Another day, another same-sex education program allegedly based on broad, ridiculous gender stereotypes. The ACLU has filed a complaint against a Florida public school system, arguing its justification and training are based in no small part on pseudoscientific nonsense, and the result is vastly different learning environments for boys and girls.
Short version: Boys are rambunctious and must be ruled with a firm, authoritative hand and also jumping jacks before math lessons. Girls are little flowers who want to please the teacher but need math and science related to concrete, real world situations—oh, and "tend to use relationships as weapons." Pretty sure that line of thinking right there is how you get Betty Draper.
Mother Jones reports that the ACLU filed the complaint against Hillsborough County, Florida, which launched the program in 2009, in at least one high school and 15 elementary schools (as well as a pair of single-sex middle schools). In the complaint, the ACLU refers to the school system's Single Gender Education Legal and Educational Rationale Brief justifying the same-sex classes. Here's a sample:
"Boys tend to prefer non-fiction over fiction. Boys like to read descriptions of real events or illustrated accounts of the way things work, like spaceships, bombs, or volcanoes." (e) "Girls tend to prefer books where they can be analytical about a character's motives and behaviors. Girls like stories about experiences that might happen over one summer and the emotional agonies that a character endures."
Bet it's a real barrel of laughs trying to teach those boys high school English a few years down the line, after their elementary school good as told them novels are for girls.
Unsurprisingly, the ACLU alleges that these assumptions produce very different educational environments for boys and girls. According to the complaint:
Girls are encouraged to work quietly and discuss their feelings and personal problems. They're expected to be cooperative and noncompetitive. Boys are encouraged to move around, compete and are not encouraged to discuss their feelings. Girls are taught mathematics in a way that makes it less abstract and consequently gives girls the message that they are not good at abstract mathematics. Boys are taught literature in a way that makes stories highly concrete and fact-based and does not encourage them to connect with characters' emotions.
A few more touches: The complaint says boys got an "electronics day" as a reward for good behavior, while girls were comforted when they made mistakes. Jumping jacks preceded math lessons for boys, while in one female-only classroom, "the teacher gave each girl a dab of perfume on her wrist for doing a task correctly." Gotta inculcate the importance of Chanel No. 5 early, or they'll never understand.
An especially enlightening exercise is simply to scan the complaint for words like "calm," "cooperative," and "group work." You'd think women, left to their own devices, naturally organize themselves into convents.
As the school district for the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough is actually the second-largest in the state. (Around 2,000 students are in same-sex classes, according to the Tampa Bay Times.) What's more, Gov. Rick Scott just signed a bill mandating more training for teachers in same-sex programs. But if they're just fed a bunch of bunkum suggesting girls can't do anything but word problems and boys only want books about tanks, that's not exactly an improvement, is it? The ACLU wants the state to ensure that doesn't happen.
No doubt everyone involved in this effort thinks they're doing the right thing. That's generally why people go into education—to paraphrase the words of the late, great Whitney Houston in a song particularly beloved by my second-grade teacher, they believe the children are our future. And I know there's a strong argument to be made for the values of same-sex education done right, and Smith grads will tell us all about it in the comments.
But we just can't run around structuring public school classes around the idea that boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails, and girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Photo via AP Images.