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Teaching Boys and Girls Separately

The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes. The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax.

Other than to swear that I did not make this up; (it is from the New York Times) I’ll just let the above paragraph stand (or fall) on it’s own.

Still some interesting things came out of the article—

Be careful what you wish for

Researcher Rosemary Salomone helped to revise the Title IX regulations to make it easier to have single sex schools and classes. As the Times explains, “She thought they would usher in a flurry of schools of the T.Y.W.L.S. [read feminist]— not the Sax — variety. She was wrong. 'As one of the people who let the horse out the barn, I’m now feeling like I really need to watch that horse,' Salomone told me over lunch near her home in Rye, N.Y., last month. 'Every time I hear of school officials selling single-sex programs to parents based on brain research, my heart sinks.'”

Also sinking, I suspect, are the hearts of folks who care about boys’ emotional health. The article quotes Sax speaking about an educator telling a boy, whose his father had left the family, that his father would be even less likely to return if all his mother had to report was the boy misbehaving in school. Sax saw it as an effective technique for helping to focus the boy. I think it was a filthy thing to do to a kid! And no I don't care if the kid's grades or behavior improved. Somewhere, I distinctly remember hearing the end does NOT justify the means.

Words matter

Leonard Sax says “Baby boys prefer to stare at mobiles; baby girls at faces. Boys solve maze puzzles using the hippocampus; girls use the cerebral cortex. Boys covet risk; girls shy away. Boys perform better under moderate stress; girls perform worse.” Michael Younger says “certain aspects of Sax’s work suggest an essentialism about boys and girls which is not borne out by reality as exposed in our own research.”

So, as the reader, what ideas are most accessible to you? Whose words are you going to remember? Yup words matter.

Language Log rocks

We, at FairerScience, are big fans of the Language Log and have posted several times about Mark Liberman’s debunking of conclusions based on inappropriate or dubious research. I quote the New York Times quoting Mark Liberman "The “disproportion between the reported facts and Sax’s interpretation is spectacular,” Liberman wrote on his blog, Language Log. “Dr. Sax isn’t summarizing scientific research; he’s making a political argument,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “The political conclusion comes first, and the scientific evidence — often unrepresentative or misrepresented — is selected to support it.” Did I mention Language Log rocks?

The effectiveness, or ineffectiveness of single sex schools isn't clear

As the Times says, "Education scholarship has contributed surprisingly little to the debate over single-sex public education." Yet the article spends a great deal of time talking about good, or exemplary, single sex schools. You know the schools sound great; effective principals, caring teachers, concerned parents… Gee that sounds a lot like what Toni Clewell and I found in our recent book, Good Schools In Poor Neighborhoods: Defining Demographics, Achieving Success. Oh wait those schools were coed. They were also schools serving poor, African American and Hispanic kids.

And you know what? Things are real tough for poor Black and Hispanic boys but they aren't much better for poor Black and Hispanic girls. We know what makes schools effective: principals who are instructional leaders, good teachers who know the content and who take responsibility for student learning, school environments that welcome parents and work with them, fair disciplinary policies that are consistently applied, a safe school with high expectations for students.

Once I wrote:
"Would you prefer kids go to a good coed school or a not so good single sex school?"
"Would you prefer kids go to a good single sex school or a not so good coed school?"

That's what I thought you would say.


The spousal unit and I also read the article. I thought the top of my head was going to blow off. Nothing like using bad science to justify one's preconceptions, eh? And what you say about the boys' school is more or less what I thought: these kids are doing great because they are getting enough teaching and attention.

Jenny-- am glad the top of your head didn't blow off; we need you. And you are so right, good schools is good schools and separating (some might say segregating) boys from girls will not make a bad (or even mediocre) school a good one!

It's interesting because I have some experience in the all-girl school arena. I think it works for some women, but not for others. Interestingly most pre-school environments are coed because it's been shown that both boys and girls do better in a coed environment. It has also been shown that boys do better in a coed environment all the way though. Maybe because there's some inherent teacher differences like the boys getting called on for answers more.

Pat, you flatter me. I do wonder which is better (single-sex or coed) but since most public schools are so under-funded and since many teachers, despite Every Child Left Behind, are not particularly good- especially at science- I kind of think we have bigger problems, too.

Jenny and Academic

Some years ago, a friend and I designed a study you would have liked a lot. Using all volunteers, we were going to randomly assign students to all girl, all boy and coed math classes. Each participating teacher would teach one all girl, one all boy and one coed class. It was a lovely design and we had schools and teachers ready to participate, but alas it didn't get funded.


FairerScience coPI Susan Bailey sent the following letter to the NY Times. Unfortunately it wasn't published:

Letters to the Editor
New York Times Magazine

To the Editor:

The article, “Teaching to the Testosterone" (March 2, 2008), ends where it should perhaps have begun—on the issue of citizenship and the role of public K-12 education. Neither neuroscience nor educational research offer convincing evidence for the particular efficacy of single sex K-12
education in terms of academic measures. Sax and his followers present an essentialist view, one that ignores a crucial goal of public education—educating girls and boys who can work together as effective citizens. Apparently Sax prefers to have our public schools transmit traditional gender roles and stereotypes that limit and narrow
opportunities for both boys and girls in the service of unsubstantiated academic gains. This is moving backward, not forward.

Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Wellesley Centers for Women


I received the following from a friend, Cathy. I asked her if I could post it as a comment and she said yes so....

"From article co-authored by Camilla Benbow, Ruben Gur, and others:

"None of the data regarding brain structure or function suggest that girls and boys learn differently or that either sex would benefit from single-sex schools." (Psychological Science in the Public Interest, p. 30)

Diane F. Halpern, Camilla P. Benbow, David C. Geary, Ruben C. Gur, Janet Shibley Hyde and Morton Ann Gernsbacher, “The Science of Sex Differences in Science and Mathematics,” Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2007, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/pspi_8_1_article.pdf

This is an interesting contrast with claims of Michael Gurian who cites Benbow's and Gur's earlier work in his book "Boys and Girls Learn Differently!" The article above is listed on his Web site: http://www.gurianinstitute.com/research.htm"

This is interesting article. There are so many schools that give good education to the students. Boys schools do well and have good academic records. It is the psychology that one performs in its group so the boys’ schools give separate education to the students.


Im in a girl boy school and i learn fine. and i have a best friend who's a guy and i love being in a boy girl school

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