Do Boys And Girls Learn Differently? These Schools Say Yes

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed complaints  against two school districts in Alabama and Idaho that are running single-sex education programs. According to the ACLU, the programs violate federal law by “forcing students into a single-sex environment with little or no alternative options, rely on harmful gender stereotypes and deprive students of equal educational opportunities merely because of their sex.”

“We understand that teachers and parents want to provide the best education for their children. But coeducation was never the problem with failing schools, and single-sex programs are not the answer,” says Christina Brandt-Young, attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. ‘These programs are poorly designed and based on pseudoscience and stereotypes that do nothing to enhance learning, and only reinforce discredited ideas about how boys and girls behave.’

The programs in Middleton Heights Elementary in Middleton, Idaho and Huffman Middle School in Birmingham, Ala., are based on the theories of Dr. Leonard Sax and other proponents of single-sex education, whose  theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains, says the ACLU, “are rooted in archaic stereotypes”: In Middleton, the single-sex program “draws on stereotypes that men are active and independent while women are passive and dependent. The school plans the boys’ day to include exercise and movement, while the girls are provided with a ‘quieter environment.’”

Boys are seated shoulder-to-shoulder while girls are seated face-to-face on the theory that girls are more cooperative while boys are more competitive and should not be forced to make eye contact. The program calls for ‘large amounts of explanation for assignments’ for girls and ‘limited teacher explanation’ for boys. Boys are permitted to play and exercise while girls must maintain a ‘quiet environment.’ The school put out a call for ‘male role models’ for the boys out of concern that too many female teachers contributed to a perceived difficulty in teaching boys. No such request was made for female role models.

“The pervasive and unfounded idea that boys and girls learn so differently that every detail down to the temperature and the light in the classroom should be dictated by sex is ridiculous,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho. “These programs have not made a bit of difference academically to the students of Middleton, but have supported archaic ideas of what is considered ‘normal’ for boys and girls.”

In the single-sex program at Huffman Middle School,  students are separated by sex for all classes, even during lunch. Instructions for teaching boys call for stressing “heroic” behavior that shows what it means to “be a man.” The school relied on a book that teaches that boys are better than girls in math because their bodies receive daily surges of testosterone, while girls have similar skills only “a few days per month” when they experience “increased estrogen during the menstrual cycle.”

“Every individual child learns differently, and no child should be forced to conform to one theory of how he or she should learn,” said Olivia Turner, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “Assuming that boys and girls learn according to their hormones is just an old-fashioned stereotype.” (Read more here.)

It’s shocking to me that these programs would be instituted in public schools (or in any schools, for that matter). Have you encountered any gender-related stereotypes in your children’s schooling?

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One Response to “Do Boys And Girls Learn Differently? These Schools Say Yes”

  1. These are shockingly misguided examples and interpretations of gender differences in learning. But in the schools I visited recently, I did find thoughtful educators in single-sex schools who are talking about how to improve a tailored learning experience for their students. A couple of girls schools are, for example, focusing on STEM learning at an early age and through the middle school years where girls have traditionally fallen away from interest in math and science. I recall one school of each gender with nicely tailored support systems that strengthened counseling resources for their respective genders. So hopefully some good examples out there as well.

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