by William Raspberry
Thank heaven it's not a public school, or St. Stephen's and St. Agnes would be in trouble. No, the private Episcopal school in Alexandria, Virginia, is not overcharging kids, or abusing them, or oppressing them. It's educating them very well indeed.
But it is doing so by (among other things) operating single-sex classrooms for math and science in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. The rationale for this gender separation is the well-documented fact that, in math and science, girls tend not to do as well as boys of equal intelligence. Whether the difference is the result of nature or merely of socialization, of male-oriented teaching styles or of lowered self-esteem for girls, the result often is that girls have their subsequent academic and career choices curtailed.
I've heard all manner of explanations. One is that girls prefer cooperative learning, while boys turn learning—and everything else—into a competition. Some of the explanations may not be true. This is true: if the St. Stephen's and St. Agnes experiment were taking place in a public school, somebody would be out to stop it.
They just stopped one in Philadelphia, where John Coats, a teacher at Stanton Elementary School had initiated a model five-year program for a group of 20 first-grade boys who had had learning problems in kindergarten. The program was working—indeed was the subject of a documentary, "I Am a Promise," that reportedly is up for an Oscar. Nine of these erstwhile slow-learning boys made the honor roll. But the program is dead now. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a lawsuit against it on the ground that boys-only classes are unconstitutional, and the school district folded.
Detroit's attempt to establish all-male academies as a way of rescuing boys at risk of becoming dropouts (and worse) ran into similar legal opposition, as did an earlier effort in Miami in which I, quite indirectly, had a hand.
My limited involvement was a column I had written on Spencer Holland, then with the D.C. school system and now at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Holland, an educational psychologist, had told me of his dream to establish all-male kindergarten and primary classes headed by male teachers. Particularly in the inner cities, where young boys may go for days at a time without directly encountering a literate adult male, he thought it might make an important difference.
Willie Wright, a Miami elementary school principal, saw the column, and asked me to help him get in touch with Holland. In the fall of 1987, the two men implemented Holland's idea. As Wright told me later, "It was a total success, academically and socially. There were no fights, no kids sent out for discipline. They not only improved academically, they became their brothers' keepers, something not generally found in low socioeconomic schools. Not a single parent complained. In fact, virtually all of the parents of boys wanted their sons in the classes."
But, after two years of unquestioned success, the Department of Education's regional office killed the experiment—said it was a violation of Title IX (of the federal Civil Rights Act) guarantees against gender discrimination.
Where do they get these people who are so solicitous of disembodied "rights" that they are willing to do demonstrable damage to actual children? There's a lot we don't know about educating children. That's what makes it so sad when these self-righteous monomaniacs are willing to kill a program that clearly works for actual children out of deference to the possibility that somebody's theoretical rights might somehow be damaged.
Raspberry's pleas call to mind similar pleas of those black educators and parents who, after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education court decision, did not want to dismantle the country's networks of all-black public schools. Instead, they desired to upgrade and improve these institutions with the additional (and fairer) funding that would then be available. Of course, black professional elites had other ideas, as they set about carving out new careers for themselves by concocting the endless programs now possible in the new world of forced integration.
Read about Title IX.