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Gendered Classrooms: Exploring the Legal and Social Acceptance of Single-Sex Education through a Gender, Race, and Class Analysis Open Access

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In the past decade the number of US public schools operating single-sex classrooms has increased from just a handful to over five hundred in 2009. This thesis uses a gender, race, and class analysis to explore the recent increase in single-sex schools and classrooms in US public education. Supporters of single-sex education believe that there are innate differences between boys and girls brain abilities and personalities, pointing to gender gaps in educational performance and gendered behavior patterns as evidence of these innate differences. To challenge assumptions of innate gender differences this thesis presents theories of social construction suggesting that gendered differences in academic performance and behavior are due in large part to environmental factors including societal stereotypes and expectations. Additionally, the author explores the complexity of academic performance gaps pointing to larger race and class gaps than gender gaps as well as evidence showing steady declines in gender performance gaps. Drawing on social, feminist, and legal theories the author asks why it is legal, government sanctioned, and socially acceptable to segregate students by gender, but not by race or socioeconomic class background. While gender, race, and class are all (considered by social scientists to be) socially constructed sites of oppression, gender is the only classification in which biological arguments of innate difference are both socially and scientifically acceptable. At its core single-sex education is a gender issue; however the author argues that widespread shifts toward single-sex public education will have profound consequences for the meanings of gender, race, and class constructions. Ultimately single-sex education suggests that gender differences are the most significant differences among US schoolchildren. Single-sex education relies on the assumption that difference is counterproductive to learning and fails to prepare students for the diversity of persons and experiences that they will encounter in their workplaces, communities, and personal lives.

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