to the bottom set by the fifth. I now find that I cannot imagine why I thought I had problems with it, (at the level we are talking about, of course) and also that I can gradually build up to doing more and more maths under pressure as I become more and more adept at managing it in the unpressurized space.