Teach Kids Not Stereotypes

Today, we are sending demand letters to school districts in Florida, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama insisting that they take steps to end single-sex programs that rely on and promote archaic and harmful sex stereotypes, and we’re launching a new campaign called Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes to drive the point home. 

As Ani DiFranco sings, “women learn to be women, and men learn to be men,” and some schools across the country are helping that process along. Take the James, Mort, and Woodbridge Elementary Schools in Florida and the Anne Baily Elementary School in West Virginia, which begin separating kids by sex in kindergarten. Kindergarten! That’s right around the time that kids are solidifying their notions of self-identity and developing “an impressive constellation of stereotypes about gender (often amusing and incorrect) that they apply to themselves and others.” And single-sex classrooms? They’re helping those stereotypes along.

Social scientists have found that separating students by sex simply makes the contrast between the sexes more salient. And, when you look at what the proponents of single-sex classrooms are preaching, it’s easy to see the world segregated classrooms can create.   Take Dr. Leonard Sax, who suggests that a boy who likes to read, does not enjoy contact sports, and does not have a lot of close male friends has a problem, even if he thinks he is happy, and that such a boy should be firmly disciplined, required to spend time with “normal males,” and made to play sports. Yikes! 

And if you’re wondering if schools are taking Sax’ advice, just listen to Steve Taylor, the principal of Van Devender Middle School in West Virginia, explain his school’s single-sex program:

We know that boys . . . have a much shorter attention span than girls have, so . . . we have set the boys classrooms up so they can get up and move around and lay on the floor if they want, whatever . . . while girls are much more organized . . . They sit at table-round tables, facing each other . . . sharing things . . . doing that sort of thing . . . We know that boys like brighter lights, so we have the boys rooms lit a little differently than we do the girls rooms . . . [B]oys, we sit them side-by-side, because when they look each other in the eye it becomes more of a confrontational type thing . . .

Whether you’re a girl who hates sitting still and likes bright lights, or a boy who works best collaboratively or enjoys reading, watch out. These single-sex programs have no space for you.

And what are the results of divided education? Well, those social scientists I cited earlier found that “there is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.” That’s not what I signed up for when I went to public school, and I don’t think that’s what most parents are signing their kids up for. 

Incidentally, if you’re wondering what the law says, it turns out that generalizations about the ways boys and girls “typically learn” are not permissible reasons to start a single-sex program. 

We at the ACLU can’t sit on our hands while public schools teach boys to be active and aggressive – by shouting at them, spanking them, and allowing them to toss a football in class – while they simultaneously coddle girls, using soft voices, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, and giving them untimed tests to create a less stressful environment. In addition to the demand letters we’re sending today, in the past month, we’ve filed public records requests with schools in Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Massachusetts, Indiana, Idaho, and Illinois so that we can better understand the scope and parameters of the single-sex programs operating in those states.

Is your school separating students by sex? If so, let us know here, because all of our kids deserve to reach their full potential, regardless of their sex. And, that starts with a high quality, fair education that treats all students as individuals, not as stereotypes.

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Thomas Mischler

I have been a supporter of ACLU for years. I support the mission of the ACLU, and usually I support their actions. However, this action is just plain wrong, and I am saddened and alarmed at this.

I have attended two workshops given by Dr. Sax. One resounding message was repeated over and over: difference does not imply hierarchy. I heard him say it over and over. I also heard him describe the many ways gender separate education inhibited, rather than exacerbated, gender stereotypes.

I fully support equal opportunities for girls and boys, and so does Dr. Sax. I fully support abandoning the traditional notion of home economics for girls and shop class for boys. So does Dr. Sax. In fact, there is no way the character described in this article remotely resembles the Dr. Sax I spoke with several times, and learned so much from.

What I do not support is the notion that there is no difference between boys and girls. Of course there are differences, and not just in plumbing. There are many differences in how students learn - single sex education addresses those differences and prevents them from hindering a child's education, as often happens in a mixed-gender classroom.

Single Sex Public Education is an idea that is backed by enormous amounts of research and anecdotal evidence. A cursory, OPEN MINDED examination of the facts will bear this out. But it appears the ACLU does not have the time to study this matter - only to bully school districts into denying the rights of teachers and parents to make the choices themselves about what works and doesn't work for their children.

"Historically, the people whose opinions are the most controversial or extreme are the people whose rights are most often threatened." - from the ACLU website paragraph, "Why we do what we do."

Currently the ACLU is threatening the rights of teachers and parents in several states to choose how their children are educated. School districts that are unable to afford to fight ACLU attorneys are instead caving under pressure to eliminate a program that has been shown to be effective and desirable in furthering the very goals the ACLU claims to support.

I strongly urge the ACLU to look into this matter more strenuously before taking further legal action. Children should not be prevented from a possible increase in educational opportunities simply because the ACLU refuses to allow a departure from traditional arguments of what constitutes fairness.

