Monday, November 9, 2009

Is Separate Ever Equal?: Nickelodeon Gives Its Take

"If you don't know how to cope with a dude that's, like, annoying you, when you grow up, boys will be bugging you all the time" -wise words from a frustrated student, nick news

Blast from the past! This morning, I came across an email entitled "Linda Ellerbee and gender-segregation." For those of you who may have forgotten Linda Ellerbee is the host of Nick News, the issue-based news program geared towards Nickelodeon's audiences (Oh nerdy childhood memories of specials like "Kids Pick the President" *sigh.*)

With one click of a mouse, I was watching Linda Ellerbee and her crew of tiny tots duke out single-sex vs. co-ed education, a topic bothering education advocates since Bush's 2006 weakening of Title IX/acceptance of voluntary separate, but equal education. (Nick news should NOT be hitting these issues before Obama, btw!)

Throughout the show, kids and experts alike try to argue that gender differences are significant enough to affect the learning process. Arguments included "girls require cooperative environments and boys need competition," "girls prefer to be taught as if they're being comfortably parented, while boys prefer the military, drill-Sergent style" and "boys like to sprawl out around the classroom, while girls prefer to sit properly."

As someone who is passionate about giving all children the opportunity to live up to their highest potential, I firmly believe in doing whatever it takes to get kids to the top (just not this.) Aside from rumors that "separate, but equal" national policies haven't always worked out for this country, here's some other reasons why I am not a fan of single-sex ed:

*Single sex education only exaggerates gender stereotypes (and puts emphasis on gender differences, as opposed to what's in common.) While teaching, I've seen a range of personalities in both boys and girls. Not all boys prefer competition, not all girls prefer cooperation. There are times that both both boys should play up each characteristic, therefore; everyone should be taught and expected to do both well.

*There is not any proof that single-sex education produces better results. Often schools that practice sex-segregation have other factors working in their favor (privately funded, smaller class sizes, more master teachers, computers in every room, parental-involvement programs, etc...)

*"Distraction" is an easy, but inaccurate excuse. No matter the company around them, younger boys and girls will find subjects to distract them (popularity, sports, tv, etc...) Women and men will need to interact in the work place and (for the better or worse) hormones do not disappear after college. That already awkward time in middle school/high school is a great time for learning about relationships without drastic professional consequences.

*Research show no difference in how boys and girls learn and that teaching the two differently even has negative consequences. Teaching with two separate learning style means that information and skills taught can never be exactly the same. It may even be as simple as boys taking more verbal exams, while girls becoming more proficient in written testing. Small as this may seem, the job market is competitive and future employers will hold everyone to the same skill-set expectations.


Anonymous said...

Great article, interesting to hear the debate.

I think that's a fair point, but as someone who went to a female single sex Grammar school in England, I have another point to add.

As yet, I have had the experience of being a student but not a teacher, so I understand that my opinion is localised. However, perhaps this was a feature of going to a selective (but State-run) school - our school many of the features that were attached to male education. Academic competition (but also creative and sporting - and anything else obvious I've forgotten) was rife and we were encouraged to compete with one another for grades and prizes.

One of the things I particularly remember from my school was the emphasis on competition as a good.

Also, perhaps we were lucky, but we also had a male single sex Grammar up the road from us, and there were a lot of joint ventures between the two schools. So each school was certainly exposed to the opposite sex.

Linda Ellerbee said...

Like your thoughts. By the way, Nick News is still on the air and I'm STILL editing and anchoring it.


Linda Ellerbee

Cori said...

@Cupkatething: Thanks! I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the article. There are progressive ways to look at single-sex education (and it looks like your school kept an eye out for co-ed and competitive opportunities.)Unfortunately, on a whole our research shows that to be a rare case. Some American single-sex education schools don’t even try to hide their oversimplified assumptions on girls and boys. I kid you not, we've seen science classes where boys will study by digging in the dirt and girls will be kept inside to analyse the contents of their makeup. Not the same lesson at all!

In America, Title IX prohibits single-sex public education, in cases where it increases rather than decreases sex discrimination. Evaluations of single sex education to determine if they help decrease sex discrimination can be very expensive and may be a waste of resources considering that we've yet to see better results than those of comparably resourced coeducation.

Either way: Its great to hear from about an international reader, especially one who does believe in the power of knowledge and a strong education! Also, I can't help but get the warm fuzzies when see feminists world-wide getting together for equality!


Cori said...

Dear Linda Ellerbee,

I’m so sorry for that mix-up there,(but am also secretly excited about the fact that it meant I got to hear from you!) While I have the opportunity, I’d like to say thank you for creating such age-appropriate, but compelling, socially conscious television. One should never underestimate the power of kids by dumbing down conversations with them, or worse, avoiding discussions of global/national issues for fear that “they won’t understand.”

I was a long-time viewer of Nick News and now I’m over here at the Feminist Majority! You are definitely doing something right!

Should you ever want to do any further work on Single-Sex education or Title IX, FMF's Education Equity Campaign would love to work with you.

To others reading this, check out some of the fantastic work Linda Ellerbee has done for kid's political/social involvement by going to I was floored by how many poignant topics have been covered: everything from the Untouchables in India to children in Rehab and the recession, etc...

When you’re done with that, pop over to the FMF webpage to check out our work on Education Equity!

twiss said...

Cori - In my experience, Brown v. Bd. Of Ed. got it right in deciding that separate is inherently unequal, no matter how it is sugar-coated. Why? Because it institutionalizes broad stereotypes that inevitably advantage the side that already has more social power.

For starters, just contrast the adult male-style uniforms given to boys with the little girl uniforms for girls. Which kids are being helped to step into the adult world more confidently?

For lots more on this, see my web site (For the record, I attended single sex high school and college.)

In referring to the undercutting of Title IX by changing the regulations to allow sex segregated classes and schools, you cite "Bush's 2006 weakening of Title IX acceptance of voluntary separate, but equal education." True, but let's not overlook the powerful push given to this change by Hillary Clinton who crossed the aisle to link arms with old anti-ERA foe Kay Bailey Hutchison in support of the single sex regulation.

You also said parenthetically:"(Nick news should NOT be hitting these issues before Obama, btw!)" I've read that sentence several times and still can't understand it, but it reminds me to urge folks to look objectively at issues without feeling obliged to protect the official good guys and damn the designated bad guys.

Hillary is not the only self-styled feminist who is a loyal alumna of a single sex school but we need to urge them all to separate the benefits of any well run (all too often elite) school from the illusion that excellence was in any way connected with sex-segregation.

Finally, I question the timid use of the word "equity" which has been well defined as "the people in charge of keeping things unequal getting to decide what's fair." You can consume a lot of energy working for equity without ever quite getting there, but equality is a clear standard worth fighting for. And you know it when you see it.