Nel's New Day

December 6, 2014

Sex-Segregated Classes, Schools Need to Stop

When I attended high school, boys and girls were divided in some classrooms because girls couldn’t take the fun shop classes and boys weren’t allowed in home economic classes. Not until Title IX, declaring equal rights for female and male students, was passed in 1969 did classes that traditionally permitted only one gender become desegregated by sex. Thirty-five years later, George W. Bush’s Department of Education changed Title IX regulations to allow single sex classes and schools. One rationale was that girls would do much better without the attention paid to more disruptive boys; another one was that boys could learn to be more manly without any females in their classes. Within the next ten years, about 750 public schools in the United States again separated males from females.

The practice of gender segregation in education has largely benefited males:

Separate is not equal: Much of the educational practices are based on faulty science about the difference between boys and girls. In Middleton (ID) elementary teachers electronically amplify their voices in all-boys’ classrooms, but not in those that are all-girl, because of ridiculous assumptions about hearing differences between the two sexes. Boys are encouraged to run and play before exams while girls participated in “calming yoga exercises” from false beliefs about differences regarding the brains’ stress response systems between the two sexes. Boys usually get the newer facilities—just as they have in sports—and the “best” teachers because they “need” the help more than girls. Because girls are considered easier to manage, their classes are larger than those for boys. A Dayton (OH) second-grade class of low-income blacks in a public school focused on instruction on etiquette such as how to eat in a high-end restaurant. One justification for sex segregation has been that girls need to be protected from the boys.

Costs are higher: The separate operation and facilities for single sex education are more costly than comparable coeducation. Staff training, program evaluation, and responses to litigation about discriminatory practices require taxpayer funding. Florida uses teacher-training materials about “busy boys and little ladies” from the ideas of Michael Gurian, a pop psychologist lacking training in both neuroscience and education. The Hillsborough district, which includes Tampa, has paid almost $100,000 to the “Gurian Institute” and other trainers who preach stereotypical practices.

Sex segregation is absolute and not totally voluntary: Girls who want to enroll in classes set aside for boys cannot get permission and vice versa. Yet science shows more variation among groups of girls and of boys rather than between the two groups.

Many assumptions about benefits of sex segregation are educationally unsound: Claims about the differences between male and female students requiring dissimilar education are false. For example, this Gurian claim:

“Boys come out of the womb with a formatting for non-verbal, spatial, kinesthetic activity on the right side of the brain. In the areas where girls’ brains come out ready to use words, boys’ brains come out ready to move around, kick and jump.”

Boys’ and girls’ brains aren’t formatted differently, and men and women do not have different brain areas dedicated to verbal or spatial abilities. Testosterone doesn’t help math skills or repress language development, although Florida teachers are told that it does.

Sex-segregation teaches students to discriminate: Ferrell and Franklin Academies in Tampa post Facebook videos of girls bragging about their superior frontal lobes and ability to read facial expressions. Boys boast about their brains’ better visual and spatial processing. Touting how good they are in specific areas implicitly states “we’re bad at thinking” or “we’re bad at talking.”

Research results do not generally support the superiority of sex segregation in advancing student learning or in decreasing sex discrimination: No sound research exists to show that single-sex programs are better than coeducational ones, and increased sex stereotyping is more of a problem in sex-segregated classes.

Sex segregation using pseudo science in public schools is illegal: Title IX regulations forbid single-sex education that is based on “overly broad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of either sex.” Claims about boys’ and girls’ hearing, vision, stress response, and cognitive abilities qualify are “overly broad” because many boys and girls don’t conform to these generalizations. Girls can be very physical and excel at math, and boys can be sensitive and good at reading.

Although not all single-sex schools rely on brain sex differences for justifying segregation, the existence of segregating accents group differences. Any segregation exaggerates the false beliefs in hardwired, unchangeable differences between the sexes. Girls or boys may feel empowered by same-sex classes, but both sexes lose the ability to work with members of the other sex and restrict their potential by keeping them from learning to work together.

The good news is that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance this week about the law covering same-sex classes and schools. Requirements include these:

  • Voluntary enrollment in same-sex classes.
  • Substantially equal coed class in the same subject.
  • Same-sex classes to both male and female students.
  • Evaluations every two years for compliance with Title IX.
  • Equitable access to students with disabilities and English language learners.
  • No discrimination against faculty members based on gender.
  • No reliance on gender stereotypes.
  • Identification of important objectives with proof that the classes achieve the objectives.

More information about children’s brains is available in Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do about It. The author, Lise Eliot, is neuroscientists at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University. Another useful book in this area is Parenting beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes from Christia Spears Brown, a developmental psychologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

1 Comment »

  1. I would have loved to have taken “shop” when I was in high school! And, a class in auto mechanics would have been invaluable! Everyone should have “home ec” or whatever it is called now. These are actually all courses that teach what everyone should know and will help more later in life than most of the classes we had. Anyway, love the blog post and am thinking this might make for an ERA legal action – and it would apply to both sexes!


    Comment by Central Oregon Coast NOW — December 6, 2014 @ 5:39 PM | Reply

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