Monday, March 03, 2008

On Sex-Segregated Schooling

NYT has an in-depth article on
teaching boys and girls separately in school based on proposed differences in everything from artistic preferences to optimal operating temperature.

While I have blogged previously on using scientific input to improve educational methods, I am somewhat skeptical of the extent to which segregation is advocated. A large reason is that while the mean may show a slight differential between the sexes, the spread has significant overlap and we regularly see a healthy number of outliers. I, for example, took a Thundercats lunchbox to school and read all the books in the library on "creepy-crawlies" like ants, spiders, and snakes, and I know I would have been utterly miserable in an all-girls' classroom.

Assuming that these differences are scientifically provable (or non-disprovable) for a majority of the population, we are left with a naturalistic/normative conflict between what is "optimal" now and what we forsee as future needs (such as the need to interact comfortably with males and females).

One thing we can take away from this is that we ought to exercise caution when advocating extreme changes in schooling to avoid backlash effects (as are becoming apparent in the marked decrease of boys' success in school). Also, there is no clear-cut answer on how to improve our education system, but there are many academic disciplines we ought to access in order to enrich the discussion.

Addendum: A few more thoughts on this. First, an important question inherent in any push for change the question must be asked: "Are we running away from something, or running towards something?" In other words, in segregating boys and girls, are we avoiding a harm, or seeking a benefit?

Second, I observe that while girls suffered in school in previous generations due to overly low expectations, the current hypothesis for boys is that they suffer from overly high or unrealistic expectations. I'm sure a gender theorist would have some interesting comments on this.

Third, I have noticed that a majority of problems develop at the interfaces between contrasting systems or paradigms. In this case, it will be when we make a shift from a school system that adapts to the strengths and weaknesses of girls and boys to an adult world where people are expected to adapt to the needs of society ("including a competitive workplace that was designed around men's strengths and is only slowly changing," the feminist in me notes). Assuming that such an education system presents significant benefits, I am concerned with how we will help children make the transition to adulthood.

1 comment:

Lab Cat said...

I got particularly annoyed at the quote from Sax in the Times article, where he suggested that it would be discouraging to tell a girl:
‘Well, this is nice, but why don’t you have one of them kick the other one — give us some action.’

WTF? Is action only possible through violence?