Tag Archives: stereotypes

Study: Girls doubt women can be brilliant

A study published this week in the journal Science suggests that girls as young as 6 can be led to believe men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, making girls less motivated to pursue novel activities or ambitious careers.

That such stereotypes exist is hardly a surprise, but the findings show these biases can affect children at a very young age.

“As a society, we associate a high level of intellectual ability with males more than females, and our research suggests that this association is picked up by children as young 6 and 7,” said Andrei Cimpian, associate professor in the psychology department at New York University. Cimpian coauthored the study, which looked at 400 children ages 5-7.

In the first part of the study, girls and boys were told a story about a person who is “really, really smart,” a child’s idea of brilliance, and then asked to identify that person among the photos of two women and two men. The people in the photos were dressed professionally, looked the same age and appeared equally happy. At 5, both boys and girls tended to associate brilliance with their own gender, meaning that most girls chose women and most boys chose men.

But as they became older and began attending school, children apparently began endorsing gender stereotypes. At 6 and 7, girls were “significantly less likely” to pick women. The results were similar when the kids were shown photos of children.

Interestingly, when asked to select children who look like they do well in school, as opposed to being smart, girls tended to pick girls, which means that their perceptions of brilliance are not based on academic performance.

“These stereotypes float free of any objective markers of achievement and intelligence,” Cimpian said.

In the second part of the study, children were introduced to two new board games, one described as an activity “for children who are really, really smart” and the other one “for children who try really, really hard.” Five-year-old girls and boys were equally likely to want to play the game for smart kids, but at age 6 and 7, boys still wanted to play that game, while girls opted for the other activity.

“There isn’t anything about the game itself that becomes less interesting for girls, but rather it’s the description of it as being for kids that are really, really smart.”

As a result, believing that they are not as gifted as boys, girls tend to shy away from demanding majors and fields, leading to big differences in aspirations and career choices between men and women. “These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance,” the authors wrote.

It is unclear where the stereotypes come from.

Parents, teachers and peers and the media are the usual suspects, Cimpian said.

But it is evident that action must be taken so that these biases don’t curtail girls’ professional aspirations.

“Instill the idea that success in any line of work is not an innate ability, whatever it is, but rather putting your head down, being passionate about what you are doing,” Cimpian said, adding that exposure to successful women who can serve as role models also helps.

Toy companies like Mattel, maker of the Barbie doll, have taken steps to try to reduce gender stereotypes. Mattel’s “You can be anything” Barbie campaign tells girls that they can be paleontologists, veterinarians or professors, among other careers. The campaign also holds out the possibility that a girl can imagine herself to be a fairy princess.

Rebecca S. Bigler, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, described Cimpian’s study “as exceptionally nice work.”

She suggested that the stereotypes develop in early elementary school when students are exposed to famous scientists, composers and writers, the “geniuses” of history, who are overwhelmingly men. Bigler said it is important to combine that knowledge with information on gender discrimination.

“We need to explain to children that laws were created specifically to prevent women from becoming great scientists, artists, composers, writers, explorers, and leaders,” Bigler added. “Children will then be … more likely to believe in their own intellectual potential and contribute to social justice and equally by pursuing these careers themselves.”

GOP candidates are normalizing racism

This year is ending as it began, with unarmed black citizens being slaughtered in the streets by police officers in situations where the use of deadly force is wholly unwarranted. 

Various studies show that blacks are 2 to 3.5 percent more likely than whites to be killed by police, and a number of studies say African-American victims are twice as likely to be unarmed.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is milking the police killings to promote the myth that blacks are responsible for 81 percent of white murders. Never mind that whites kill 82.4 percent of white victims and blacks kill 90 percent of black victims. Never mind that the vast majority of murder victims are killed by someone they know or who lives nearby.

Trump and other Republican presidential contenders are not interested in the facts, but rather in exploiting racist Americans to get their votes. They offer followers the comforting lie that every unarmed black man killed by police gets what he deserves — that the man with the badge is always right and the man with the dark skin is always wrong. They’re promoting a kind of racist McCarthyism in which protesters and sympathizers of Black Lives Matters are un-American.

Recently, Trump and his supporters showed their true feelings when a black protester was punched, stomped and kicked at a campaign rally in Alabama. Unfazed by the violence, Trump hollered, “Get him out of here.” He later told an interviewer the protester got what he deserved.

