Back to School Minus the Sex Stereotypes

Labor Day has come and gone, and the kids have gone back to school. And, fortunately, thanks, in part, to the Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes campaign, more students will be in classrooms where their teachers will get to know their individual learning styles rather than making assumptions about how they learn and what they're interested in based solely on their sex.

If you're scratching your head and saying, but wait, it's 2013; I thought teachers *do* focus on individual needs, I don't blame you. But it turns out that even today, there's a movement across the country aiming to separate students by sex, based on faulty theories about supposed "hard-wired" differences between boys' and girls' brains and development. Proponents of these programs espouse the beliefs that boys and girls learn and develop so differently that they should be educated separately using radically different teaching techniques – that they cannot learn around one another and have nothing to learn from one another.

Fortunately, more and more educators and education policymakers are realizing that their students don't fit neatly into little pink-and-blue/girls-and-boys boxes. In Birmingham, Ala., La Crosse, Wis., and Wood County, W. Va., schools have agreed (after the ACLU intervened) to end unlawful single-sex programs that were based on and promoted gender stereotypes. In Boston, Mass. and Durham, N.C. (where a well-resourced boys' school was proposed with no similar opportunity available to girls), proposals to start new single-sex programs were defeated. And, the Maine state legislature rejected a ridiculous bill that could have been read as encouraging schools to institute single-sex classes in violation of Title IX and the Constitution.

But, of course, it's never all good news, is it? Grand Rapids, Mich. is set to begin a new single-sex program, and Beloit, Wis. has opted to continue its single-sex program, despite an active investigation by the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Similarly, Valley Charter in Modesto, Calif. persists in separating freshman and sophomore advisory classes by sex, in the face of impressive protests by the school's students. And, Austin, Tex. is on track to implement a new single-sex program in 2014, despite widespread community criticism, including the suggestion that the proposal essentially experiments on poor kids and kids of color, bringing possibly harmful techniques to their classrooms that simply wouldn't fly in the more affluent and enfranchised part of town. Meanwhile, Rhode Island, in a bid to return to the 1950s, enacted legislation, directly in conflict with Title IX, that authorizes public schools to provide sex-separated extracurricular activities of any kind. Think boys go to wood shop and baseball games and girls go to home ec and the ballet. Hold on while I find my poodle skirt.

These school districts are behind the curve, though. Simply put, the legal footing is slipping out from under both the programs and their proponents. In the ACLU case that ended the West Virginia program mentioned above, a federal judge observed "the court does note that the science behind single-sex education appears to be, at best inconclusive, and certain gender-based teaching techniques based on stereotypes and lacking any scientific basis may very well be harmful to students. Even Professor [Rosemary] Salomone, the expert witness called by the defense, agreed with the ACLU on the issue of brain research – that it's based on the rationale of pseudoscience – and suggested that many schools were ‘led astray' by the teachings of [single-sex proponent] Dr. Leonard Sax."

And don't just take it from the court. When OCR began to investigate Birmingham's single-sex program, "The District . . . informed OCR that the District was not interested in attempting to continue the single sex classes in a manner that would comply with the Title IX requirements." What they mean is, "The District realized that its program was blatantly illegal and that it would be impossible to bring it into compliance with Title IX." Watch out, Beloit, Wis.

In all seriousness these programs are illegal, and even if they weren't illegal are they really what we want for our kids? Schools separating students by sex and designing curriculum around gender stereotypes convey the message – intentionally or not – that there are particular ways "normal" boys or girls ought to think or behave. As Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men and Manhood in America and SUNY Stony Brook professor, puts it, single-sex classrooms can "flatten the differences among boys, which will crush those boys who do not conform to that stereotype: the artistic ones, the musical ones, the soft-spoken ones, the ones who aren't into sports." And, the same is true for girls. Relatedly, Chicago Medical School – Rosalind Franklin University neuroscience Professor Lise Eliot has found that "[w]hether we divide groups by race, religion, age, or -- yes -- gender, segregation inevitably promotes stereotyping and prejudice. And children, who learn which attributes society values from the way adults divide groups of people, are especially vulnerable to this kind of prejudice." These understandings of the harms of this single-sex approach are catching on. Just check out the impressive constellation of women's rights groups and LGBT groups that came out against the Rhode Island legislation, as well as the League of United Latin American Citizens' statement in Austin.

