I like competition and contact sports. I do not shy away from confrontation and I enjoy a rousing debate where voices are raised and tensions are high. Taking off my shoes does not allow me to think better. In other words, I would have failed miserably if I had been forced into a single-sex classroom that employed “differential learning techniques” based on supposed gender differences.
The examples above probably seem odd, antiquated and non-sensiscal. And yet, they are taken directly from Dr. Leonard Sax, who is one of the major proponents behind single-sex education. In fact, some of his recommendations are even more bizarre – according to Dr. Sax, teachers should smile at girls but not boys, and spank boys but not girls.
Amongst the many things that trouble me about these “scientific” findings, what stands out is the negative impact that they would have had on my education. In trying to explain to people why single-gender education does not work, I often cite the numerous studies that point out there are more differences in learning styles amongst members of a group of girls or a group of boys than between the two sexes as whole. But I did not need a researcher to tell me this. I know this from my own personal experiences in school.
Growing up, I was what a 1950’s sitcom would call a “tomboy.” In the classroom, I would speak up early and often. During lunch, I knew the most about all the Boston –based sports teams. On the playground, I would outplay any student in football or basketball
At my elementary school, these interests and learning styles did not pose a problem. My teachers used a variety of learning techniques to reach a broad range of students, and my surroundings allowed me to find a stimulating peer group. This would not have been the case at schools like Millside Elementary, where the fourth graders have been divided into segregated classrooms and taught differently according to supposed gender-differences.
Had I gone to school in such an environment, I would have been both lonely (as the segregation would have ripped me apart from my best friends, who happened to be boys) and educationally frustrated (as the “girls” teaching style would have been completely ineffective for me).I am certain that those who advocate on behalf of single-gender education do so because they believe it will best serve their students. But it won’t. The truth is, all students learn differently, and these differences do not break down simply along gender lines. The better solution is to give teachers the training and resources to reach students with a variety of learning styles, regardless of their gender. This is the only way to ensure that all students, including those girls who are just one of the boys, and visa versa, can reach their full potential.
By Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney