The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against one of the largest public school districts in Florida, alleging the district’s teaching policies are sexist and discriminatory.
The May 13 complaint alleges that the Hillsborough County Public Schools district, which has some gender-segregated classrooms and is the second-largest district in the state, is subjecting students to sexual discrimination. The ACLU filed its complaint on the grounds that teaching methods allegedly derived from sexist stereotypes violate Title IX legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded school programs.
The ACLU claims the district has created single-sex classrooms based on the false premise that boys and girls learn differently so should be taught differently. As a result, the ACLU says teaching methods and curriculum in kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms differ drastically between boys and girls.
Here is a portion of the ACLU’s complaint:
By training teachers that boys and girls learn differently, and teaching girls and boys differently based on expectations about the talents, capacities and preferences of each sex, the District has created a hidden curriculum that is harmful to all students. Girls are encouraged to work quietly and discuss their feelings and personal problems. They’re expected to be cooperative and noncompetitive. Boys are encouraged to move around, compete and are not encouraged to discuss their feelings. Girls are taught mathematics in a way that makes it less abstract and consequently gives girls the message that they are not good at abstract mathematics. Boys are taught literature in a way that makes stories highly concrete and fact-based and does not encourage them to connect with characters’ emotions. These sex stereotypes limit opportunities for boys and girls alike.
The ACLU’s complaint centered on the district’s alleged training of teachers based on sexist stereotypes, including these specific examples:
- Girls should be seated facing each other because they work best in groups, whereas boys should be seated side-by-side or in rows
- Girls are not as good at abstract thinking, so they should learn with the help of real-life connections
- Boys learn best with diagrams, graphs, and pictures
- Boys believe success comes from being smart, whereas girls believe it comes from hard work
Additionally, classroom observations showed teachers were more likely to comfort girls if they made mistakes, the ACLU said. In the case of boys, teachers allegedly spoke louder and more authoritatively. The district named one teacher training program “Busy Boys, Little Ladies,” and another “Gender Differentiation: Boys and Girls Learn Differently,” according to the ACLU.
Hillsborough County Public Schools declined to comment specifically about the ACLU complaint, but spokesman Steve Hegarty told Business Insider that the district is confident it is not in violation of the Title IX law prohibiting sex discrimination. He also emphasised that parents can choose to have their children placed in co-ed or single-sex classrooms.
“Of course we’re confident we’re not violating Title IX, and I’d point out once again these are choices — parents choose to send these kids into these schools and classrooms, and parents are passionate that it seems to be working out very well for their kids,” Hegarty said.
However, the ACLU complaint also alleges the district misled parents by spreading misinformation based on flawed science and stereotypes.
The ACLU contends every student learns differently regardless of gender, and there is no evidence that boys and girls need to be taught differently based on gender.
However, some experts have argued that boys and girls have significant physical differences in various parts of the brain, and school subjects should be taught according to how their respective brains learn best.
Boys’ brains “have more cortical areas dedicated to spatial-mechanical functioning,” which makes them want to move their objects and their bodies in the classroom more than girls, Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens write in Educational Leadership magazine. Because girls on the other hand have, “more cortical areas devoted to verbal functioning, sensual memory, sitting still, listening, tonality, and mental cross talk, the complexities of reading and writing come easier, on the whole, to the female brain,” according to Gurian and Stevens.
Despite such claims, an analysis of 1.6 million students around the world found that students in single-sex classrooms do not learn more effectively than those in co-ed classes, according to the American Psychological Association.
The ACLU complaint requests an investigation by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. If its allegations prove true, the complaint calls for the district to switch to all co-ed classrooms and retrain teachers to reverse the impact on teaching methods.
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