The recently released video from the Chicago Police Department failed to make a dent in the position held by Trump and his supporters. In it, cameras show officer Jason Van Dyke driving his squad car up to 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and, within seconds, shooting him 16 times. McDonald, who held a small knife, never even approached Van Dyke. About a dozen officers surrounded the teen. Van Dyke’s life was never remotely in danger.

Right-wing commentators and GOP presidential candidates dismissed the video either as having been misleadingly edited or an anomaly.

Running for the highest office in the land brings with it great responsibility. Even before they’re nominated or elected, presidential candidates are in the spotlight. Their words are widely exposed and influential.

Several among this year’s bumper crop of GOP candidates have used the limelight to promote racial and ethnic divisions — the old divide-and-conquer technique, as Scott Walker has referred to it. Rather than illuminating one of our society’s most disabling problems, they’re helping to fuel it. What might this nation become if one of these candidates, lacking in both knowledge and dignity, ended up behind the country’s most visible “bully pulpit.” 

Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and others have tapped into the frustration that bigots have endured under the rise of “political correctness.” The left has successfully made it socially unacceptable to stomp about spewing words of hatred toward blacks, Mexicans, women, Muslims, gays and others. For the haters, The Donald is a liberator, because he refuses to abide by these new rules of civil discourse. His followers view him as honest and courageous, even though he’s spouting the same laugh lines that brought high ratings to the fictional Archie Bunker, the hot-head bigot on the 1970s TV smash All in the Family.

A large part of Trump’s allure is he gives permission for racists to unleash ugly feelings that have been socially unacceptable for at least two decades. But the inevitable effect of condoning racism will be to enlarge it. 

The Republican Party is leading us back to a future of Jim Crow voting laws and public lynchings. People of sound mind and goodwill must counter this pox on our society with everything we can muster or else watch our social fabric tear and unravel. That would ultimately destroy all of us — including the racists.

School uniform rules relaxed for LGBT students in Puerto Rico

Students at public schools across Puerto Rico for the first time can choose to wear pants or skirts as part of their uniform regardless of their gender without being punished, a move that has unleashed a debate in this socially conservative island.

Education Secretary Rafael Roman said this week that the new regulation he recently signed is meant to be inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. He added that teachers will no longer be allowed to discipline students who prefer to wear pants instead of skirts or vice versa.

“No student can be sanctioned for not opting to wear a particular piece of clothing … that he or she does not feel comfortable with,” he told reporters.

Girls at public schools in Puerto Rico traditionally wear skirts as part of their uniforms and the boys wear pants.

LGBT civil rights activists and some school officials praised the measure, which comes months after Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order prohibiting bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation.

“It’s a bit late, but it was approved, which is important,” said Cristina Torres, director of a high school in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city. “Changing people’s mentality from one day to another will be hard … The most incredible thing is that young people can accept this with an open mind, but it’s the adults who discriminate.”

Torres is familiar with the issue. Teachers filed a complaint against her two years ago for appearing in a picture with a student who wore women’s clothing at his graduation. The student was a victim of bullying and had received an award for overcoming difficult circumstances, she said.

“Our responsibility is to protect students’ rights,” Torres said.

However, critics of the new regulation accused government officials of acting like dictators and stripping parents of their power.

“Once again, this government and the Department of Education work against what’s best for our children,'” said officials with Alerta Puerto Rico, a conservative group that says it was founded to promote family and childhood values.

But Roman argues that parents have the final word on how their children dress for school since they’re the ones buying the uniform. He added that several school districts in the U.S. mainland have adopted similar regulations.

Messages left with the U.S. Department of Education were not immediately returned.

Paola Gonzalez, a 39-year-old transsexual woman who grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Albany, New York, said she wished the measure would have been approved years ago.

“It would have simplified my life,” she said, adding that she has some concerns about the new regulation given what she described as Puerto Rico’s “macho” culture.

“For a student to come out and say I identify with this gender and wear these clothes … that will be a big step,” Gonzalez said. “The school may also have to consider the safety of the student.”

Garcia’s administration previously approved several measures in favor of the gay community, including one that allows transgender and transsexual people to change their gender on their driver’s license and another that protects their rights when seeking medical services.

