Women’s Law Project Joins Amicus Effort Against Gender Biased Single-Sex Classrooms

The Women’s Law Project has joined 38 organizations filing an amicus curiae brief [PDF] in Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board supporting the plaintiff in her fight against the implementation of gender biased single-sex classrooms.

The school district supports single-sex classrooms that use different types of instruction based on gender.  Teachers use the writings of supposed experts in gender-segregated education to plan their classes around extreme and overbroad generalizations about boys and girls.  Such generalizations include that “girls often cannot master physics or calculus in high school, with everything written on the board and the boys and the teacher going so fast,” and that a preference for violent stories seems to be normal for boys, while that same preference suggests a psychiatric disorder in girls.  It was suggested that it is “useful for young males to engage in play-fighting” while for girls, it’s useful to practice “taking care of a little baby.”  Furthermore, a single-sex education advocate whose programs were distributed to teachers in the Vermilion Parish school district advises that:

Girls have difficulty learning some math . . . for biological reasons.  Adolescent males receive surges of the hormone testosterone five to seven times a day; this can increase spatial skills, such as higher math.  But girls may perform well on math tests only a few days per month due to their menstrual cycle.

The brief argues that, even assuming the accuracy of single-sex education advocates’ assertions that boys and girls on average have different educational needs, “these ‘average’ differences are not a basis for excluding members of one sex from a particular educational opportunity.”  Furthermore, they “inappropriately obscure and ignore the individual’s capacities and tendencies.”

These stereotypes are particularly harmful because they translate into limitations on the long-term opportunities for men and women.  The brief notes that “[r]esearchers suggest that children internalize belief systems about ‘appropriate’ careers for them to enter at the youngest ages (as early as prekindergarten).”  These belief systems are carried throughout their life and, “[a]s a result, many women have been relegated to occupations that pay less and offer fewer benefits and less job security than traditionally male jobs:”

In fact, the highest median wage for a traditionally female field ($17.10 for health professions) is lower than the lowest median wage for a traditionally male field ($18.83 for automotive technicians and mechanics).  Overall occupations in traditionally male-dominated categories pay an average median hourly wage of $20.16, compared to just $15.47 on average for work in traditionally female fields – an annual wage gap of $9,762.  The Supreme Court has recognized that there are concrete and long-lasting economic implications from gender stereotypes, such that policies based on those stereotypes cannot survive heightened scrutiny.

Separating classrooms along gender lines based on theories about average differences between boys and girls “harms students by limiting the educational opportunities available to them based solely on assumptions that all girls and all boys conform to these averages, when in reality the differences among boys and among girls are far greater than average differences between boys and girls as groups.”  Relying on discredited myths about what boys can do and what girls can’t do only reinforces stereotypes in the minds of children, limiting all students’ opportunities to pursue the courses and careers that interest them. The WLP is proud to sign onto this brief, and we’ll keep you updated on the litigation as it progresses.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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