Sunday, March 02, 2008

Teaching Boys and Girls Separately

A serious gender issue that has become more topical over past 10 years - with proof positive now that Leonard Sax has turned into a consultant - was in the New York Times today. Here is my summary.

After reading Sax's book “Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences." the Foley Intermediate School AL principal, Lee Mansell, thought Sax's insights might help improve the test scores of Foley’s lowest-achieving cohort, minority boys. They began offering separate classes for boys and girls a few years ago. The are now 360 similarly segregated schools in America with "many more in the Pipeline"

The reason for the same-sex segregation is simple - young boys and girls have essential differences in emotional and mental development. Among the differences Sax notes between boys and girls can be quickly described: Baby boys prefer to stare at mobiles; baby girls at faces. Boys solve maze puzzles using the hippocampus; girls use the cerebral cortex. Boys covet risk; girls shy away. Boys perform better under moderate stress; girls perform worse.
The grade 4 boys listen to Gary Paulsen’s young-adult novel “Hatchet” read by a young male teacher. In the story the protagonist survives a plane crash and finds himself alone by an insect-infested lake. The boys are encouraged to discussed how annoying it is, when you’re out hunting, to be swarmed by yellow flies.

Meanwhile down the hall the girls sang a vigorous rendition of “Always Sisters” and then did a tidy science experiment: pouring red water, blue oil and clear syrup into a plastic cup to test which has the greatest density, then confirming their results with the first-hand knowledge that when you’re doing the dishes after your mother makes fried chicken, the oil always settles on top of the water in the sink.

Principal Mansell reports that 87% of parents requested the single-sex classes which produce fewer discipline problems, more parental support and better scores in writing, reading and math.
Sax's movement is an educational counter-strike to the crisis facing girls in the 1990's when the American Association of University Women published “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” which described how girls’ self-esteem plummets during puberty and how girls are subtly discouraged from careers in math and science. The main premise was that boys and girls have different social needs and that girls educational progress was substantially at risk.

The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem (T.Y.W.L.S.), an all-girls school for Grades 7-12. It is widely considered the birthplace of the current single-sex public school movement and was founded by Ann Rubenstein Tisch, wife of Andrew Tisch, the co-chairman of the Loews Corporation and a former correspondent for NBC Network News. On assignment in Milwaukee, she was interviewing a 15-year-old at a public high school that had just opened a nursery so teenage moms could come back and finish their degrees. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Tisch asked the young mother. The young mother started to cry. “I said to myself: ‘She’s stuck, [and] she knows she’s stuck." Her efforts to open the school in July 1996 started a firestorm of legal challenges up to the Supreme Court about whether single-sex public education was illegal, regressive, anti-feminist and a non-answer to the problem of how to educate both boys and girls well in school - and it “divided the feminist community right down the middle.” The school is now thriving and their approach - as explained by teachers like Emily Wylie - “It’s my subversive mission to create all these strong girls who will then go out into the world and be astonished when people try to oppress them."

Sax calls schools like T.Y.W.L.S. “anachronisms” — because, he says, they’re stuck in 1970s-era feminist ideology. He has also been labeled a gender essentialist which he believes is a derogatory term "that arose in the 1970s to define someone who is an idiot, or a Republican, or both, [and] who does not understand that gender is socially constructed”. He believes our human nature "is gendered to the core" and that "all that happens when you take a toy gun away from your son and give him a doll instead is that you tell him, ‘I don’t like the person that you are and I wish you were more like your sister, Emily."

Still others suggest "single-sex" education has become a cottage industry based on selective science. Appearing with Sax in 2005, Michael Younger, of Cambridge University, objected to his simplification that ‘Boys are active, girls are passive" but concedes “that certain aspects of Sax’s work suggest an essentialism about boys and girls which is not borne out by reality as exposed in our own research.” Jay Giedd a senior neurologist at the National Institute of Mental Health has concluded "Differences in brain size between males and females should not be interpreted as implying any sort of functional advantage or disadvantage.”

Benjamin Wright was sent to the failing Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, in Seattle, to help bridge achievement gaps between white and black students in 1999 did notice some disturbing gender trends.
  • Boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to be suspended, and more likely to drop out of high school than girls (65 percent of boys complete high school in four years; 72 percent of girls do).
  • Boys make up two-thirds of special-education students.
  • Boys are 1.5 times more likely to be held back a grade and 2.5 times more likely to be given diagnoses of A.D.H.D.
After Marshall’s first year in a single-sex format, the percentage of boys meeting the state’s academic standards rose from 10 percent to 35 percent in math and 10 percent to 53 percent in reading and writing. Wright attributes this both to the insights of “brain researchers” like Sax and to what he calls “the character piece” — giving children a positive sense of themselves as students.

Education scholarship has contributed surprisingly little to the debate over single-sex public education. The data do not suggest that they’re clearly better or worse for all kids. But there seem to be two prevailing theories to explain this: one is that single-sex schools are indeed better at providing kids with a positive sense of themselves as students, the other is that in order to end up in a single-sex classroom, you need to have a parent who has made what educators call “a pro-academic choice.” That is you need a parent who at least cares enough about their child to read the notices sent home and go through the process of making a choice — any choice.

I have often felt that the only hope men have of turning back the tide of misandry fed by "feminist" dogma is when a full cohort of women with sons begins to understand the extent of their betrayal. Shock and disappointment is growing at the realization that their sons, despite being raised in a "liberated" environment, will not have have a fulfilling family life due mostly to their damaged preconceptions of gender roles and a victim enabling legal system. Obviously, young women will be no less disappointed. The "wages of sin" from the grave consequences of not firmly speaking out against "feminist" misandry in the past.

Sax has also written a second book "Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men."

1 comment:

  1. It seems a good idea, but men and women, as well as people of all sorts of different backgrounds, races, classes, philosophies, and whatever other difference people can have, are forced to coexist out in the real world. I am curious as to what sorts of attitudes gender segregation will bring to the inevitable mixing of genders on level ground. Will it be a shock? Will the problems that the genders encounter when dealing with each other be worsened?