Minneapolis school board calls Utah-made books offensive

Minneapolis school board members are demanding an apology and a refund from a Utah-based publisher of educational books after a community backlash against what some called racial and cultural stereotypes in the material.

The books from Reading Horizons include a story about a black girl called “Lazy Lucy” and a stereotyped illustration of an American Indian girl in a book called “Nieko the Hunting Girl,” The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Board members said the Utah-based company Reading Horizons should return the $1.2 million the district paid for the books for children in kindergarten through third grade.

“Reading Horizons needs to step up to the table,” board member Carla Bates said. “I want them to bring me a check, bring you a check, bring the taxpayers of Minneapolis a check.”

The dust-up comes as critics say the school district isn’t doing enough to help students of color close a wide achievement gap.

The books are designed to help teachers reinforce reading lessons, but administrators acknowledged during a Tuesday meeting that they didn’t fully vet the material before buying the books, which have since been returned.

“We rushed the contract,” Interim Superintendent Michael Goar said. “Where we can hold people accountable, we will.”

The company is overhauling its teaching material to be more culturally sensitive, but Reading Horizons representative Laura Axtell said wouldn’t say whether it will issue a refund.

The titles were published in 2012 and have been used in other schools without complaints, Axtell said.

“That doesn’t matter to us, because as soon as we became aware of the concerns in Minneapolis, we took action,” she said, adding that the company takes responsibility for its role in the controversy.

Though the subject material may be questionable, the skills taught in the books do help kids learn to read, said Peter Sage, an elementary school reading specialist in Minneapolis. Students are falling behind, and faculty can’t afford to wait for new books, he said.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the North Salt Lake-based company is considering a voluntary recall of the series, which also includes a book about Kenya that says “Kenyans are able to run very fast.”

The books were purchased as part of a program designed to help close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

The district will continue to use the Reading Horizons focus on phonetics and decoding words, though without the 54 books in the series, Goar said in a statement.

Hall of famers think 1st out gay player in NFL will find acceptance

As the first openly gay player to enter the NFL draft, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam could face scrutiny unlike any player before him. But many of the greatest players and coaches in football history don’t believe he’ll be subjected to any hatred, harassment, discrimination or bullying by teammates.

“I don’t think he’ll have any problem in the locker room. I don’t think he’ll have any problems on the field,” said Hall of Fame offensive tackle Art Shell. “The one thing about football players, they’re inclusive. They will take you for who you are, not what people try to portray you as.

“It’s who you are: ‘You’re a football player, then you can play with us.’ I don’t see that as being a problem in the National Football League.”

Shell’s stance was shared by several other Hall of Famers, including Lions running back Barry Sanders, Buffalo coach Marv Levy, and Giants linebacker Harry Carson, who appeared along with nearly 100 other inductees at a two-day “Fan Fest,” the largest gathering ever of football legends outside Canton, Ohio.

Sanders, who retired at the peak of his career following the 1998 season with 15,269 career yards rushing, believes there’s an unwritten code among football players to ignore anything other than a person’s skills and talents.

“From the time you’re a kid and you start playing, you’re almost programmed for ‘Can a guy play or not?'” he said. “By the time you get to the NFL, that’s well ingrained. I’m pretty sure every guy in this league has been around gay individuals before, and so I don’t think it will be much different.”

Sam’s decision to reveal his sexual orientation was an important personal milestone. It was also an historic moment for the NFL and all major sports as it provides a deeper reflection of society’s openness and willingness to accept his individuality.

Sam’s revelation may not have been met with such overwhelming approval just a few years ago. In the macho arena that is pro football, Sam may have been an outcast in previous generations.

“He’s a very bold guy to come out,” said cornerback Michael Haynes, a nine-time Pro Bowler elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. “The timing is good. If he’d done that in the `60s or `70s, maybe not so good because everybody was really struggling with how to understand differences like that in people.

“Diversity has become a critical topic, people are talking about it all the time and I think the world is different. Remember Magic Johnson with AIDS? It starts with education. He’ll be judged on football.”

Carson, who retired in 1988 after 13 seasons in New York, said he was “proud” of Sam for choosing to be open about his sexuality. Carson recalled that one of his Giants teammates, offensive lineman Roy Simmons, was suspected as being gay and was never ostracized.

