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Does Gender-Based Education Work?



For most school kids in Massachusetts, summer is pretty much over. And many parents have set their sights back on their childrens’ education. Some may be considering all-boys or all-girls schools for their son or daughter.

Gender-based teaching is a particularly powerful trend in education right now. You’ve probably heard about some of the research around it — that boys and girls have different brains, that they learn differently.

In fact, the research has become so persuasive in educational circles that some schools are experimenting with separating boys and girls into separate classrooms. Those schools that have tried it say it helps everyone learn better.

Gender scholars Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett call it something else entirely — the new segregation.

Rivers and Barnett, co-authors of “The Truth about Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children,” say that all the academic hype about the sexes being different is hurting both boys and girls at school.

We also get the teacher’s perspective from Karmala Sherwood of the Smith Leadership Academy of Dorchester, which is a co-educational school that separates the boys and girls for math and science classes.


  • Rosalind Barnett, senior scientist, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University; co-author, “The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children”
  • Caryl Rivers, professor, College of Communication, Boston University; co-author, “The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children”
  • Karmala Sherwood, executive director, Smith Leadership Academy/li>


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  • Carol

    I am 78 years old.  I am “mathematically gifted”.  When I was in grade school and until I got to High School in MA all the teachers would call on the boys who raised their hands before they would call on me.  No wonder girls grew up with a reputation for being ungifted in the things that men and boys are interested in!

    CArol HAnnauer

  • Ansapphire

    I went to a all girl high school.  One of the ways of think was not helpful to me is my socializing with the opposite sex.

  • Janet Johnson

    After public school failed her, we moved our daughter to an all-girls private high school.  She did better almost immediately and said that without boys in the room, there was nothing to do but learn.  Today she’s a strong, smart, successful woman.

  • Edward from Milton

    I went to St. Dominic Savio High School  in the 70s, when it was all boys, and I’ll tell you one thing: girls I met during my time there often commented on what a gentleman I was (I assume compared to the boys from East Boston High). That a same-gender-education advantage I wouldn’t trade away!

  • Bo Gester

    Mehgna said of Adam: “…he would dive across the table and challenge me to a duel, because that’s what boys do.”  Oh my, how very 19th century. Of course, that’s what all boys would do if given half a chance in the land of bad writing.
    Mind you, whoever penned that diving and dueling bit should be taken out back and flogged. Mercilessly.

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      I’ll take the flak for writing that line. It was a tongue-in-cheek way of describing the gender stereotypes we examined for the remainder of the segment. Perhaps we didn’t deliver the lines with enough audible sarcasm.

      By the way, one could say that flogging is equally 19th century. Have a little mercy. 

      • Edward from Milton, MA

        I for one think that 21st century journalism benefits from a bit of 19th century style! May the diving, dueling and flogging allusions stoke the fires of our collective imaginations!

  • Allison

    I can understand that there are inherent biological difference between the sexes…but gender isn’t binary. It may work for some, but we can’t forget that there are many children (and adults) for whom assigned gender norms just don’t work. For them, gender-segregated learning would be catastrophic.

  • Anonymous

    I cant completely subscribe to the notion that children should be separated based on sex. How about we separate them based on ability or common interests or something that makes sense…http://michaelmaczesty.blogspot.com/2011/08/back-to-school-drug-screen.html

  • Ericachristine03

    I was thrilled when I heard that this would be discussed on yesterday’s show. Not as thrilled with the amount of people who seemed to disagree with the authors of the book. Gender is a social construct. If both boys and girls act out those  roles differently it is because that is the way society encourages them to portray them. Instead of accepting this and separating them, why not bring them together and encourage them to find their own definitions of what boys and girls can both achieve. I also think it is an etrememly slippery slope to begin separating the sexes like this. As a young woman I have never felt that I was any less than that of a male counterpart and i think that at least  some part of this is due to the verbal sparring with male classmates throughtout my school career.

  • Christa Hillhouse

    it seems to me that in as much as you shouldn’t define a person solely on their gender, you shouldn’t define a kid’s needs based solely on their gender either. i would assume that some girls would do much better in an all-female learning environment, while for some it may not make a difference and may even pose a detriment. i never had a problem dealing with guys. some girls do. personally, i thank my (single) mother for my self-confidence, a characteristic perhaps some girls aren’t lucky enough to inherit. 

  • Upstate41

    More young women are graduating from high school and entering college than their male counterparts. More and more college campuses are becoming majority female. The trend of women outnumbering men on campus is reflected in Law Schools and other branches of study. While good for the young women involved, what has happened to the young men?
    Today, “Male Valedictorian” is an oxymoron. Young men are experiencing an educational system which is simply not meeting their needs. There is something going on with our present educational system which is not serving young males well. If the present trend continues, it certainly doesn’t bode well for men in this country.
    As feminists were fond of pointing out, when females were lagging in education, where is the advantage to a country, or a society, in denying an education to half of its population. Well the shoe is on the other foot, but the question still remains. The present educational failure, to properly educate young men, is obviously a short term gain for women, but a long term loss.
    By the way Ladies, I am a 70 y/o male who belongs to several “Shag Clubs” here in South Carolina. “Shag” is the official state dance from the old beach days. Unfortunately, the women outnumber us men 4 to 1. Mostly, because you ladies out live us guys. So, being in the majority on campus just may be the kind of life experience which will serve you well in later years. It doesn’t get better.

  • Uuuuuuuuuuuuuu

    thanks  ofr the info fools

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