Parents misled by advocates of single-sex education

There is no scientific basis for teaching boys and girls separately, according to Lise Eliot from The Chicago Medical School. Her review reveals fundamental flaws in the arguments put forward by proponents of single-sex schools to justify the need of teaching teach boys and girls separately. Eliot shows that neuroscience has identified few reliable differences between boys' and girls' brains relevant to learning or education. Her work is published online in Springer's journal Sex Roles.

The first issue Eliot highlights is that single-sex school advocates often claim differences between boys' and girls' brains based on studies carried out in and women. But such effects have rarely been found in children. It is also wrong to assume that children's brains operate like adults'. In reality, they are works-in-progress, and much of what influences adult neural processing is due to individuals' social and educational experience over their lifespan. Therefore the assumption that because in the brain are biological, they are necessarily fixed or 'hardwired' is incorrect.

Eliot then reviews seven specific claims often used to justify the need for sex-segregated learning: gender differences in the corpus collosum* and language lateralization**; differences in brain maturation rate and sequence between and ; gender differences in hearing, in vision and in the ; and learning; and finally preferred learning styles of boys and girls. For each one, she shows how the science has been misrepresented and its findings exaggerated to build a rationale for sex-segregated education, which misleads parents into believing there is a scientific basis for teaching boys and girls in separate classrooms.

Although there is no doubt that boys and girls have different interests which shape how they respond to different academic subjects, neuroscientists have had great difficulty identifying meaningful differences between boys' and girls' neural processing - even for learning to read, which has been the most studied to date. And although research shows that men and women - not boys and girls - tend towards different self-professed learning styles, there is no evidence that teaching specifically geared to such differences is actually beneficial.

Eliot concludes: "Beyond the issue of scientific misrepresentation, the very logic of segregating children based on inherent anatomical or physiological traits runs counter to the purpose and principles of education. Instead of separating children in the name of 'hardwired' abilities and learning styles, schools should be doing the opposite: instilling in children the faith in their own malleability and promoting their self-efficacy as learners, regardless of gender, race, or other demographic characteristics."

More information: Eliot L (2011). Single-sex education and the brain. Sex Roles. DOI 10.1007/s11199-011-0037-y

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Keep boys and girls together, research suggests

Apr 11, 2008

Boys and girls may learn differently, but American parents should think twice before moving their children to sex-segregated schools. A new Tel Aviv University study has found that girls improve boys’ grades markedly at ...

Gender differences in language appear biological

Mar 03, 2008

Although researchers have long agreed that girls have superior language abilities than boys, until now no one has clearly provided a biological basis that may account for their differences.

Recommended for you

Depression increasing across the country

13 hours ago

A study by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge shows Americans are more depressed now than they have been in decades.

How to predict who will suffer the most from stress

15 hours ago

More than 23 per cent of Canadians report being stressed or very stressed on most days. While chronic stress increases the risk of poor mental and physical health, not everyone is affected the same way. Some cope well, but ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freethinking
not rated yet Aug 18, 2011
The question not answered is... does single sex education lead to better education?
But wait, this study looked biased, why would she say, the very LOGIC of segregating children... run counter to the purpose and principles of education?

Looks like aprogressive claptrap study. A study to prove what they already believe, instead of a study to find out truth.
himbo
not rated yet Aug 19, 2011
The study is making the assumption that teaching outcomes depend on gender-specific methods being applied appropriately.

Here in Ireland, where gender-segregated 'high school' (we say 'secondary') is common, statistics show that there's a small (2-3%) increase of pupils from segregated schools getting university offers versus pupils from mixed schools (though those stats are not rigorous and are not e.g. controlled for socioeconomic background or family aspirations).

Anecdotally, my sister found segregated school much better simply because the absence of boys meant the teacher was doing less riot-control and more teaching.

My daughter says the same thing; the boys are very disruptive with all the high-energy horsing around.