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Tom Head

The Bush Administration's War on Girls

By October 25, 2006

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Category: Gender and Sexuality

I just blogged two days ago about a new Canadian study showing that girls who are told they're dumb at math are more likely to be dumb at math. The Bush administration must have read the same study, because they've just issued new Title IX regulations allowing schools to reapply the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) separate but equal standard--except on the basis of gender, instead of race:
The regulations allow schools to separate girls and boys for virtually any reason they can dream up – including outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes. And although the Administration’s regulations claim to make these programs optional, sex segregation can never be truly voluntary. Girls are never allowed to choose to be in the boys' class. Boys' are never allowed to choose to be in the girls' class. That's the nature of segregation, and precisely why we as a society have chosen to reject segregation in schools.
If you're convinced that this is harmless--that there can be such a thing as separate but equal--then I can offer no better logic than that presented by Chief Justice Earl Warren in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the case that overturned Plessy:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms ...

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Will this attempt to reinforce cultural gender roles pass constitutional muster under the current court? If we look at court precedent, the most likely answer is: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The Supreme Court did issue a ruling in United States v. Virginia (1996) that gender segregated military academies are unconstitutional, but there is a loophole in the ruling that could allow for limited gender segregation under specific circumstances. Justice Ginsburg wrote for the 7-1 majority:
Single-sex education affords pedagogical benefits to at least some students, Virginia emphasizes, and that reality is uncontested in this litigation. Similarly, it is not disputed that diversity among public educational institutions can serve the public good. But Virginia has not shown that VMI was established, or has been maintained, with a view to diversifying, by its categorical exclusion of women, educational opportunities within the State. In cases of this genre, our precedent instructs that "benign" justifications proffered in defense of categorical exclusions will not be accepted automatically; a tenable justification must describe actual state purposes, not rationalizations for actions in fact differently grounded.
This suggests that the two standards applied against school boards that rely on the new Title IX regulations to segregate classrooms may well be diversity (e.g., does the student have the option of non-segregated educational facilities?) and intent (e.g., what was the purpose of the specific segregation program?). Right now it's too soon to say. This summer's Livingston Parish ruling was encouraging, but whether or not it is predictive of higher court rulings remains to be seen.

It is a mistake to think of gender segregation as if it were a series of voluntary, experimental pilot programs. The objective is mandatory, across-the-board gender apartheid. I had an interesting conversation with a single mother some months ago. She had put her son into a boys-only educational program, despite the fact that she wasn't sure she liked that approach--because it was the only public school program available. All of this took place, obviously, long before this week's Title IX regulation revisions. Five years from now, how many parents will find themselves in the same situation?

It is also a mistake to assume that these mandatory "separate but equal" programs will, in fact, allow separate but equal educational opportunities. History alone should be enough to tell us that--but if it isn't, remember that the public school gender segregation movement began to blossom only when girls began outperforming boys on standardized tests, and that its leaders are those who most visibly preach what they describe as the religiously-mandated authority of men over women. Even if "separate but equal" were not a contradiction in terms, allowing the Bush administration and right-wing school boards to redraw educational opportunities for girls would be as tragic as it is naive. We must fight this.

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October 25, 2006 at 6:46 am
(1) FromTheRight says:

All I can say is DUMB!

Separate but equal under Plessy v. Ferguson was SPECIFICALLY to maintain segregation in the schools, to keep blacks segregated from whites because blacks were still considered inferior. This current policy may fall under “separate but equal” but it’s purpose is to IMPROVE the results of education, especially among girls.

Don’t you people have anything besides the race card?

October 25, 2006 at 6:53 am
(2) Tom Head says:

I don’t know where you’re getting your data. Even the primary stated objective of gender segregation is not to improve the academic performance of girls; it’s to improve the academic performance of boys. Google the phrase “boy crisis.”

And when we bring up mandatory public school segregation, then yes, the obvious precedent is race. Can you name any other examples?



October 25, 2006 at 11:31 am
(3) Andrew - Physics Guide says:

For some reason, my post on this didn’t go through yesterday. I actually taught in a middle school that segregated by gender, a policy that was implemented for behavior reasons more than performance reasons — the year before there had, apparently, been a sexual assault in a school bathroom.

If there was an effect on performance, it was that the boys and the girls were not trying to show off for each other as much and focused more on the classwork. Since the boys are more likely to show off than the girls, in my experience, I think this would have a greater impact on boys’ behavior and performance.

As a note to FromTheRight, this was actually the gender card … not the race card.

October 25, 2006 at 5:34 pm
(4) Hans Side says:

You have got to be kidding. First off the research you cite did not prove what it poses to prove.

