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contradictions of liberalism
Single-Sex Education Under Fire

The long-running legal campaign against single-sex education, waged mostly by feminists and liberal advocacy groups, has a new target: Washington D.C.’s “Empowering Males of Color” program—a new educational initiative that includes an all-boys school for black and Hispanic students. WAMU radio reports:

The American Civil Liberties Union has released a report that finds a D.C. Public Schools initiative is not fair to girls. The program focuses on serving boys of color.

The $20 million initiative, “Empowering Males of Color,” is meant to help African-American and Latino boys. City leaders say it’s necessary to focus on them because they are far less likely to graduate high school, they are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and their test scores are far lower than white students’. The programming includes mentoring, grants for schools that specifically target this population and a soon-to-be-opened all-male high school.

But Monica Hopkins-Maxwell of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital says the organization found no justification for excluding girls from the program.

“Single-sex programming is not really an answer,” Hopkins-Maxwell says.

The D.C. program (like the White House’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative) is built on the assumption that young men of color in American cities are particularly exposed to various challenges—a school-to-prison pipeline, social discrimination, unhealthy cultural expectations—that make it harder for them to succeed, and which have destructive downstream consequences for minority communities and for American society as a whole. The hope (backed up by the experiences of various educators, and by some empirical evidence) is that targeted mentoring and educational services, including all-boys schools, can improve the prospects of this uniquely at-risk population.

But to the ACLU—like the feminists who take issue with My Brother’s Keeper—any special tailoring of resources to meet the needs of boys is suspect. Some of their concerns may be warranted—as the ACLU report points out, minority girls are also struggling (to a lesser extent, on average) in D.C. public schools—but the dogmatic opposition to any programming targeted at boys seems misguided. After all, it seems unlikely that the ACLU would devote its resources to challenging public school programs intended to make more girls interested in science on the grounds that certain demographic groups of boys are underrepresented in science classes as well, and that, in any case, the effectiveness of these programs is disputed.

The ongoing conflict over single-sex education highlights the confused state of many of our debates about sexism and gender roles. While men remain overrepresented at the highest echelons of society, boys at the bottom seem to be struggling more than their female peers along many dimensions. And yet, many on the Left still cast gender as a rigid hierarchy, with boys automatically enjoying vast unearned social privileges, and girls automatically facing structural disadvantages. Our society’s ability to help at-risk children would probably be better served if institutions like the ACLU dropped this premise and gave school districts more leeway to target aid at groups that need it, even if they happen to be boys.

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  • qet

    The unexamined premise that there is a right, or correct, or ideal “representation” of human qualities, features and characteristics in any institution is at the root of all kinds of mischief today. It is, as Nietzsche would say, error. According to what social or political theory (and sorry, repetition of words like “equality” and “inclusiveness” do not rate as theories) is any institution required to be composed of a certain number of, or any, women, blacks, gays, pick your grievance group? The manner in which this notion is presented as though self-evident is proof that it is not an intellectual but an emotional argument, a matter of feeling, not thought, of faith, not knowledge. Actually, not faith so much as superstition.

    The concept is wholly inimical to pluralism. Pluralism envisions social institutions existing side by side, in their difference; not, as suggested by statements like the ones in this piece, by grinding all people into powder and stirring them into a homogenized solution. That is the one thing that all people at all times everywhere have resisted to the utmost of their power, so it cannot be a sound basis of critique of societies or social institutions.

    • GS

      All private entities should be explicitly excluded from the scope of the so-called “civil rights” legislation and rule-making. Here, however, it is a public entity – DC public schools.

      • Frank Natoli

        The great Thomas Sowell noted that, immediately prior to 1954 Brown v Board of Ed, DC had four public high schools, all de jure segregated, three black and one white. Two of the all black schools had HIGHER average academic performance than the one all white school. Fast forward to the present. The first black president, Bill Clinton, put his daughter in private Sidwell Friends. The second black president, well, half black president, Barry Sotero, put his daughters in private Sidwell Friends.

        • GS

          with the public entities one could build an argument that the government should not be able to discriminate between the taxpayers except for a weighty reason [e.g., a criminal record, or, say, foreign connections where the national security is concerned]. But the private entities are a totally different matter. They do not have the taxing/coercive power, and for them the freedom of association [and its obverse, the freedom of dissociation] should reign supreme.

          • Frank Natoli

            I see your point. But let’s rewind to the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC in 1960. Private establishment. Some black Americans enter Woolworth, sit at the lunch counter, and order lunch. Should Woolworth have the right to deny service, reason unsaid, reason understood to be that the people at the lunch counter were black?
            These people at the lunch counter were not behaving any different than any other patron. Thy were not asking Woolworth to cooperate in any event other than, say, serving a grilled cheese sandwich, not at a wedding, not at a bar mitzvah, just right there with everybody else. Should Woolworth have the right to deny that grilled cheese sandwich?

          • FriendlyGoat

            No, but I predict GS either won’t answer you or will astound you with some “amazing” answer related to why private educational institutions should be allowed to do any old thing they want with respect to student selection.
            Perhaps for-profit lunch counters too with respect to customer selection—-hard to say.

          • GS

            Well, as far as the predictions are concerned, drop the astrology and switch to reading the tea leaves – you might be more successful with them.

          • FriendlyGoat

            See reply here for confirmation.

          • GS

            Yes, woolworth should have had that right. In the process the merchant would have deprived itself of these customers and their money, but it should be that merchant’s right. If you have a right to boycott a merchant, that merchant has the same right to boycott you. What is a sauce for a goose is the sauce for a gander. The difference from the government is its coercive power: boycotting the government is non-trivial.

      • qet

        Let’s face it: pluralism requires separateness. 60 years after Brown v Board, races and genders are actively self-segregating, arguing it is necessary for equality. Probably no greater damage has ever been done to the body politic of the USA, to its commitment to and realization of pluralism, than the Supreme Court’s ex cathedra bull that “separate is inherently unequal.” Asked to decide a specific case, those sages and saints just could not resist the temptation to inscribe a new commandment in stone. The adherence of the Left to that commandment ever since, in the face of all evidence and data demonstrating its ill effects, gives the lie to the Left’s claim to prefer “data” and “evidence-based policy.”

        As for the DC schools–like I said, the school system is the relevant pubic entity for application of non-discrimination rules, not each individual school.

        • GS

          Voluntary autosegregation is one thing, segregation de jure is another. The former should be outside the legal purview.

    • Frank Natoli

      is any institution required to be composed of a certain number of, or any, women, blacks, gays, pick your grievance group?
      Well, that depends on who you ask. If you ask a Democrat, the answer is absolutely yes. In fact, a Democrat will go beyond simple equality of demographics to equality of income and wealth, but rather that the centuries of white patriarchal privilege should be punished not just eliminated by quotas.

  • Frank Natoli

    While men remain overrepresented at the highest echelons of society
    Which is evidence of what? De facto bias? Or de facto excellence?
    Anyone with a room temperature IQ or better knows that the male bell curve and the female bell curve are NOT the same. The male bell curve is flatter, resulting is significantly more males of above average intelligence than females AND significantly more males of below average intelligence than females. Funny that women would vigorously confirm the latter but never the former.
    The more the “highest echelons of society” are intelligence based, the more intelligence is going to bias who is represented or “overrepresented” there.

    • CapitalHawk

      Well, then not many people on the left have a room temperature IQ, because I bet they would, by a large majority, vehemently deny that men and women are different in IQ bell curves. I have had this discussion many times and there is a refusal to acknowledge this.

  • Jim__L

    This is a good time to read Kurt Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron — about making our society truly equal.

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