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Anderson: The creation of single-sex academies in the 1950s throughout the South by anti-integrationists aiming to thwart and keep black boys from being in classrooms with white girls is an interesting tidbit.
Today, K-12 single-sex programs are still mostly concentrated in southern states. Williams: Mention single-sex education to most people today, and you are likely to conjure images of elite institutions in bucolic settings, where emphasis is placed not only on rigorously training young minds, but also on building character and developing self-confidence.
Anderson: The claim that boys and girls are “hard wired” differently, namely the neuroscience of sex-based learning differences, has been refuted by scientific researchers.
Still, a belief in its efficacy persists as an education-policy approach and in teacher professional development. Williams: While researching this book I learned about a fascinating phenomenon called “the selective allure of neuroscientific information.” In a series of ingenious experiments, a team of Yale researchers found that even the citation of irrelevant neuroscience information can make certain claims seem more credible than they otherwise would be.
That number jumped 25-fold in 10 years: reported in 2014 that 850 schools nationwide had single-sex programs.
With participation apparently on the upswing, the Department of Education’s civil-rights division offered guidelines on single-sex classes to K-12 public schools last year.
And rather than creating more equitable schools for nonwhite students, some critics compare separating boys and girls to racially segregated schooling.
The disputes pitting ardent supporters against fervent detractors have done little to dampen popularity, however.
By the same token, I suspect that many people who flourished in single-sex environments would have had an equally rewarding experience at a coed school.What this means in practice is that we can be all too easily drawn into accepting even the most poorly substantiated claims about the differences between men and women, provided those claims come dressed up in the commanding rhetoric of “hard-wiring.” What I found is that many of today’s “gender-sensitive” pedagogies are sold to teachers and parents in a deceptively appealing pseudo-scientific jargon of sex difference.That’s not to say that there aren’t real differences between girls and boys.The prevalence of single-sex public schools has risen and fallen over the years, yet the last decade has seen a major revival.According to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, only 34 single-sex public schools were in operation in 2004.
Anderson: A major thread running through the book is that so many people—educators, parents, activists, and politicians—strongly believe in the potential of single-sex education to unleash academic excellence, while the evidence supporting this claim is sparse and insufficient.