Do Tall Kids Need Their Own Schools?

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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.  

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  1. as much as I’d like to believe my four long years of testosterone-deprived single-sex Catholic high school were justified

    * gets popcorn, and much like Chuck Norris, waits *

  2. my four long years of testosterone-deprived single-sex Catholic high school

    Are you actively trying to kill Warren?

  3. I went to four years of all-male Catholic high school and if I ever have kids I would send them to a similar place without a doubt.

    There were many large, same-sex Catholic schools in my area growing up and the students from these schools vastly out performed their peers. True, some of it was likely due to other factors, such as self-selection of these places by more motivated families, but I truly believe that a co-ed school could not have reproduced the comaraderie that was so essential to my school’s success.

    By and large there are large differences between how men and women process their environments and the people around them. That has never been more evident than a recent debate at my law journal election meeting, with the females suggesting that forming a welcoming atmosphere will help attract the best first year students as recruits, whereas the men felt that better students would be recruited by being elitist.

  4. Female heterosexual here: I’ve always hated flowers, prefer working alone to working in groups, DESPISE the color pink and remember freaking my mom out by asking Santa to bring me a black leather jacket when I was four years old. If I’d been forced to attend “girl-centric” schools, my childhood would’ve been even more traumatic than it already was.

  5. On a more serious note, and on topic, I of course won’t RTFA (8 pages?!?)…but single-sex education works for some people.

    I went to a co-ed and would never change that. However, I had college friends who extolled the virtues of their all-boys schools; they didn’t have to worry about impressing girls, being clean, etc.

    Personally, I don’t understand what forced teenage attendance of school is good for if not for interacting with tons of girls, but to each their own.

  6. Tall kids definitely need their own schools! You wouldn’t want to distract the short kids with their height-envy

  7. In defense of Charlotte Allen’s piece, note that she didn’t advocate setting up road-blocks to keep women out of “male professions”. She merely predicted that in certain professions you would see very few successful women and that this was nothing to get one’s panties in a twist about.

    This is not to say I agree with the entire premise of her article which seemed to be that women tend to act as ditzes in public or something. Just that it was not prescriptive – it was descriptive.

  8. Dan,
    I went to a co-ed public school and did awesome, learned a lot and was more worldly than the people I met in college that went to small private schools (i.e. I didn’t freak when I saw a gay couple or PDA). Anecdote isn’t the singular of data.

  9. The hell a all-boys school would have been. Without my female friends I wouldn’t have made it through high school.

    It’s the socialization aspect of school these people can’t understand. Did school teach you anything you probably wouldn’t have learned anyway? If it did, was it such a small amount that they could have accomplished it in a matter of weeks, not years? School is about scraping the coddling of mommy off of you and teaching that the world does not and will not think you are special or unique. From there you get taught about the world outside your house. The world outside you house will be filled with both men and women. You can’t learn shit about living only talking for 12 years to half the world.

  10. Without my female friends I wouldn’t have made it through high school.

    Did you watch the OC with them and dream of being Mischa Barton too?

  11. I never heard the “girls are bad at math” meme until I got to college. It had me baffled, because during my previous twelve years of education, the best math students were female.

    Funny thing about educators is, if they all believe that girls are bad at math, they will end up with girls that are bad at math. In trying to battle the stereotype they are reinforcing it. Thank goodness no one told my school district about that gender distinction, or I would have had a much harder time getting that cute nerdy girl to tutor me in trig.

  12. “unacceptably large percentages of students in the wrong place”

    Well, if coed showers worked okay in Starship Troopers (the movie version, at least), I say they’re good enough for our kids. 😉

  13. Could it be that some girls would do better in single-sex high schools and others would do better in co-ed high schools? Or that some boys would do better in single-sex high schools while others would do better in co-ed high schools?

  14. School is about scraping the coddling of mommy off of you and teaching that the world does not and will not think you are special or unique.

    Um, actually, that’s the exact OPPOSITE of what modern school is about. You’re special–unique–a snowflake–self-esteem is important.

    And the “socialization” bit only makes sense if you assume you’ll spend your life surrounded by people who are all within six months of your own age, except for a lone authority figure empowered to decide intimate questions like whether or not you really need to go to the bathroom right now.

  15. Epi,

    No, I had sex with their attractive friends because I wasn’t an asshole who only hung with other guys.

  16. Could it be that some girls would do better in single-sex high schools and others would do better in co-ed high schools? Or that some boys would do better in single-sex high schools while others would do better in co-ed high schools?

    NO. Children are all identical, which is why education should be one size fits all.

  17. Could it be that some girls would do better in single-sex high schools and others would do better in co-ed high schools? Or that some boys would do better in single-sex high schools while others would do better in co-ed high schools?

    No. But I’m too emotionally conflicted to know what my extremely passionate opinion on the matter is!!!!!!!!

