November 29th, 2010 at 7:37 am
In a recent op-ed Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Chait Barnett, authors of the forthcoming The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children, applaud the recent decision by Boston school superintendent Carol Johnson to back away from an earlier decision to set up single-sex academies in the city’s schools.
Rivers and Barnett argue that arguments for single-sex education are based on false scientific assumptions. They point to recent studies that debunk the notion that there are biological or neurological differences between the brains of boys and girls. Moreover, large-scale studies of single-sex and co-ed classrooms indicate that neither type of classroom is superior in terms of academic achievement. The drive for single-sex education is often led by people with political motivations who draw on pseudo-science to back up their claims.
Rivers and Barnett conclude by citing the neuroscientist Lise Elliot:
Lise Eliot argues that the danger of exaggerating the biological differences between the sexes is enormous: “Kids rise or fall according to what we believe about them, and the more we dwell on the differences between boys and girls, the likelier such stereotypes are to crystallize into children’s self-perceptions and self-fulfilling prophecies.”
But we continue to believe that girls can’t do math and that boys’ verbal abilities are innately deficient–neither of which is true.
So kudos to Boston Superintendent Johnson for resisting the easy temptation to go with popular–but very unscientific–school policies. Maybe she’s started a parade for that many educators will join.