“It never really swayed anyone’s opinion of him,” Carson said. “But it’s something he lived with and he didn’t have to by himself because he had teammates, and the teammates he had were guys who supported him. Even though he never said anything, we’re a team and guys on the team who are unselfish are going to support their teammates regardless of how they choose to live their lives.”

Simmons, the first player to acknowledge he was HIV positive, died early this year. He was 57.

It’s possible there will be some awkwardness for Sam in the locker room, where he could be subjected to jokes and playful ribbing. Sanders believes those days are long gone.

“Guys are more forward thinking than you think,” he said. “It helps that he’s a big guy. No one will mess with him.”

The 6-foot-2, 261-pound Sam has been projected to be drafted from the third round on. Sam didn’t perform well on the field at the scouting combine, where he calmly handled tough questions about his decision to “come out.”

Levy, who led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls, said his criteria before deciding to draft Sam would be pretty simple.

“Is he the best guy at his position when we’re on the board, and do we need a guy at that position?” the 89-year-old Levy said. “If so, I’ll take him. I’d like to know his character qualities and other things, but that would not factor into my decision.”

If he were coaching a team that selected Sam, Levy said he would not feel any need to address his players. That may not have been the case 10 or 20 years ago.

“I wouldn’t make an issue of it,” Levy said. “I think society has adjusted to the point where it’s an acceptable thing and why make an issue of it? That would be my approach. Things change, plus I’ve got to worry about how to pick up the blitz.”

Justice Department: California school district pledges to protect transgender students

The U.S. Justice Department announced on July 24 that it had reached a settlement agreement with the Arcadia Unified School District in Arcadia, Calif., to resolve an investigation into allegations of discrimination against a transgender student based on the student’s sex.

Under the agreement, approved by the district’s school board on July 23, the district will take steps to ensure that the student, whose gender identity is male, will be treated like other male students while attending school in the district, according to a statement from the White House.

The agreement, joined by the U.S. Education Department Office for Civil Rights, resolves a complaint filed in October 2011. The complaint alleged that the district prohibited the student from accessing facilities consistent with his male gender identity, including restrooms and locker rooms at school, as well as sex-specific overnight accommodations during a school-sponsored trip.

The U.S. investigated the complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Both measures prohibit discrimination against students based on sex.

Under the settlement agreement, the district will: 

• Work with a consultant to create a safe, non-discriminatory learning environment for students who are transgender.

• Amend its policies and procedures to reflect that gender-based discrimination, including discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, transgender status and nonconformity with gender stereotypes, is a form of discrimination based on sex.

• Train administrators and faculty on preventing gender-based discrimination and creating a non-discriminatory school environment for transgender students. 

“All students, including transgender students, have the right to attend school free from discrimination based on their sex,” stated Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. “We commend the district for taking affirmative steps to ensure that this student and his peers can continue to learn and thrive in a safe and nondiscriminatory environment.”

In recent years, the Justice Department and the Department of Education resolved a number of cases involving gender-based harassment in public schools.

In 2012, the departments entered into a consent decree addressing harassment against students who do not conform to gender stereotypes in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Minn.

In 2011, the departments entered into an agreement with the Tehachapi Unified School District, Calif., to resolve a similar complaint of harassment against a gay student who did not conform to gender stereotypes.

Feds asked to investigate Wisconsin single-sex school programs

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wisconsin are asking the U.S. Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education to investigate single-sex programs in the Barron Area and Beloit School Districts.

In the federal complaints, the ACLU maintains that the programs appear to violate federal and state law by forcing students into a single-sex environment, relying on harmful gender stereotypes and depriving students of equal educational opportunities because of their sex.

Programs in both districts, according to a statement from the ACLU, trained teachers that boys should be allowed to move around the classroom during instruction, while girls should sit quietly; that they should tailor instructional materials and assignments toward stereotypical “boys’ interests” like sports and “girls’ interests” like sharing feelings and, in the Barron Area example, discussing topics like cats, shopping and horses; and emphasized that they should speak to boys in a clear and assertive manner while smiling and speaking softly to girls.

“We all want children in Wisconsin to have a quality education, but tracking them into programs that promote stereotypes doesn’t help anyone,” stated Karyn Rotker, of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Whatever the intentions of the educators who set up these programs, the disproven theories on which they rely actually limit opportunities for boys and girls alike.”

