The fabulous L. at Homesick Home pointed me to this proposed class action brought by the ACLU challenging a Louisiana public school district's plans to implement single-sex education in junior high (ages approximately 11 - 14) based on overbroad stereotypes about the differing interests and abilities of boys and girls. Here are some highlights from the plaintiff's Complaint:
. . . 44. Mr. Murphy briefly outlined the differences in instruction that would be given to girls and to boys.
45. For instance, girls would receive character education and be subject to high expectations both academically and socially. Girls would be taught math through "hands-on" approaches. Field trips, physical movement, and multisensory strategies would be incorporated into girls' classes. Girls would act as mentors for elementary school girls.
NOTE: While "character education" sounds harmless enough, why do I have the sense that character education for girls is going to consist of girls being taught to quietly and mildly follow the rules while waiting for the boys to save them from any real harm? The next paragraph does nothing to reassure me.
46. On the other hand, boys' teachers would teach and discuss "heroic" behavior and ideas "that show adolescents what it means to truly 'be a man.' Boys' classes would include consistently applied discipline systems and offer tension release strategies. Boys' classes would also feature more group assignments.
47. Mr. Murphy explained that the approaches the Southside Junior High School would utilize were based on the work of Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian, two popular writers on gender differences.
. . .53. Dr. Sax is a medical doctor with a Ph.D in psychology who has styled himself an expert on and advocate for single-sex education. He does not perform scientific research and he does not have training in education.
. . . 54. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax states that because of biological differences in the brain, boys need to practice pursuing and killing prey, while girls need to practice taking care of babies. As a result, boys should be permitted to roughhouse during recess and play contact sports, to learn the rules of aggression. Such play is more dangerous for girls, because girls are less biologically able to manage aggression.
. . . 57. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax urges that boys be taught in competitive, high-energy teams. In contrast, teachers should assure that girls are relaxed in class. For instance, girls should be encouraged to take their shoes off. Also, girls should never be given strict time limits to complete tasks. Stress makes boys perform better and girls perform worse, according to Dr. Sax.
NOTE: So much for raising girls to go into fields like, say, litigation . . . This reminds me of one of the best classes I ever took -- first year Latin in ninth grade -- where we were subject to very fast paced competitive drills in vocabulary and grammar. The top three students in the co-ed class were girls. Boy were we girls loaded for bear every day and boy did we know the subject matter cold by the end of the year.
58. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that because of sex differences in the brain, girls need real world applications to understand math, while boys naturally understand math theory. For instance, girls understand number theory better when they can count flower petals or segments of artichokes to make the theory concrete.
QUERY: In junior high?!?!? (In fairness, it's not clear to me whether Dr. Sax IS referring to junior high kids here, but this guy is making me very nervous . . .)
59. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that literature teachers should not ask boys about emotions in literature, but should simply focus on what actually happened in the story. In contrast, teachers should focus on emotions rather than action in teaching literature to girls.
And then after being explicitly encouraged by their schooling to focus on emotions, these girls can then be grow up to be mocked by the men in their lives for talking about "feelings" all the time.
. . . 60. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that most boys enjoy taking risks, and most girls do not.
If this is true and inherent (rather than the product of adults wringing their hands about protecting girls from stress and aggression) , then one wonders why on earth Dr. Sax advocates shielding girls from stress and aggression rather than encouraging girls to take more risks so that they can learn to rise to these types of challenges. Like the boys who don't quite match their supposed gender norm:
. . . 62. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that "anomalous males" -- boys who like to read, who don't enjoy competitive sports or rough-and-tumble play, and who don't have a lot of close male friends -- should be firmly disciplined, should spend as much time as possible with "normal males," and should be made to play competitive sports.
There is more but I had better wrap this up. The attorneys conclude very simply pointing out the problem with the approach of Dr. Sax and the school district:
. . . 77. All girls are not alike. Research demonstrates that the psychological differences between individual girls are far larger than any average phychological differences between girls and boys.
78. All boys are not alike. Research demonstrates that the psychological differences between individual boys are far larger than any average psychological differences between boys and girls.
79. Psychological research demonstrates that on average, boys and girls are psychologically more alike than different.
80. Gender is an imprecise proxy for psychological, emotional, and developmental differences in adolescents.
It is a common critique that feminists deny any differences between the sexes. But no serious feminist does. Obviously, neurological and hormonal differences play a role in our behavior and intellectual development. What feminists say -- over and over again -- is that we have to proceed with extreme caution in evaluating and acting on these differences. With all sort of overblown and very ingrained cultural assumptions and stereotypes permeating our lives, we tend to assign far too much weight and leap to all sorts of unsupported conclusions whenever we learn about a particular average difference between the sexes. And we tend to forget that the sexes are far more alike than different and that many people don't match the supposed norm for their gender. These conclusions naturally tend towards the notion that women are less capable all around, except in tasks like tending home and hearth which happen to be unpaid and unpowerful jobs.
I do not necessarily have a problem with single-sex education in and of itself. I myself experienced a single sex educational environment for four years when I attended Mount Holyoke College. The difference there is that the educators at Mount Holyoke and similar women's colleges, both historically and today, used single-sex education as an opportunity to free students from damaging gender stereotypes. For example, as far back as 1837, Mary Lyon the founder of Mount Holyoke believed there was no limit to what women students could master in the fields of math and science (or any other field). As a result, Mount Holyoke has a tradition that carries on to this day of undergraduates performing very high level work in the sciences, especially chemistry and physics.
It appears that in the case of the Louisiana school district, however, single sex education will further entrench students of both sexes in damaging stereotypes. Note that the "anomolous males" who don't conform to supposed "gender norms" will be forced to toughen up whereas females will be spared from such toughening regardless of their proclivities. This sounds like a definite case of "separate and unequal" and I am sure the reality of it will be even worse than the theory.
UPDATE: Shakespeare's Sister has some good commentary on the "Boy Crisis" and proposed "solutions" to it here.