Do Tall Kids Need Their Own Schools?


This New York Times Magazine piece on single-sex education appears to be a long, disturbing profile of a gender-obsessed quack drawing wildly improbable conclusions from various neurological findings. Among the evidence gender-based education enthusiast Leonard Sax marshals to justify cordoning off half the nation's minors: Girls draw more flowers and use more colors, the average woman may hear slightly better than the average man, and the cerebral volume of girls peaks earlier than that of boys. From the first paragraph, the article is begging for someone to explain the concept of a distribution–and then, mercifully, an actual neuroscientist shows up:

One reason for this, Giedd says, is that when it comes to education, gender is a pretty crude tool for sorting minds. Giedd puts the research on brain differences in perspective by using the analogy of height. "On both the brain imaging and the psychological testing, the biggest differences we see between boys and girls are about one standard deviation. Height differences between boys and girls are two standard deviations." Giedd suggests a thought experiment: Imagine trying to assign a population of students to the boys' and girls' locker rooms based solely on height. As boys tend to be taller than girls, one would assign the tallest 50 percent of the students to the boys' locker room and the shortest 50 percent of the students to the girls' locker room. What would happen? While you'd end up with a better-than-random sort, the results would be abysmal, with unacceptably large percentages of students in the wrong place. Giedd suggests the same is true when educators use gender alone to assign educational experiences for kids. Yes, you'll get more students who favor cooperative learning in the girls' room, and more students who enjoy competitive learning in the boys', but you won't do very well. Says Giedd, "There are just too many exceptions to the rule."

Please, someone translate this passage into very small words and read it slowly to Charlotte Allen. Gender is one of an infinite number of demographic categories, and as much as I'd like to believe my four long years of testosterone-deprived single-sex Catholic high school were justified, I see no evidence that gender is a particularly useful dividing line for educators. 

Also check out Sara Mead on developmental variance and Brian Doherty's great reason feature on brain imaging hype.