  18. re: reinmoose@3:32pm

    I’ve always wondered; why is it that the only people who know that height is an important, desirable attribute, are tall people? Yet the rest of us normal-sized people realize it isn’t important at all. What’s up with that? does being tall cause delusions?

  19. Jennifer at 3:48pm

    Yes yes yes yes yes yes. I completely agree.

  20. Damn, I hate when I start having teacher flashbacks.

  21. Jennifer,

    Well, yeah. I was only describing how it should work… but, school made me into a virulent anti-authoritarian. I’d like to think the ones that came out sheep probably never had a chance in the first place.

  22. No, I had sex with their attractive friends because I wasn’t an asshole who only hung with other guys.

    So you were an asshole who used them to get in their friends’ pants? 🙂

  23. Co-ed high schools are a good idea because otherwise the students are trying to fuck each other. Period.

  24. Shirt –
    I’m perfectly happy with my height, even though more was expected out of me.

    When I was 15 I was the same height I am now, and had size 12 feet. My parents friends would remark “Look at those boats!”(i didn’t know what they were referring to)”You’re going to be tall like your dad.”

    When I was 18 and still the same height, everyone stopped commenting on the size of my feet 🙂

    My feet have since shrunk almost a full size, realizing that they didn’t need to be that large.

    Also, I’ve polished my tennis game from the baseline, because volleying just really isn’t very effective for me.

  25. My prior comment should say ‘Single-sex high schools are a good idea because otherwise the students are constantly trying to fuck each other. Period.’

    I apologize for my sloppy thinking, sloppy typing, and heteronormativity.

  26. In college, when I wished to study on campus, I went to the Engineering Library. When I wished to do something other than study, I went to the Education Library. I majored in neither discipline, I note parenthetically.

    I’ll note here that the whole esteem crap has backfired big time with two of my kids, who assume ability without actually, um, trying. Their mom and I are not pleased with this development.

  27. As someone who was very short thru 10th grade (I grew 11 inches in 2 years), I would have been all in favor of the locker room sorting by height.

  28. So you were an asshole who used them to get in their friends’ pants? 🙂

    Hey, Ep, how about sharing that popcorn? (while I sit here and avoid questions about my two daughters in single sex schools through grade school)

  29. Classes should be separated in early primary school…IMHO. That’s where the differences are most apparant, in my experience. Boys learn differently than girls and the focus on language and reaading skills tailored for the different pace. Merging classes as the boys and girls get past that initial hurdle.

    High school? I’d think that’s the time to merge the classes, again IMHO. Actually junior high or middle school…

    I am old enough to remember my 7th grade male math teacher telling his class girls weren’t good at math. And why were the male math teachers also gym teachers…weird.

  30. I bet the distribution of people’s level of understanding of what a distribution is and how it affects populations would be pretty bimodal and the big hump* would correlate to “no fucking idea”

    *I belong in the big hump when it come to scientific vocabulary

  31. Many considered me sleeping with their friends a feature of our relationship, not a bug. That way they didn’t have to pretend to like some new boyfriend.

    Besides, I got no complaints. I’m really not the awful human being I play on the internet.

  32. In all seriousness, there likely are some kids who would do better in same-sex schooling, and maybe even a greater overall number than the number who do well now. But ultimately same-sex schools would have the same problem as coed schools: once you’re enrolled there, you’re expected to fit the Standard Mold which is too smart for the dumb kids, too stupid for the smart kids, and too mediocre for everybody else.

    To understand the philosophy of modern public schools, bring out your dusty old Greek mythology book and re-read the part about “Procrustes’ bed.”

  33. Separate is inherently unequal.

  34. * passes popcorn to ATH *

  35. >Did you watch the OC with them and dream of being Mischa Barton too?

    Good Lord. How young are you people anyway?

  36. Jennifer,

    You could take that one, add on “The ant and the grasshopper” and “The fox and the stork” and that would pretty much summarize why I’m a libertarian.

  37. No. But I’m too emotionally conflicted to know what my extremely passionate opinion on the matter is!!!!!!!!

    That time of the month, eh?

  38. ATH,

    Be careful, Epi often tries the “cut a hole in the bottom of the popcorn tub” trick.

    And when he yawns, he’s just trying to put his arm around you.

  39. Good Lord. How young are you people anyway?

    I was using something recent to be topical. It’s part of the humor.

    If I wanted to be accurate I would have said “Did you watch Beverly Hills: 90210 with them and think Dylan was dreamy?”

    I just don’t know if SugarFree would have gotten it.

  40. I was in a weird situation where I went to a same sex high catholic school for 3.5 years and then was an assistant teacher at a coed catholic high school for half a year.

