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My Daughters Deserve To Be Taught More Than Stereotypes

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July 2, 2012

The following piece was written by a parent whose children attend Van Devender Middle School in Wood County, West Virginia. The ACLU and the ACLU of West Virginia sent a letter to the school in May demanding an end to an unlawful single-sex education program. The school board is expected to vote on whether to continue the program shortly. The author wishes to remain anonymous to protect her children’s privacy. Join the ACLU in our campaign to “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes.”

As a parent, I like to know about what’s going on in my kids’ lives. We go to every ball game. Every school function. We sit down as a family for dinner every night. It’s important for me to know what’s going on with their education.

So I was shocked to learn that Van Devender Middle School in, where my three daughters attend school in Wood County, West Virginia – with no warning to parents – was using our children in a misguided experiment to separate the boys from the girls, giving them completely different educational experiences. This was not mentioned in the parent orientation when my daughters entered the sixth grade. And there was no other option: unless we wanted to uproot our girls from the friends and classmates they had made in elementary school and send them to a different school, they had to participate in the single-gender program at Van Devender.

I wish parents had a say in the matter, because the idea of giving different educations to boys and girls is a real concern for me as a mom of three girls. There is no way that you can separate kids like this without fostering sexist ideas about how boys and girls are supposed to behave. I was even more concerned when my children told me what was happening in the classes.

The school apparently thinks that boys – but not girls – learn best when they have the freedom to move around. The boys are given comfortable beanbag chairs to sit on, and are allowed to wear headphones to block out noise, and if they act up, they’re permitted to blow off steam on the playground—one teacher even conducts boys’ math classes outside sometimes. Their classrooms are kept cooler, and are equipped with brighter lights than the girls, because the school thinks boys do better with brighter light and lower temperatures.

Meanwhile, the girls are restricted in their movement and are placed in desks facing one another. They don’t do this with the boys because they think that it would make the boys too confrontational.

The idea that all boys and all girls learn the same way is ridiculous—and I know my daughters would benefit from some of the methods used in the boys’ classrooms. For example, one of my daughters has attention-deficit disorder. She gets fidgety and sometimes needs to move around. Because this wasn’t permitted in the girls’ classroom, she is sometimes placed with the boys. And while this gives her the chance to move around, it’s unfair to single her out as being different from her classmates, as if she wasn’t a “normal” girl. My second daughter is legally blind, and would benefit from the brighter lights that are supposedly only better for boys. Another of my daughters learns best by repeating things out loud. Although she does this quietly, it can be disruptive to the student sitting at the desk opposite her. When she asked if she could move to the back of her English class to study, she was told she had to stay in the face-to-face formation.

This doesn’t mean I think my kids should get special treatment. But it does show that kids have individual needs, no matter what sex they are.

A good education should allow different kids to learn from each other, together, to solve common problems. When my daughters get to college or the workplace, they’ll have to work with men and women of all different kinds of personalities. I worry about how they’ll adapt. And I don’t know of any job where men and women get different training for the same kind of work.

What’s more, the idea that boys and girls should be separated as they hit puberty because they may be a distraction to each other is ridiculous. Keeping our kids safe and healthy as they grow up should be done through good parenting and good education…not by separating kids from each other.

That’s why I decided to testify against the program last week. And although I worry that speaking out about this won’t make us the most popular family, I want my girls to learn to stand up for what they believe in—and that you don’t make change by keeping your mouth shut.

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