They had two math test with propoganda between them. There was no time ‘to sleep on’ this propoganda, this is not what happens in reality.

Much more importantly it is boys, not girls, who are being let down by the educational system. Girls are doing great, while we are losing a generation of boys. And your empathy still only extends to girls.

You really ought to be ashamed of yourself – you are a sexist!

October 25, 2006 at 6:28 pm
(5) Tom Head says:

If we are in fact “losing a generation of boys” (and I don’t buy that for a second), then I fail to see how the situation would be improved by putting them all aside in some kind of glorified gender-based special ed program on the assumption that they can’t hack it if they’re mainstreamed with girls. I mean, come on.



October 25, 2006 at 6:30 pm
(6) Tom Head says:

…and good post, Andrew. I’m definitely not knocking gender segregation across the board–I was technically educated in an all-male environment, I guess, because I was homeschooled–but when it becomes mandatory or even prevalent, I think that poses a serious civil liberties problem. I see very dark times ahead for our public school system if the federal court system does not immediately rein in the gender essentialist approach to education.



October 26, 2006 at 9:58 am
(7) Eric says:

I don’t doubt that we’re having a “boy crisis,” for lack of a better phrase. It is certainly apparent at the college level, where (except in some of the hard-science fields) female graduation rates are far higher than that for males. But I don’t see how segregation is the answer.

October 26, 2006 at 11:48 am
(8) Andrew - Physics Guide says:

Incidentally, in reference to Brown v. Board of Education, I have a question for Tom. In the Brown case, one of the big pieces of social science evidence was a study where the black students were given two dolls, one white and one black, and were asked which doll was prettiest, or something like that. A large, perhaps even overwhelming, percentage of the students selected the white doll, and this was presented by the Brown legal team as proof that segregated schools had harmful effects psychologically.

However, the thing that I recently read was that actually this study was performed on non-segregated black students as well (yeah control group!) … and the non-segregated students actually chose the white doll more frequently than the segregated students had, which directly refutes the psychological conclusions that the Brown team tried to frame it.

So my question is whether you know if this is true or not? If so, I’m rather shocked, because I always considered the doll experiment to be a perfect example of the dangers of segregation … now I’ll have to view it as a perfect example of scientific results being manipulated for the outcome you want.

Mind you, I’m not saying that even refuting the doll experiment would make segregation okay … I think Clarence Thomas once wrote a commentary on Brown saying, essentially, that mandatory segregation by race was unconstitutional, independent of any psychological impact (good or bad) on any of the races involved.

October 26, 2006 at 1:45 pm
(9) Aaron Matthews says:

I was in the classroom for 6 years in a private school, we segregated for four and found the girls weren’t as likely to “play dumb” and more likely to take chances on wrong answers, boys were more likely to behave.

Also, I find it interesting that women’s groups are the ones that are upset about it mostly that both genders will receive equal funding. Probably because most if not all of the gender directed funds have been to help the girls. If they are forced to equality, they have to give up much of the advantage they hold.

October 27, 2006 at 12:26 am
(10) Rex says:

Exactly Aaron. This all comes down to funding in the end. If the genders are segregated and it becomes popular throughout the public school system, as well as private schools, the funds would have to be split evenly. This is isn’t a good thing for many women’s groups who literally hold a rabid, pink dog in Washington getting these uncalled for increases in funding for female programs.

This essentially would null these, while spawning the male equivalent and basically pulling the floor out from underneath Title IX. We’d also see more discipline from students taught like this.

My view on this is, we could segregate the genders in school, change the work week and schedules for said schools so as to minimize the pent up energy they’ll have in class (more recess). Shorter hours, but every day of the week, less leniency (especially amongst boys), and equal funding for both.

October 27, 2006 at 1:09 am
(11) Rex says:

The above is nothing short of pure satire, btw. Forgot to put it at the end of the message.

It’s clear though, that the objective is funding, as it is in most things in life.

October 31, 2006 at 10:44 am
(12) Dani says:

If boys are indeed doing badly in school in the USA (and I have yet to see any verifiable data on this) this will not be solved by mandatory gender segregation in schools.
The focus shouldn’t be on supposed gender based characteristics but on individual ones, so that people can learn to function according to their
own ambitions and abilities.

November 2, 2006 at 6:00 pm
(13) Elliot Essman says:

Whether boys learn differently from girls (as I suspect) or not, governmental regulations are not going to solve anything. There is no magic bullet when it comes to education. Good solid groundwork by parents and teachers is necessary, with no subsistute.

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