Blog of Rights

Don't Segregate Boys and Girls in Classrooms

By Michael Kimmel, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, Stony Brook University at 11:35am

The following is an excerpt from an op-ed that originally ran on cnn.com on Aug. 9, 2013. Michael Kimmel is distinguished professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University. His new book, "Angry White Men," will be published by Nation Books in the fall.

Is your daughter a tomboy? Your son not especially into football? Does your daughter excel at math? Your son a skilled artist? Or does your daughter switch roles, relatively easily, from skinning her knees on a soccer field to worrying about what to wear to a party? Or does your son, like mine, come home sweaty and bruised from lacrosse practice only to sing gorgeously in the shower as a member of his high school a cappella group?

If your answers are yes -- and probably most parents recognize some elements of these traits in their children -- you can breathe a bit easier today. That is, at least, if you happen to live in Wood County, West Virginia.

That's because recently, under a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and its local affiliates, the Wood County Board of Education agreed to abandon for two school years its program of separating boys and girls into single-sex classes. The ACLU had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a mother and her daughters who claimed the sex segregation was a form of sex discrimination against girls.

This little-noted legal settlement gives all of us -- parents, teachers, administrators, and kids themselves -- something to think about: Are single-sex classes really an effective way to educate our children?

Historically, of course, single-sex schools -- especially private schools and colleges -- were the norm. But since the dawn of the 20th century, both educators and parents have seen them as historic anachronisms, especially for boys. Single-sex schools for girls may have challenged stereotypes, but single-sex schools for boys reproduced them, fostering what David Riesman and Christopher Jencks, in their monumental midcentury study, "The Academic Revolution," called "male arrogance."

Today, single-sex schools may provide some benefits, though these tend to be benefits that accompany the economic privilege of the families that can afford them. (That is, single sex private schools tend to also be schools for the elite.) But single-sex classes, in otherwise coeducational public schools, are entirely misguided.

In recent years, single-sex classes in public schools have become increasingly popular as a low-cost remedy for two issues that plague our country's public school system: the efforts to encourage girls' ambitions in traditionally "masculine" arenas such as science, technology, engineering and math, and to address the "boy crisis" in schools, the chronic underachievement of boys, especially in traditionally "feminine" subjects such as English.

It's a popular theory. After Title IX regulations changed in 2006, more than 1,000 public schools segregated at least some of their classes by sex, a 2010 Feminist Majority report said. The National Association for Single Sex Public Education states a lower number — it says 500 U.S. public schools "offered single-sex educational opportunities" for the 2011-12 school year.

Regardless, the theory is wrong. In fact, single-sex classes might do more harm than good.

To be sure, there is some anecdotal evidence that some students prefer single-sex classes (though they tend not to "prefer" to take calculus and we still insist they do). And especially in inner-city communities, single-sex "academies" have gained popularity because of their brilliant combination of rigid discipline, uniforms and powerful sense of community and school spirit. But, according to Pedro Noguera, an education expert, there is no research that shows the "single-sex" part of the equation has any independent effect on student performance.

Instead, evidence points decidedly in the other direction.

Single-sex classes reinforce harmful stereotypes about boys and girls. A 2011 article in the journal Science concluded that "sex-segregated education is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence. 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

To continue reading this piece please visit: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/09/opinion/kimmel-single-sex-classes/index.html.

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Tags: Title IX
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