The complaints were filed against Riverview Middle School in Barron; and Robinson and McLenegan Elementary Schools in Beloit.

Beloit School District has offered single-sex programs in two elementary schools in multiple subjects and in non-academic areas such as lunch and recess, since 2007.

The Barron Area School District separated its fifth grade math and language arts classes by sex in 2011, and although it temporarily discontinued the program this year due to scheduling issues, the district has refused to respond to inquiries as to whether it will be halted permanently.

The programs in both districts were heavily influenced by the ideas of Dr. Leonard Sax, whose theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in what the ACLU called “archaic stereotypes.” Sax has said that girls do badly under stress, so they should not be given time limits on a test; and that boys who like to read, do not enjoy contact sports and do not have a lot of close male friends should be firmly disciplined, required to spend time with “normal males” and made to play sports.

The school districts cited Sax’s discredited theory of differences between boys’ and girls’ brains as its justification for single-sex education. These theories were recently debunked in an article authored by a multidisciplinary team of scientists in the prestigious journal Science, which argued that sex segregation does not improve academic performance, but does foster stereotypes.

“There is no solid evidence supporting the assertions about supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains on which these programs are based, and there is absolutely no evidence that teaching boys and girls differently leads to any educational improvements,” said Galen Sherwin, attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “It’s harmful for public schools to promote these types of generalizations about boys and girls—particularly with children who are so young.”

The ACLU wants the OCR to investigate and enforce federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex in schools and ensure that these programs are not implemented again.

Pink or blue: Parents struggle to find gender-neutral toys

A 13-year-old girl’s campaign to get Hasbro to make an Easy-Bake Oven that isn’t purple or pink so it would appeal to her little brother is a fresh sign of movement in an old debate. Parents who hope to expose their children to different kinds of play – science sets for girls and dolls for boys, for example – can find themselves stymied by a toy industry that can seem stuck in the past when it comes to gender roles.

Hasbro wasn’t the only target of criticism this year.

One of the year’s hottest toys, the “LEGO Friends Butterfly Beauty Shop,” specifically aimed Legos at girls, but turned to tired gender stereotypes with its focus on a beauty shop and inclusion of characters with curves and eyelashes. Barbie turned builder with a new construction set. But while some praised it, others criticized it for being too pink.

Toy experts say the industry reflects cultural norms, and toy companies are giving people what sells. Plenty of parents find nothing wrong with buying pink frou-frou toys for their girls and avoiding stereotypically “girl” toys for their boys in favor of guns and trucks. But other parents are sent into knots by an unapologetically gender-specific toy industry.

“There’s a lot of pressure to conform to those gender stereotypes from the time you’re pregnant,” said Teresa Graham Brett, a higher-education consultant from Tucson, Ariz., and mother to two boys, ages 6 and 11.

Children naturally begin to identify gender around the ages of 3 and 4, said Dr. Susan Linn, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, who cofounded the advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“When a child’s environment is filled with rigid messages about, ‘This is what boys do, this is what girls do,’ it limits their ability to reach their full capacity,” Linn said. “It’s not like girls are born with the predilection to pink, but they’re trained to it, so it becomes what they want and need. There are neurological differences between boys and girls at birth. But our goal should be to provide them with a range of experiences so they can develop all of their tendencies.”

Large toy stores and most large online retailers often divide toys up by gender. On Amazon, or on the websites for toy makers Mattel or Hasbro, for example, toys are sorted by age, category and gender. A person who wants to buy a baby doll on the Toys R Us website will find hundreds of choices categorized for girls and five for boys. Three of those are dressed in pink.

In recent years, Toys R Us was criticized for an ad selling three microscopes, silver, red and pink. The pink one was the least powerful.

“Toy companies are businesses, so they are responding to and making their products based on consumer demands. They’re meeting with moms, focus groups. They’re doing what makes sense,” said Adrienne Appell, a spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association.

Chris Byrne, content director for timetoplaymag.com, said the market ultimately decides what makes it onto store shelves and into people’s homes.

“The toy industry is always going to reflect the culture at large, and it’s going to reflect the market,” he said.

