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"Busy Boys, Little Ladies" - Wait, What Decade Are We In Again?

Galen Sherwin,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Women’s Rights Project
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May 15, 2014

Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, signed legislation earlier this week that would provide professional development for teachers in “single-gender” classrooms.

This may sound innocuous — Who doesn’t want better-trained teachers?

But the truth is that this is actually code for training teachers in the discredited philosophy that boys and girls are so fundamentally different that they need to be taught using radically different methods — methods that sound an awful lot like good old-fashioned sex stereotypes.

Here are a few examples of the type of “training” we’re talking about, plucked from a complaint filed on Tuesday by the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida against the state’s second-largest school district:

  • A professional development program run by the district that was required for all new teachers in single-sex classes included a session called “Busy Boys, Little Ladies” — geared toward kindergarten teachers. Another required session is simply called “Gender Differentiation: Boys and Girls Learn Differently.”
  • Teachers were trained that girls are not good at abstract thinking and learn best through building relationships, while boys excel in concrete thinking and learn best through competition.
  • Teachers of boys were invited to a program entitled “Engaging Students with Debate and Discussion,” where teachers were instructed on how to “engage students in higher level discourse.” Teachers of girls, on the other hand, were invited to a program called “Creating Connections with Girls” and instructed that “Girls will learn better if they believe a teacher cares about them.”

The Hillsborough School District has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to implement a hidden curriculum, permeating practically every aspect of the classroom, promoting — and reinforcing — the theory that boys and girls are fundamentally different.

Of course, the truth is that every student learns differently — in ways that are not determined by sex — and there is no evidence that any sex-based differences translate into the need to teach boys and girls differently. In fact, it is precisely this kind of sex-based over-generalization that our civil rights laws like Title IX were designed to prevent.

The problem extends far beyond this one school district: We know of at least three other school districts in Florida alone that are operating similar programs relying on sex-stereotypes, and we have documented numerous similar programs across the country through our Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes campaign.

We’re using every tool in our toolbox to end these blatantly discriminatory programs, including filing lawsuits and complaints against school districts in West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Idaho. Hopefully, educators will now think twice before they use their scarce funds to start new ones.

But we can’t do this alone.

That’s why we’ve asked the Florida Department of Education to investigate the schools that are operating this type of discriminatory program and to issue guidelines on teacher training under the new state law that was just passed. This will help ensure that schools don’t adopt training programs like the ones used in Hillsborough. And that’s why we’ve asked the federal Department of Education to provide guidance to schools across the country clarifying that public schools must not structure their programming based on crude generalizations about how boys and girls learn or treat students differently in the classroom based on their sex.

It’s high time that our state and federal education agencies call this trend for what it is — sex discrimination, pure and simple — and take action to stop it.

Do you or a child in your family attend a public school with a single-sex program based on sex stereotypes? Tell us about it »

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