There's a public school in Alabama where little girls and boys are separated. The girls' classroom walls are yellow, the boys' blue. The girls' room temperature is kept at 75, the boys' at 69. The girls do a "tidy" science experiment with blue and red colored oil and water; the boys watch snakes eat rats. Should boys and girls be taught separately? wonders the Times Magazine writer observing all this. I've always thought "yes" on the basis that I spent most of my time in high school reapplying mascara, plotting the reapplication of mascara and withholding food to attract the attention of boys who I would never (in a million beers!) fuck today. School was just boring, besides this one AP class I had that happened to contain no boys (save for one who was clearly an affirmative action case.) But the case for single-sex education is wayyyy more fraught and elaborate than that, according to Leonard Sax, a family psychologist converted to the cause when a 12-year-old patient started suddenly getting good grades. The boy's mom said she'd simply taken him off the ADD meds and enrolled him in boy's school. "With all due respect, I regard single-sex education as an antiquated relic of the Victorian era," Sax said to her.
"With all due respect," the mom replied, "Fuck yourself."
Okay, not really; she said something maybe slightly more polite, but it was that sort of typical male-female exchange that prompted Sax to do that thing where a dude throws all his assumptions into the air, replaces them with a bold new age-old assumption and dives headfirst into a brand new worldview with the help of a few supporting theories, promising studies and convincing anecdotes. The story focuses on his conversion and ideas in a cover story on the rise of the single-sex education movement, which has over the past ten years yielded 45 single-sex public schools and hundreds of schools offering single-sex classes.
Sax thinks there are vast differences in the ways that boys and girls learn. Baby boys look at mobiles; girls look at stationary pictures. Boys draw pictures depicting action, girls draw pictures depicting nuance and detail and color. Girls' brains develop earlier, with with their cerebral volume peaking at 10.5 while boys peak four years later. Girls hear and smell slightly better than boys, who don't like school because it's taught "by soft-spoken women who bore," according to Sax.
Sax: gets accused of sexism and molding the facts that support his thesis; relishes that. Sax has never been a teacher.
The ACLU and such people believe single-sex education is undemocratic. "Even if one could prove that sending a kid off to his or her own school based on religion or race or ethnicity or gender did a little better job of raising the academic skills for workers in the economy, there's also the issue of trying to create tolerant citizens in a democracy," says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.
Richard Kahlenberg has also never been a teacher. This is the last sentence of the story. Has Richard Kahlenberg ever been inside a public school?
And then there is Emily Wylie. Emily teaches at an all-girl's school in East Harlem. She is an advocate for same-sex education as well, in large part because she appreciates the desexualized environment: "Sure, when they take pictures, they often present their backsides first. But I think I'm giving girls a better education than I could have if there were guys in the room. " "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."
So one day they can go self-confidently out into the world and spar with the likes of men like Sax, who will in turn be so bowled over by the elegant simplicty of their logic as to take up their causes with messianic zeal for themselves, fighting wars to defend their pragmatic notions, for which they can then take all the credit in the New York Times Magazine because that is the way the world works. But at least they will probably stop bothering to check their mascara first.
Teaching Boys And Girls Separately [NY Times]