That’s even true for a soon-to-be-released toy that has gotten a lot of attention for seeking to subvert gender stereotypes. GoldieBlox, a construction toy, was invented by Debbie Sterling, who holds a degree from Stanford in product design engineering and who aimed to make a toy to spark an interest in girls in science and engineering. She was turned off by what she saw in a visit to a toy store.

“I felt like I was in the 1950s,” she said. “The girls section was pink. It was teaching a girl how to be a housewife, and a princess and pop star.”

Meanwhile, she described the boys section as dynamic, with kits to make interesting things like roller coasters and “smarter more complex, engineering math and science toys.”

The toy’s main character is Goldie, a female engineer, and it is scheduled to be on store shelves in April. In a concession to commercial realities, the toy’s color scheme includes a liberal dose of pink.

“There’s a lot of parents out there, they’re conditioned by this. They won’t even pick up something if it doesn’t cue that it’s a girl,” she said. “I don’t want girls to miss out on GoldieBlox because it wasn’t overtly messaged for them, at least in the early stages.”

Some things are changing in the industry. This year, the London department store Harrods redesigned its toy department to organize it by theme rather than by gender. Swedish toy firm Top-Toy published a gender-neutral catalog in which boys were shown playing with a kitchen set and hair dryer and a girl was shown shooting a toy gun.

Hasbro this week announced it has spent the past 18 months developing an Easy-Bake Oven in the gender-neutral colors of black and silver. It made the announcement after meeting with McKenna Pope, the Garfield, N.J., 13-year-old whose online petition asking the company to make one attractive to all kids gathered tens of thousands of signatures. Hasbro says it knows both boys and girls have fun playing with the Easy-Bake.

Even parents who are sensitive to gender issues say they sometimes have to challenge their own notions. Brett said her older son was interested in toys aimed at both genders as a little boy. But when son number two came along five years later, she was surprised to see he had a stronger preference to play with guns and Army men.

“I really needed to let go of controlling what I thought he should play with as an enlightened boy,” she said. “They may choose to do what is stereotypical, and they should have the right to choose that as well.”

ACLU challenges sex-segregated schools

The American Civil Liberties Union this week launched an initiative aimed at ending the separation of boys and girls in public schools and challenging old gender stereotypes.

The “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” initiative was launched from ACLU offices across the country, including those in Florida, Maine, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia, where the organization has specific concerns about single-sex programs in school districts.

“Cease-and-desist letters” went to individual school districts in those states from the ACLU, which wants the districts to halt programs that may violate federal and state law “by forcing students into a single-sex environment, relying on harmful gender stereotypes and depriving students of equal educational opportunities.”

The ACLU also has public records requests pending in Massachusetts, Indiana, Idaho Washington and Illinois and is reviewing records from Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

“Supporters of single-sex education make vague claims that these programs get results but don’t have the proof to back it up,” said Mie Lewis, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Instead of implementing these gimmicky programs, schools should focus on strategies that work for all students.”

A news release from the ACLU said many of the school programs are based on the ideas of Dr. Leonard Sax and other proponents of single-sex education, whose discredited theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes. For example, Sax says that girls do badly under stress, so they should not be given time limits on a test; and that boys who like to read, do not enjoy contact sports and do not have a lot of close male friends should be firmly disciplined, required to spend time with “normal males” and made to play sports.

In Orange County, Fla., schools cited Sax’s brain theory of differences between boys’ and girls’ brains as its justification for single-sex education. These theories were recently debunked in an article authored by a multidisciplinary team of scientists in the prestigious journal Science, which argued that single-sex education does not improve academic performance, but does foster stereotypes.

“We all want to fix failing schools. But coeducation is not the problem, and single-sex education is not the answer,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Over and over we find that these programs are based on stereotypes that limit opportunities by reinforcing outdated ideas about how boys and girls behave.”

In order to safeguard against sex discrimination, federal law prohibits coeducational schools from implementing single-sex programs unless they meet extremely stringent legal requirements. At a minimum, schools must offer a persuasive justification for the decision to institute single-sex programming, the programs must be completely voluntary, and a substantially equal co-educational alternative must be available.

The ACLU maintains that lack of compliance with these requirements is widespread. Some schools required students who did not wish to participate in the segregated classes to enroll in another school, while others failed to alert parents that they had the choice to opt out of the classes. Schools also offered classes to one sex, but not the other.

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