Wisconsin, Don’t Fail Our Kids!

Wisconsin, Don't Fail Our Kids!
sex-segregated education
(Steven Brewer / Flickr)

“Girls and guys notice different things (boys: motion; girls: bright colors and people).”

No, this isn’t a line found in a science textbook from the ’60s; this is what Somerset Middle School in Somerset, Wisc., used as evidence to support its sex-segregated classrooms. The ACLU has now filed a complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights against the newly instated program.

After the passage of Title IX in 1972, discrimination in education based on sex became prohibited in federally funded schools. Forty-one years later, public schools across the nation are still trying to slip through the cracks of Title IX, introducing sex-segregated classrooms, homerooms, lunch rooms and even buses. A Feminist Majority report in 2010 found that more than 1,000 public schools segregated at least some of their classes by sex.

How are so many of these schools getting away with sex discrimination? The Department of Education requires schools to report back substantial evidence that the programs are improving the students education. But many of these schools are basing their evidence on pseudoscience that promotes sex discrimination, such as author Michael Gurian’s claims that boys are better at math due to their higher levels of testosterone.

Promoting the idea that boys are genetically wired to excel at one subject over girls, and vice versa, creates detrimental effects for these children. Boys vastly outnumber girls in the career fields of mathematics and science, but studies show that this is not because girls cannot handle these subjects—rather, it’s because of societal attitudes. As a result, women end up in lower-paying jobs and the U.S. economy loses opportunities to gain talented people in the workforce.

Somerset Middle School also based its sex-segregated classrooms on the work of Dr. Leonard Sax, a physician and psychologist who suggests that boys who do not participate in “normal male” activities should be forced to play sports instead of read. Pushing “normalcy” on a child because of their sex is the epitome of discrimination.

As for scientific research that backs up claims that our brains are gender-wired, neuroscientists have found barely any differences between male and female brains, or found that different learning styles are gender specific. And it seems that sex-segregated programs are creating gender inequality more than anything else. Studies show, for example, that children are less likely to interact with the opposite sex after being gender-segregated—something that can be detrimental in the workplace and life in general.

As for Wisconsin, we can only hope that the ACLU will be successful in fighting the sex-segregated classes. It’s only fair.

To read more about how sex-segregated education is “Failing Our Kids,” see the article of that title in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine.

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Lindsey O'Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.