Poor Larry Summers. He just spoke too soon. If only he'd waited for the recent article in the New York Times (03/02/2008), "Teaching Boys and Girls Separately" by Elizabeth Weil. Then his claim that there are learning differences between boys and girls wouldn't have seemed so outlandish. It would have seemed…dare I say it…not only true but helpful in determining the most effective educational strategies for each gender. And who doesn't want that?
The article makes no moral arguments for single-sex education, just a practical one -- that boys and girls each thrive in a separate sex educational environment that plays to their unique (yes gender-based) strengths and weaknesses.
Although the author cites some criticism of the theory and its benefits, the fundamental assertion and the derivative ideas seem intuitively obvious -- to anyone who has ever been a parent.
Many of the suggestions are based on the thoughts of Leonard Sax, a former family physician. But that's only because no one asked me.
I also could have told them that boys need to be up and moving, that they have excess energy and need a healthy physical outlet. Anyone who has ever had a teenage son can certainly testify to their obsessive need to turn each and any object into drumsticks, with every surface a drum. A classroom that responds to this instead of labeling it a disorder? It's amazing it's taken us this long.
If they had consulted me I would have confirmed the assertion in the article that "If you try to stop girls from talking to one another, that's not successful." I have the report cards and eye witness testimony to prove it.
What's really shocking is that this is an innovation, that the notion of separating boys and girls and teaching to their strengths should be revolutionary.
We have been doing our children a terrible disservice, especially our sons, who are the victims not only of their impatient teachers' desire for order but also of their female classmates who "don't appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy." I also know this to be true since it exactly mirrors our daily dinner table conversations. (making my youngest son wish for single-gender meal times!)
I would like to give all children the chance to put their best feet forward and not have their growth and education hampered by false notions of sameness, ideas that hamper their progress -- and not only with no discernible benefit, but with possible harm.
I would think that "self-esteem" advocates would also recognize that boys and girls will feel better about themselves in an atmosphere where their masculine or feminine uniqueness is applauded instead of criticized.
I said I wasn't making a moral argument. I won't even mention the other benefits of keeping boys and girls apart. You know what they are.
I'm glad to see that we are no longer closing our eyes with respect to gender differences. I'm glad because all of our sons and daughters will benefit. I'm glad because, ironically, it is in this separated environment that they will learn and flourish. I'm glad, because without the distraction of members of the opposite sex, they will be able to be themselves and more easily realize their potential. And finally, I'm glad because even though I long suspected it to be true, it helps to discover that it's all girls who talk during class and not just the ones who live in my home.