Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., chairs the governing board of the
National Association for Single-Sex Public Education (
sexschools.org). He is author of the book Why Gender Matters:
What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging
Science of Sex Differences (Doubleday, 2005).
BOYS AND GIRLS are innately different, and we must change the envi-
ronment so differences don’t become limitations. But single-sex educa-
tion, in order to be successful, involves more than just putting girls in one
room and boys in another room. It involves knowing how girls and boys learn and behave—and
applying this knowledge in the classroom.
For example, girls and boys see differently. Given a choice between a spinning mobile and a
stationary human face, newborn boys prefer to look at the mobile. Newborn girls prefer to look
at the face. These differences derive from “hard-wired” differences in the retina of the eye, and
these differences influence not only how children draw, but also how they learn.
What’s the first thing most children hear the first day of school? “Now, children, I need you
to sit down and be quiet.” That’s easy for many girls. But for many young boys, sitting still and
being quiet doesn’t come naturally. The first lesson those boys learn is that in order to do well in
school they need to act less like a boy and more like a girl.
Even with the most enlightened leadership, most coed schools have the effect of reinforcing
In middle and high school, single-sex education can break down gender stereotypes and
broaden horizons. In girls’ schools, girls can excel in subjects like calculus, advanced-placement
physics and computer science. A recent study from the University of Virginia found that boys
attending boys’ schools were more than twice as likely as boys from comparable coed schools to
study subjects such as art, music and foreign languages.
Instead of ignoring the differences between boys and girls, a growing number of educators
have become convinced that we should instead use these differences to engage every child’s
imagination, to expand educational horizons and to help every girl and every boy to fulfill
their potential. C
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from experts in the field:
David Sadker, Ed.D., is a professor at American University in
Washington, D.C., and author of five books and scores of articles.
You can read some of his work at
CAN YOU BELIEVE that half a century after the Supreme Court ruled
that instituting separate public schools for blacks and whites makes
them “inherently unequal,” that such separation could never truly provide black Americans with an education equal to that of whites, we are
still talking about “separate and equal” as a way to educate our children?
Common sense tells us there is something terribly wrong with this path, and there is little or
no science to support such a backward step.
Professor Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin in Madison recently reviewed all of
the significant research about sex differences conducted over the last 20 years. She found that
from childhood through adulthood, males and females are much more alike than different in
cognitive abilities, verbal and nonverbal communication, social traits such as leadership and
measures of well-being such as self-esteem. The only differences Hyde found were what you
might predict: physical abilities (such as arm strength), some aspects of sexuality and perhaps
(only perhaps) more physical aggression among men.
Despite the evidence, we are told about brain research that neatly separates boys and
girls. The “science” of brain differences is not new. It has been used in the past to explain why
some races and ethnic groups were not as bright as others. Harvard Medical School warned
that if women entered medicine and science—in fact, if they even attended college—the
stress on the female brain might cause insanity. That was in the 19th century. The argument
faded as women became doctors and lawyers. But brain pseudo-science continues.
Certainly there are differences in how girls and boys behave or learn, but much of this is
explained by how we socialize children. Here’s a radical idea: Think of girls and boys as individuals. Think of the brain as a muscle that parents and teachers can train. And by all means,
do not limit the futures of this country’s children by segregation. Our nation is already far too
fragmented for that. C