Saturday, March 1, 2008

I've had it up to here with the New York Times. Right now I'm fuming about their magazine article on single-sex education. I'm not necessarily opposed to single-sex education, but this article leads off with a description of a school based on the theories of Leonard Sax, who, despite his M.D., is not a responsible scientist, and merely uses pseudo-scientific handwaving to bludgeon people into believing his repulsive sex stereotypes.

According to Sax, the reason boys and girls should be taught separately is that they are so radically physiologically different that they cannot possibly learn in the same way. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus; they are as unlike each other as night and day; they might as well be different species. They probably are. Never mind that school as an institution began and in many ways remains thoroughly patriarchal, and that at one time girls weren't even allowed to go to school. No, according to Sax, mainstream schools are effeminate and reward girly behavior such as doing homework or reading, which is like totally bad for boys.

From the article:

The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes. The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author and advocate who this May will quit his medical practice to devote himself full time to promoting single-sex public education.

Hmm, I wonder why those boys have these sexist fantasies of what girls are like? Could it possibly be that by being segregated from girls and told that girls and boys are so different that they can't even learn in the same room from the same teacher, they are being taught to internalize sex stereotypes? I wonder.

It wouldn't be so repulsive if any attempt were made to actually understand or account for the supposed research that Sax invokes. But the first hints that Sax's claims might not be totally backed up by studies are buried on page four.

Observe this sleight of hand, in describing Michael Younger's irritation with Sax's "work":
While Sax, a gadfly, enjoys telling this story, Younger calls it “a fiction,” though he does concede “that certain aspects of Sax’s work suggest an essentialism about boys and girls which is not borne out by reality as exposed in our own research.”

What is Michael Younger calling a "fiction" in this paragraph? Presumably Sax's story about how Younger threw out a talk he was going to give solely to refute a lexture of Sax's. But the confusing way that the paragraph is written makes it sound as if Younger's objection -- i.e. that Sax's essentialism isn't borne out by research -- is actually a concession, not to the truthfulness of the anecdote about his throwing out a talk, but to Sax's theories tout court.

I know that the New York Times is a festering bastion of misogyny, but such blatant irresponsibility is unforgivable.


julie said...

Sure, the American educational system totally panders to female strengths. It's so easy for them, no wonder so many young women have such great confidence in their intelligence and self-worth.

Natalia said...


kg said...

"A festering bastion of misogyny." What a wonderful turn of phrase!