Saturday, February 02, 2008

Another Student Note Defends Single-Sex Education

In a student note in the Boston College Law Review, author Rebecca Kiselewich argues that there are "inherent sex differences" in learning styles just like there inherent sex differences in athletic abilities. Owing to this similarilty, she suggests that Title IX's "separate but equal" framework for athletics should apply to classrooms as well. (Single sex education is popular among law student authors, as this is the second such article we've blogged about in recent weeks.)

Despite Ms. Kiselwich's efforts, I don't think there's an exceedingly compelling case to be made for either premise: that there are "inherent sex differences" in learning or that sex segregated model for athletics is a paradigm worth replicating.

On the first issue, though the author cites liberally to Leonard Sax and the propoganda at the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, other (less partisan?) research questions the popular assumption that boys' brains are hard-wired on Mars and girls' brains are hard-wired on Venus. Many scientists believe there are more learning style variations among boys and among girls than there are between girls and boys.

And while I'm not arguing for an immediate overhaul of Title IX's framework for sex-segregated sports, I think the separate-but-equal model is one that should be contained, not emulated. For the moment, Title IX's separate-but-equal structure is necessary to ameliorate for past and present structural inequalities that have suppressed women's interest and abilities in sport. If athletic opportunities were handed out on the basis of talent without regard to sex, women would be left out -- not because they are naturally and categorically inferior, but because of the long and recent history (and in some contexts, continuing practice) of banning, discouraging, inferiorizing, trivializing, and sexualizing women's participation in sport. The separate-but-equal framework of Title IX prevents schools from relying on the effect of this past/present discrimination as a justification for excluding women from sports altogether. There is no reason to believe that such a structure is necessary to ensure that girls and boys have access to educational opportunties in the classroom. Segregation, after all, has a tremendous cost. It forces generalizations around difference and it perpetuates a heirarchy of dominant/inferior. As a result, it should only be relied on as a last resort.

Citation: Rebecca A. Kiselewich, Note, In Defense of the 2006 Title IX Regulations for Single-Sex Public Education: How Separate Can Be Equal, 49 B.C. Law Rev. 217 (2008).