    There is no way I could have passed the college prep courses in hi school if teenage girls were sitting in my classes. It’s also no wonder that my friends who went to the coed schools were so busy making out with girls between classes and after class that they didn’t really learn anything in high school and failed out of college.

    This might be a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, but I doubt it.

  41. xyz,

    Physically? 37
    Mentally? 12 1/2

    Actually, 90210 is a little young for me too. Probably more like “Did you write ‘Mrs. Don Johnson’ on your notebook with them?”

  42. Dude, I loved Miami Vice, so I’d have been right there with you.

  43. Looking to the classics, I think the most apropos analogy is Circe zapping Odysseus’ men and turning them into pigs.

  44. my four long years of testosterone-deprived single-sex Catholic high school

    So, after the first two posts, this “free play” from Kerry was squandered entirely? I can’t believe it. Is this H&R or did I wander onto EWTN’s blog by mistake?

  45. Chris, I tried. I thought, “how can this not get completely derailed into a discussion of Kerry in the Catholic HS Girl outfit?”

    I was wrong, but it’s OK because I got to accuse SugarFree of being a nancy-boy.

  46. I clicked into this comment thread just to read the assumed amount of innuendo and by-play engendered (sic) by Ms. Howley’s wide-open offer.

    Color me extremely disappointed (which is blue, incidentally)

  47. single-sex education works for some people

    You’ve hit on something our public education establishment is just getting an inkling of: different kids do better in different kinds of learning environments.

  48. Epi,

    I’ll cop to that. I did, in fact, sleep with Nancy.

  49. As one of the few females who post here, I can say that as a child I was excellent at math, played sports, hated the color pink and had more boy friends and than girl friends. Throughout college it was the same- I was one of maybe 2 or 3 women in my graduate classes (and I enjoyed it being so). I think I would have not performed as well had I been forced to attend an all-girls school.
    But then again, I know that women such as myself or Jennifer are not the norm.

  50. my four long years of testosterone-deprived single-sex Catholic high school

    So the Piano Man was correct, Catholic girls DO start much too late.

  51. Catholic schoolgirls . . . schoolgirl uniforms . . . hubba hubba . . . uh-oh, who’s that at the door? It’s a crew from some TV show, “to catch a predator.” Well, it’s about time they availed themselves of my expertise . . . let me go talk to them. . . .

  52. rana, were that you were the norm. Tomboys RULE. (But the movie sort of sucked.)

  53. In all seriousness, there likely are some kids who would do better in same-sex schooling, and maybe even a greater overall number than the number who do well now. But ultimately same-sex schools would have the same problem as coed schools: once you’re enrolled there, you’re expected to fit the Standard Mold which is too smart for the dumb kids, too stupid for the smart kids, and too mediocre for everybody else.

    I very much agree with this, except that at the single sex school I attended we had streaming. Smarter/better performing kids were taught at higher levels in separate classes. There was competition to get into the higher streams. Our school did much better on university entrance exams than others.

  54. Co-ed high school sucked for me. I was short, thin, clumsy, self conscious, petrified and bored. If I had attended a single sex high school, I would have been short, thin, clumsy, self conscious, petrified and bored. In fact, I would even have dated the same amount in a same sex high school.

    What’s the big deal? High school is designed so you know what purgatory would be like.

  55. anyone in favor of same-sex classroom is a HOMO.

  56. anyone in favor of same-sex classroom is a HOMO.

    Thank goodness someone had the courage to finally say it.

  57. I’m sure that Many studies will prove that if we give teenage boys a drug to make them impetent until their wedding day that they would be more focused in class, behave well, and would get better grades.

  58. Look J sub D:

    I’m sorry 4 ur unfortunate situation. But, me, i got a lotta ass in HS.

    I still think of many of my HS sweeties…even the ones i didn’t date

  59. Full sensory virtual reality will solve this problem in the future. Boys will be fully satiated, and the national IQ will double.

  60. Yes, but did you put your dick in their ass? Or was it in yours?

  61. Full sensory virtual reality will solve this problem in the future. Boys will be fully satiated, and the national IQ will double.

    Dude, get real. One of the most idiotic things about Star Trek: Next Generation was that the holodecks weren’t running 24/7 with porn programs.

  62. Episiarch,

    Did I mention that the VR equipment will be portable? Granted, the boys will zone out for a bit several times a class, but their doubled IQs will allow them to compensate. Strangely, this will result in a huge increase in janitorial wages.

  63. My experience, like that of most (all?) normal people, is that the variation between individuals is vastly greater than that between genders. Of course, I had the advantage of going to international schools almost exclusively (a mere six months pre-college of stateside education)…

    Hehe – another reason DS9 was better, Epi.

  64. Dude, get real. One of the most idiotic things about Star Trek: Next Generation was that the holodecks weren’t running 24/7 with porn programs.

    Yeah, I always said you’d need waders just to walk onto the damned holodeck, and you wouldn’t want to touch anything in there.