Anonymous

Your article on Single Sex Classrooms is naive and ill-informed at best. Before you write further on this topic please get educated about it. You might start by attending on of Dr. Sax conferences and listen to teachers who are teaching in single sex classrooms. It is highly unlikely you have first hand experience in the classroom. By the way, boys and girls ARE different. There's nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is if people are discriminated against for their differences. By the way I have attended Dr. Leonard Sax's lectures and read his books. What you have said in your article about him and his views is totally inaccurate. How can the ACLU claim to present a fair and unbiased view of the situation when your comments show such a lack of knowledge of Single Sex Classroom's and of Dr. Sax's position. This is dishonest and counter to what you claim to represent. If you want to have any credibility you should study both views in an unbiased way and know them well before you start taking a position and excoriating something you know nothing about. I laud your desire to help the downtrodden but this is not how to go about it. It is a travesty.

Anonymous

Your article on Single Sex Classrooms is naive and ill-informed at best. Before you write further on this topic please get educated about it. You might start by attending on of Dr. Sax conferences and listen to teachers who are teaching in single sex classrooms. It is highly unlikely you have first hand experience in the classroom. By the way, boys and girls ARE different. There's nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is if people are discriminated against for their differences. I have attended Dr. Leonard Sax's lectures and read his books. What you have said in your article about him and his views is totally inaccurate.

How can the ACLU claim to present a fair and unbiased view of the situation when your comments show such a lack of knowledge of Single Sex Classroom's and of Dr. Sax's position. This is dishonest and counter to what you claim to represent. If you want to have any credibility you should study both views in an unbiased way and know them well before you start taking a position and excoriating something you know nothing about. I laud your desire to help the downtrodden but this is not how to go about it. It is a travesty.

Kathleen Salyer...

Your article on Single Sex Classrooms is naive and ill-informed at best. Before you write further on this topic please get educated about it. You might start by attending on of Dr. Sax conferences and listen to teachers who are teaching in single sex classrooms. It is highly unlikely you have first hand experience in the classroom. By the way, boys and girls ARE different. There's nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is if people are discriminated against for their differences. I have attended Dr. Leonard Sax's lectures and read his books. What you have said in your article about him and his views is totally inaccurate. How can the ACLU claim to present a fair and unbiased view of the situation when your comments show such a lack of knowledge of Single Sex Classroom's and of Dr. Sax's position. This is dishonest and counter to what you claim to represent. If you want to have any credibility you should study both views in an unbiased way and know them well before you start taking a position and excoriating something you know nothing about. I laud your desire to help the downtrodden but this is not how to go about it. It is a travesty.

Kathleen Salyer...

I attempted to post a comment on your article on Single Sex Schools. I'm curious why you didn't post it. Was it because it did not support your biased, uninformed position on the topic?

Anonymous

You are very wrong. The opportunity of single gender classrooms works very well for some children, and does not have as much impact on others. Offering the *choice* of a single-gender experience to parents does not in any way ghettoize students. It's a choice, not a forced program.

I went to an all-girls school thru 4th grade. I loved the school, and I learned a lot. When I moved to a different city, we went to a regular, mixed-gender school. Suddenly I was uncool because I was really really good at science and math. So Un-Lady-like! How can that be a better option?

Anonymous

are comments allowed?

Anonymous

are comments allowed?

N. Clinton

I teach in school who currently supports single-gender classrooms. I teach 7th grade (girls) mathematics: pre-algebra/pre-geometry. I've taught for 15 years and have had mixed-gender classrooms all my career until this past school year. Let me explain the differences I've seen this year compared to years past. Discipline problems were nearly non-existent. Secondly, those shy girls who would never volunteer to share a problem or participate in class discussions were eager to show what they learned. In addition, the pre-algebra concepts I've taught year after year have always been a struggle, but this year, my students blew the unit away. They demonstrated superb knowledge,understanding, and utilization of the concepts. So much so, I was able to provide them with projects that employed those skills and dabbed in algebra 1 concepts. Their love for pre-algebra and level of understanding even amazed me.

I must say, my classroom looks NOTHING like the picture above. In fact, as feminist, I find it demeaning, archaic, and offensive to depict single-gender classrooms as pushing girls into "fluff" courses. Have any of you EVER been into a single-gender classroom to see what's going on??? I think not. If you had, you wouldn't be bullying public schools who have no means (monetarily) to defend themselves in a court of law. You dare to call yourselves American Civil Liberties Union! What liberty are you providing by denying parents, children, America CHOICES in quality education!

Anonymous

In response to the above comments, what is naive is the belief that separating children according to gender can be viewed in the abstract, out of context of the incredible onslaught of attacks on women's autonomy that is happening in America today. We're fighting to maintain our right to bodily autonomy and access to reproductive health, as well as equal pay, and you are naively arguing that single sex classrooms will be a good thing despite the fact that it encourages boys to that girls are a distraction--one that holds them back from their "natural" assertiveness, and teaches girls to think of themselves as quiet, non-competitive, and in need of greater physical comfort and gentle treatment? Girls will learn to speak out publicly as adults by....? How can reinforcing the notion that boys and girls are sooooo different that they can't learn well together (and work together, in the future) possibly lead to egalitarian values? How can boys grow up to be the allies of women in our struggle for equal rights, equal access, and equal protection under the law, when they have had instilled in them the conviction that girls are from Venus--you know, that warm place where everybody is comfy and quiet? How can girls grow up to be assertive in the presence of the opposite sex? There's a huge part of learning that your theories fail to address: learning to work together to strive for a better world, not a gender reified world where men and women are from different planets, and one of those planets just happens to be better trained to be competitive than the other.

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