Janesville60.1°

Not everyone backs single-gender classes

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 23, 2008

The Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union firmly opposes single-sex education, saying the theories of Leonard Sax dress up old stereotypes about boys and girls in pseudo-science.


“Leonard Sax really oversimplifies the role of gender in determining who a person is,” said Emily Martin, deputy director of the Women’s Rights Project, speaking from her office in New York City.


Everyone knows boys or girls who do not correspond to the traditional stereotypes of boys or girls, Martin said.


Sax talks about boys liking competition and girls preferring to be cooperative, for example, but Martin said that won’t work with all kids.


“You close down opportunities for the girl who would have thrived in a highly competitive atmosphere,” Martin said. “You close down opportunities for the boy who needs a little more attention to maybe come out of his shell and thrive more in the classroom.”


Sax cites schools around the country where he said children in single-sex classrooms have made impressive gains, and some independent observes have noted that single-sex seems to work best in disadvantaged neighborhoods.


But Martin said the evidence is thin, and the true outcome of single-sex classrooms is more gender stereotyping.


Sax argues just the opposite, saying mixed-sex classrooms encourage stereotyped behaviors.


“Human nature is gendered to the core,” Sax wrote in “Why Gender Matters.” “Work with your child’s nature, work with your child’s innate gender-based propensities, rather than trying to reshape them according to the dictates of late 20th century political correctness.”


But the Women’s Rights Project contends: “The better solution is to give all teachers the training and resources to reach students with a variety of learning styles, regardless of students’ gender, and to discourage teachers from relying on imprecise stereotypes about how boys and girls learn,” according to the Women’s Rights Project Web site, www.aclu.org/womensrights.


“Engaged parents, an infusion of resources, that’s what makes a difference,” Martin said.


The ACLU has filed suits around the country, opposing plans to convert public schools to single-gender classes, and it succeeded in getting a Louisiana school district to back down, Martin said.


But Martin acknowledged that the ACLU can’t challenge every one of the growing number of single-sex programs.


Marshall Middle School expanding its program

Another education experiment that owes much to the ideas of Leonard Sax began last fall at a public school in Janesville—Marshall Middle School.


About one-third of the students in Marshall’s sixth and eighth grades have been assigned all year to classrooms that are all-boy or all-girl.


Marshall Principal Steve Salerno wasn’t ready to discuss how that pilot program might be affecting grades and behavior, but he said he has heard much positive feedback.


“In general, I’m finding that parents like the fact that their kids are feeling very comfortable in this learning environment, that their kids are reporting an enjoyment of school and they like the reduced pressure that they sometimes can feel from peers at this age from the opposite gender,” Salerno said.


Teachers remain as enthusiastic about the program as well, Salerno said.


The response has been so positive that Salerno has decided to expand it to seventh grade next year, something parents have asked for, he said. So a full one-third of the school will be learning in single-gender classes next year.


Salerno said he hopes to report first-year results to the school board later this spring. The report will include data on grades, attendance and discipline problems as well as the results of a parent survey, he said.



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