By Bonnie Messbarger
Recently I was reading some of the blogs on Ms. Magazine’s blog site, and found this article to be really interesting. It talks about the new book written by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett called The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children. The book takes a look into the pseudoscience of gender essentialism, which basically is the idea that because we have different genders that means there is a natural difference in their biological and psychological makeup. This belief has bled into parenting styles, media and corporation strategies, and even education. Some see the differences between boys and girls to be so great that they need to be educated not only separately (as in a private all girls/boys school), but in completely different ways. The Ms. Magazine Blog says, “In the U.S., 524 public schools now have at least one single-sex classroom; nine years ago there were only a dozen.” Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian are the faces of gender separation in the classroom with books like “Why Gender Matters” and “Boys and Girls Learn Differently”. So, what exactly are these people suggesting we teach in these single-sex classrooms?
For starters people like Sax and Gurian tell us girls learn most effectively in a calm and quiet environment, where there isn’t much noise and everyone learns home economics, poetry, and other subjects that they see as useful to women. They are taught to be passive, quiet, and to nurture and listen. Also according to these stereotypes, boys learn best in an active environment, where they are moving constantly, and there is lots of noise. They disassemble electronics, and cars, and learn how to make things fly. They do not read literature critically, or discuss art and music, that is for women. They are outgoing and persistent, and taught to take charge and lead.
In my opinion, these stereotypes, which are basically what they are, are dangerous to be teaching young children. This system of separation could be very damaging for both boys and girls because of how limiting it is. This idea of different education methods for boys and girls claims to be based on science. But this “science” doesn’t account for boys who like to cook and teach and girls who like to build planes and take charge. This whole idea of separatist education is shocking to me, because it seems more like something out of a classroom in the 1900’s than a classroom in 2011. As a woman who’s outgoing, bakes, works on cars, can’t sit still, plays video games, sews, reads, and learns best by being hands on, I don’t see how these separate classrooms can be beneficial to anyone.