Magazine article The American Prospect

Where the Boys Are

Magazine article The American Prospect

Where the Boys Are

Article excerpt

REMEMBER TITLE IX, THE FEDERAL LEGISLATION that guarantees equality by sex in education? It was passed in 1972, on the heels of racial integration, and with a rather similar rationale: Separate was not deemed to be equal either in law or in educational outcomes. By 1995, only three sex-segregated public schools remained.

Fast forward to September 2006, and what do you find? More than 40 totally sex-segregated public schools and another 200 with sex-segregated classes in topics other than sex education or sports. What happened? Have we backpedaled on gender equality in education?

Conservatives would say that we have gone too far in the other direction. Christine Hoff-Sommers regards the coeducational classrooms as battlefields and boys as the losers of these battles. A new movement advocating more single-sex schools explains why: biological determinism. According to pop psychologists Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax, prophets of this movement, girls and boys have such inherently different brains that they must be educated separately. Boys, from Mars, thrive on hierarchical structure, abstract thought, and stress. Girls, from Venus, thrive in relaxed situations (take off those shoes), do best with very concrete examples, and can't take stress. Sax wants teachers to yell at boys and to provide sofas for girls. Because of the blue and pink brains, you know.

Too bad that the scientific evidence underlying these recommendations is unclear at best and nonexistent at worst. Mark Liberman, on the Web site Language Log, takes apart some of the bad science Sax uses in his popular book Why Gender Matters. He also points out that any average sex differences in learning styles are small and swamped by individual variations within each sex. Likewise, Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin reviewed 46 meta-analyses of sex differences in cognition and found the two sexes more similar than different, and a recent international study of single-sex schools failed to show them outperforming coed schools for either boys or girls. A study by Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank, found that on average, boys are doing just fine, with increasing test scores and more college degrees, though low-income boys deserve more help.

If this is true, where did the idea of a boy crisis come from? …

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