Separate-but-equal not a dead subject

“Separate but equal” may have been struck down decades ago, but now it is coming back in different forms.

The Bush administration is making it easier for school districts to open a single-gender public school without opening a mirror school for the opposite gender. To open such a school, districts need to only provide evidence that an education of equal merit can be gained at a nearby school, be it a co-ed or single-gender facility.

Proponents of the reforms cite statistics that both boys and girls traditionally perform better on standardized tests when they are educated in an exclusive environment.

Those who are against the reforms note that changes in Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act could lead to inequalities in education, limit females’ opportunities to play scholastic sports and renew traditional stereotypes.

The claim that women will suffer academically because of the exclusive environment, however, bears little weight. Those who fear the stereotype that women will become less interested in math and science are assuming that these schools will not have strong departments in these areas simply because the students are female.

If the schools are equally strong as their male counterparts, as the legislation requires them to be, then weak areas becomes a dead issue.

The proposed reforms are fundamentally illegal, but their opponents attack the legislation from the wrong angle. The problem with the changes would not be that they would create separate but unequal learning environments; the flaw is that students would be separated by their sexes.

If someone were to trying to create two separate but equal publicly funded schools for different races, social classes or religions, the courts would deem his or her attempt unconstitutional. Why is gender discrimination (and sexual orientation, as in the case of New York) given an exception?

It may be true that some students perform better without the presence of the opposite gender, but if I do better on my ACT in a room filled with only white Protestant kids, should I have the right to such a testing environment? Absolutely not.

The Western world is more comfortable with the idea of single-gender education because it has been in existence for the better part of the modern education system. It is a relic from the time when boys were educated in ways that women were not and when the state was overtly religious.

Should a religious organization or sexual orientation advocacy groups wish to open a privately funded institution that consciously chooses the type of person who is allowed to attend classes, then it can, of course, do just that. But the segregation of state schooling creates unique learning environments without justifying the grounds for doing so.

The schools are entirely optional and are not intended to be elitist programs, but they exclude the students who attend these schools in a different way. The pupils may perform better without the opposite sex, but eventually they will find themselves in a diverse working environment that includes members of both genders, different sexual orientations, the full spectrum of races and a plethora of world religions. While they are learning to work with the latter three groups, students in a public single-gender school, especially those without a mirror school of the opposite gender nearby, are set at a disadvantage.

There are some lessons that may require some forms of separation, namely sex education, (an argument could even be made for separating classes on racial sensitivity), but these lessons are different because they directly concern gender.

Splitting up students into one group of girls and one group of boys before teaching a social studies class is an irrelevant, unnecessary and arbitrary distinction.

Timothy Conkin, Daily Mississippian, University of Mississippi.