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Girls, boys, and school

Reader feedback - 01-03-07 (2 of 2) 

Girls, boys, and school

Girls, boys, and school

In her November 29 column, "The XX Files: Single-sex Schools," Jennifer Loviglio wrote the following: "Leonard Sax, head of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, says that boys and girls think differently and learn differently, period."

Ms. Loviglio's statement is false. I have never made such a statement, nor do I believe that "boys and girls think differently... period." Indeed, the statement Ms. Loviglio falsely attributes to me directly contradicts many statements in my published articles and scholarly papers. The longest chapter in my book "Why Gender Matters" --- which the New York Times called "a lucid guide to male and female brain differences" (June 11, 2006) --- is devoted to gender-atypical girls and boys: boys who would rather read a book or write a poem rather than play football; girls who would rather play football than play with Barbies. My op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last year (January 23, 2005) castigated former Harvard president Larry Summers for asserting that women are less capable in physics and engineering than men are. In that op-ed, I wrote the following:

"...cognitive sex differences --- differences in how adult women and men think --- have turned out to be much smaller than previously believed. According to recent studies, there's a lot of variation within each sex and lots of overlap between the sexes."

If Ms. Loviglio had done some fact-checking before her opinion piece, she would have learned that my views are very nearly the opposite of the views she falsely attributes to me. She might also have learned that gender-separate education is most valuable for gender-atypical girls and boys. Curiously, Ms. Loviglio's previous column (November 15) opened with a positive comment about incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. I suspect that Ms. Loviglio is not aware that Ms. Pelosi graduated from an all-girls school, Notre Dame in Baltimore --- the same girls' school from which Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland graduated.

Make a list of American women who have broken through glass ceilings, women pioneers taking on roles women have never previously held. Such a list would surely include Nancy Pelosi, along with Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Rosa Parks, Dr. Bernadine Healy (first woman to lead the National Institutes of Health), Dianne Feinstein, Geraldine Ferraro, Christine Todd Whitman (first woman to head the EPA), and Dr. Sally Ride.

What do these women have in common? They all graduated from girls' schools. Indeed, Sally Ride's main professional activity at this time is promoting all-girls science camps (see sallyridesciencecamps.com). The predominance of graduates of girls' schools among the top ranks of American women is especially remarkable when one considers that only about 1 percent of American women have ever attended a girls' school (K-12 school, not women's colleges).

There is extraordinary diversity among boys and among girls. We celebrate and cherish that diversity. We believe that parents are best qualified to decide what school format is best for their children. We agree with Senator Hillary Clinton that "certainly, there should not be any obstacle to providing single-sex choice within the public school system." We do not assert that every child should be in a gender-separate classroom. We do believe that parents in the public sector should have a choice of classroom format, single-sex or coed.

Readers interested in learning more about the evidentiary basis for gender-separate education should check out our web site, singlesexschools.org.

Leonard Sax, Poolesville, Maryland(Sax is executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.)

From the editor: Loviglio says that among the source materials for her column were these quotes:

From the NASSPE home page: "It's not sufficient just to put girls in one classroom and boys in another. In order to improve academic performance and broaden educational horizons, you need to understand how girls and boys learn differently."

From a February 2005 MSNBC.com article by Sax: "...but rather a teacher who understood the hardwired differences in how girls and boys learn."

From the same article: "Not only do most of the books currently in print about girls and boys fail to state the basic facts about innate differences between the sexes, many of them promote a bizarre form of political correctness, suggesting that it is somehow chauvinistic even to hint that any innate differences exist between female and male."

And from the same article: "Still, many educators and policymakers stubbornly cling to the dogma of 'social constructionism,' the belief that differences between girls and boys derive exclusively from social expectations with no input from biology. Stuck in a mentality that refuses to recognize innate, biologically programmed differences between girls and boys, many administrators and teachers don't fully appreciate that girls and boys enter the classroom with different needs, different abilities, and different goals."

  • Girls, boys, and school

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