The latest trend in education seems to be the outcry over boys being left behind by a "feminized" educational system (see Shakespeare's Sister's take on this here) coupled with a push towards single-sex classrooms in public schools.
I have mixed-feelings about single-sex education (and yes, I attended a women's college) but I will begrudgingly admit that there's nothing inherently wrong with it. What worries me, however, is that the latest trend seems to focus on implementing different curricula and different rules in girls' and boys' classrooms based on the grossest sex stereotypes. Tonight I came home to my "People" Magazine which features an article entitled "Should Boys and Girls Be Taught Separately?" It focuses on Woodward Avenue Elementary School in Deland, Floriday which is modeled on the philosophy of Dr, Leonard Sax of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, who said, "Most boys learn better standing up. Most girls learn better sitting down." For example:
[In a boys'] history lesson on the Alamo, the boys got out of their chairs and pretended to shoot an imaginary enemy. [In the girls' class], a lesson on the Holocaust consisted of reading about a Jewish girl during the war and talking about how they would feel if it happened to them.
The typical day for a 5th grade girl at this school involves reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (a historical novel about a 13 year old girl on a seas voyage during the 19th century), 15 minute breaks outside having snacks and talking with friends, and my favorite -- "awaiting instructions before starting experiments" in science. The boys read The Rats of NIMH series, take 15 minite running breaks "between lessons," and in contrast to the girls in science, "start experiments without having to wait for instructions." (emphasis added).
Granted, this article doesn't go terribly in depth, but to me, it smacks of the same old pernicious stereotypes under which I suffered as a little girl. (And I do mean, "suffered" quite literally.) I well remember being confined to the doll corner by hawk-eyed teachers while the boys got the run of the classroom to play war games during recess -- and I see the same thing here with pictures in the article of little girls sitting bent over their desks, while the little boys wander around or sit sprawled on the floor doing their written work. I also remember the boys being praised and indulged for their "boys will be boys" antics, while any such boisterousness was severely disapproved in girls. Extreme docility was demanded of us girls, yet were also criticized for being less inherently creative and bold than the boys.
Susan McGee Bailey of Wellesley College's Centers for Women summed up my reservations: "By assuming all boys are X and all girls Y, we are shortchanging students similar to the opposite sex in interest and abilities."