The Daily Beast
For years, feminists have lamented the sorry state of girls in math and science, as they lag behind their male peers in test scores and shy away from careers in engineering and technology. Yet perhaps the most frustrating recent development on the topic is that some of the very programs designed to help girls get ahead may be holding them back—or are simply misguided.
Take single-sex math and science classes. While they seem like a logical way to give girls a jump-start in these subjects, new research suggests this initiative—championed over the past two decades as a possible solution—may backfire.
In a study published last year, psychologist Howard Glasser at Bryn Mawr College examined teacher-student interaction in sex-segregated science classes. As it turned out, teachers behaved differently toward boys and girls in a way that gave boys an advantage in scientific thinking. While boys were encouraged to engage in back-and-forth questioning with the teacher and fellow students, girls had many fewer such experiences. They didn’t learn to argue in the same way as boys, and argument is key to scientific thinking. Glasser suggests that sex-segregated classrooms can construct differences between the sexes by giving them unequal experiences. Ominously, such differences can impact kids’ choices about future courses and careers.