We want a world where students are treated as individuals, rather than stereotypes, where a girl's passion for robotics will be just as celebrated as her sister's passion for fashion-design and where a boy who likes to read is just as respected as the boy who prefers football. We've been steadily moving toward that world since the latter part of the 20th century. In recent years, a few individuals have been trying to pull us backwards, and we're glad that the 2013-2014 school year will see a few more schools getting back on track. We'll keep working to make sure even more return to the fold. If your school is separating kids by sex based on stereotypes, tell us about it here.

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News flash, news flash! Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina. Stop with the political correctness. Making everything the same is actually a form or insult, of not appreciating the beauty of the differences. Men and women ARE different. It is not some made up theory...




Well said anonymous!

This is a bunch of liberal communist manifesto propaganda aimed to "unify" everybody into a bunch of politically "correct" sheep
(to make us easier to control of course).
I am a female and I do not consider myself of lesser value- nor has anybody ever made me feel otherwise. We clearly have just as many rights as men do. I suppose I don't understand what this whole "grey" area is all about. I mean I have literally no idea where these crazy f*****s, n****s and femminazis are getting these ideas and statistics. This whole thing with ridding the world of our sex, nationality, etc. is hurting us and degrading the integrity of our society as a whole.
People these days just WANT an excuse to be offended..I suppose its self-entitlement..Who knows.
I just think it is hilarious that this very group of hippies are the same ones who are always so concerned with what other countries think of us and that were ignorant, blah blah blah..YET, ironically, while trying to be more "aware" and "correct" it all just makes us look dumber and dumber. I mean other countries think we are a joke for that very reason. Because we are always tip-toeing on egg shells all the time about "offensiveness" and making stupid rules about excluding gender,etc. I mean for god sakes there was a school in Sweden that has omitted the words HE/SHE because apperantly it is so horribly offensive.

( We need to let them decide what their gender is,etc.


Justin R.

Studies show that boys learn differently than girls. Brain scans tell part of the story. In general, more areas of girls' brains, including the cerebral cortex (responsible for memory, attention, thought, and language) are dedicated to verbal functions. The hippocampus -- a region of the brain critical to verbal memory storage -- develops earlier for girls and is larger in women than in men. "That has a profound effect on vocabulary and writing," Gurian says.

In boys' brains, a greater part of the cerebral cortex is dedicated to spatial and mechanical functioning. So boys tend to learn better with movement and pictures rather than just words, Gurian says.

"If teachers let boys draw a picture or story board before sitting down to write," he says, "they'll be better able to access color and other details about what they are writing. They can access more information."

There are also biochemical differences. Boys have less serotonin and oxytocin -- hormones that play a role in promoting a sense of calm -- than girls. That's why it's more likely that young boys will fidget and act impulsively. "Teachers think the boy who can't sit still and is wriggling in his chair and making noise is being defiant," Leonard Sax, MD, author of Why Gender Matters and Boys Adrift, says. "But he isn't. He can't be quiet.”

Sax says there are no differences between boys and girls in terms of what they can learn. "But there are," he says, "big differences in the way to teach them."



As someone who has taught in both co-ed and single-sex environments, currently teaches at an all-girls private school, and is a parent of both a boy and a girl, I can't tell you how disappointed I am with this ill-conceived move on the part of the ACLU, and I say that as someone who is generally a great supporter of them.

The short answer is that you have no idea what you are talking about if you think gender isn't a significant factor in how students learn and work in the classroom, and there are strong reasons for wanting to provide a single-sex experience for your child (there are arguments for not doing so as well, of course). Parents at my school are spending enormous amounts of money--upwards of $30,000 a year--for the option of sending their daughters to a single-sex school, and it's not because they want to keep them away from boys.

Anyway, I've taught in all-girls, all-boys, and co-ed environments, and I can tell you, they are all different, and each of them brings something worthwhile to the table. I can't imagine what possible purpose there is to trying to litigate two of them out of existence. I can tell you that doing so doesn't do much more than highlight a basic ignorance about educational pedagogy or about real world experience in education environments.

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