Separate but not equal

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The United States Education Department is planning to enforce changes in the Title IX anti-discrimination law, which will come into effect Nov. 24. These changes will allow U.S. public schools to create “separate but equal” classrooms based on gender divisions. Individual elementary and high schools will be allowed complete discretion over implementing gendered subjects, grades or entire institutions.

The Bush administration feels that children will be more likely to succeed if surrounded by others of their same gender. Unfortunately, this isn’t getting at the root of the problem. If certain children feel intimidated in the classroom by members of the opposite sex, this points to how they are being raised and socialized—not to an inherent inability to learn with the opposite sex, or a problem with the school system.

Also, the new law assumes that every student will fit neatly into one category or the other. It completely ignores transgender issues and those students who feel they cannot identify as either males or females.

These changes are also teaching youth to avoid problematic situations and preventing them from facing their fears. Every individual has a different way of learning, which has nothing to do with their sex or gender. Students have various interests, needs and motivations regardless of their gender, and high-quality teachers should be able to recognize this in the current co-ed classrooms and tailor their teaching methods accordingly. Moreover, boys and girls can learn from each other.

Telling children that they learn a certain way because they are male or female encourages discrimination. It’s normal for young children and adolescents to feel uncomfortable with the opposite sex from time to time but separating them so they no longer have to deal with each other anymore doesn’t address the problem. Students will always have to participate in intimidating and nerve-wracking activities that they would rather avoid, but they will learn from them and their comfort level will improve.

There are other, more logistical problems, that also need to be addressed. With artificial divisions, one class will inevitably be smaller, and will therefore receive more attention from the teacher. Since it’s doubtful that the government will be pouring any more resources into teaching, the additional load will be taken up by existing teachers and the quality of education is bound to suffer.

This is a narrow-minded and poorly thought out solution to what Bush and the U.S. government see as a problem; it will only serve to reinforce existing stereotypes, and will regress our education system back to a time when gender roles and expectations were so narrowly defined.

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