  65. Lieutenant Barkley’s little fantasies were the best they could come up with? I mourn for Howlin’ Mad Murdock. He’d have used the holodeck correctly.

  66. OK, so I would be going to the minus two standard deviation school for the height impaired (if they were coed – if they weren’t, I might have made the minus three).

    Oh, and Randy Newman, you can go fuck yourself. I know that the song was meant to point out the stupidity of racism, but I was a little too young to get the gist of the irony – five years old. FIVE GODDAMN YEARS!

    /rant off

  67. This is what a grudge looks like.

  68. Oh and SugarFree:
    No, I had sex with their attractive friends because I wasn’t an asshole who only hung with other guys.

    I’m jealous.

    And you proved the Bloodhound Gang right yet again.

  69. The jealous comment is honest by the way. My High School experience was about as much fun as JsubD’s.

  70. The article seems to collect all the bad reasons for single-sex education, and ignore all the good ones.

  71. Episiarch,

    Even Oppenheimer would’ve known what to do in the holodeck. However, Dwight’s various roles are not the right place to look. Think Frito in Idiocracy.

  72. I wish people would write or say “sex” when they mean sex, and reserve “gender” for arbitrary, society-determined categories.

  73. I’d prefer if people used sex to describe – what was it that Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper called it: “the physical act of love” – and “gender” to describe categories of people based on genitalia or whatnot.

    “Purity of Essence”

  74. But really, use whatever word floats your boat.

  75. Lieutenant Barkley’s little fantasies were the best they could come up with? I mourn for Howlin’ Mad Murdock. He’d have used the holodeck correctly.

    Speaking of which, how is it that Murdock looked older than Barclay when he was played by the same actor 15 years earlier?

    Also, in Descent, Part I it is made clear that the Holodeck will not allow you to run a program that carries a substantial risk of harming you, without the approval of two senior officers. Maybe there’s a similar restriction on prurient programs.

  76. Wait a minute, Captain Picard disabled the Holodeck safety protocols all by himself in the movie First Contact. Contradiction! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    ::smoke comes out of ears::

  77. And what about the people who eat food that originated on the Holodeck and spend several hours there afterwards? Why don’t they go into insulin shock when all the holo-sugar in the bloodstream vanishes immediately after leaving?

  78. Surprise of surprises,

    Jennifer shows up with an anecdote about herself to make a point about trends and distributions.

    Short people are bad at that kinda thinking, I guess.

    Ectomorphs in one school, Endomorphs in another… The Mesomorphs…off to work camp.

  79. The point of the post is spot on, however.

    There is no good educational reason to sort by gender in schools.

    The differences between genders are swamped by the similarities.

  80. Surprise of surprises, Jennifer shows up with an anecdote about herself to make a point about trends and distributions.

    Well, I could’ve shared an anecdote about you but they all would’ve been rather insulting.

  81. Neu Mexican:
    Go hang out with Randy fuckin’ Newman, you miniaphobe.

  82. Jennifer,

    Girls tend to be short.
    You are short.
    See, I proved that girls tend to be short.

  83. SWDWLHJ,

    That hurt.
    I hate Randy Newman.
    Just the hint of association cuts to the quick like a razor made of salt.

  84. Neu Mejican,
    I didn’t mean it. Stay where you are. No Randolph von Neumann punishments for you.

    But be careful to be nice to the smaller people. (Like I said, I’m at -3 standard deviations among men for height.)

  85. I see no evidence that gender is a particularly useful dividing line for educators.

    It itself this is irrelevant – if people want to send their kids to single-sex schools, they should have that freedom regardless of such opinions. Let the market sort out what works and what does not.

  86. you mean, coitus?

  87. It itself this is irrelevant – if people want to send their kids to single-sex schools, they should have that freedom regardless of such opinions. Let the market sort out what works and what does not.

    Because children are property too!

  88. Francisco — sure, if we’re talking about private schools or charter schools, it’s a parent’s choice. But the article was more about the discussion of whether single-sex schooling is beneficial.

    And I don’t believe it is. The key point (buried in the article, unfortunately) is that parents and school planners who make a conscious decision of any kind to improve education are going to have better results than those who don’t. The inner-city schools profiled are not only single-sex schools, but better schools.

    For what it’s worth: I liked pink, but I could also do math. And I would have probably gone crazy without male friends and classmates.

  89. SWDWLHJ,

    I ain’t exactly tall, but I used to be.

    I was one of the two or three tallest kids in Mid-school at almost 5’8″…but I never got any taller.

    It’s those damned Ectomorphs we should all be watching out for…

    Damned Ectomorphs!

  90. So can we finally get back to Kerry’s four long years of testosterone-deprived single-sex Catholic high school?

  91. Sometimes I put my hands under my arms like this…

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