For now, they’re targeting government schools, because that’s the easier path through the courthouse battlegrounds, but as a father whose oldest child attends a private boys' school, I squirm to think how easily the ACLU could march into Henry's school, bellowing orders and pushing us parents around.
If you read their angry press releases, their bullying letters to principals and school boards, and their legal briefs, you see that the ACLU rarely speaks explicitly of government schools. Its grandiose arguments claim that single-sex schooling violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, period; so it’s not hard to imagine lawsuits one day attacking private schools for unconstitutional “sex segregation.”
The ACLU insists that educators separate the sexes in school only because they want to teach “outdated gender stereotypes,” based on discredited science, in order to discriminate (against which sex isn’t quite clear, as we’ll see).
The Union’s arguments against single-sex schooling deserve rebuttal, but first let’s recall all the reasons it’s preposterous for the ACLU to thump its chest and claim the mantle of Protector of Children. First, the ACLU has for decades been soft on kiddie porn. Usually the Union can bear the idea of making the actual abuse of children a crime, but it will oppose criminal prohibitions on selling, distributing, and possessing kiddie porn (see William Donohue’s The Politics of the American Civil Liberties Union for the full story).
Similarly, my friend Deroy Murdock, a gay black columnist, reported on the ACLU’s role in the gruesome case of ten-year-old Jeffrey Curley, murdered and then molested by two men who had studied the National Man-Boy Love Association’s instructional literature. Murdock concluded,
the ACLU has offered material support to those who openly preach pedophilia and arguably encourage kidnapping, rape, and murder.
If you think children in their mothers’ wombs deserve protection, the ACLU is not your man. In fact, if you think a child almost completely delivered from her mother’s womb deserves protection, don’t look for help to the Union, which has staunchly opposed all regulation of partial-birth abortion. And if you worry that a teenage girl deserves protection from an older man who commits statutory rape, impregnates her, and then tries to take her across state lines for an abortion without her parents’ knowledge or consent — again, the ACLU is not about to protect your daughter; it’s on the man’s side.
There’s much more. Remember Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy whose mother and step-father died in a desperate attempt to flee Cuba? The ACLU sided with Attorney General Reno, famous for using a SWAT team to yank the six-year-old lad from his Miami relatives in order to send him back to Cuba’s civil liberty paradise. And before that, in the 1980s the ACLU demanded that the federal government force 12-year-old Walter Polovchak to go back to the Soviet Union, even though the boy pleaded to stay in America, rather than face persecution by the Communist Party for his religious beliefs. Polovchak was staying with fellow Ukrainians in Chicago, and Illinois law said “the best interests of the child” should prevail. So the ACLU fought to have courts throw out that standard as unconstitutional.
Interestingly, soon after Polovchak gained attention, the ACLU took the exact opposite position in a similar case that involved sending a child back to Chile, then under a far-right despot. If you’re surprised by this seeming inconsistency (right-wing tyrannies bad/left-wing tyrannies like Cuba and the USSR good), you haven’t read Aaron Wildavsky’s penetrating Foreword to Donohue’s ACLU book. Wildavsky, for many years a member of the ACLU and a prominent political scientist – he chaired his department at U.C. Berkeley – was no crude right-winger. But eventually he realized
the ACLU was never what I thought it was, an organization standing up for people whose civil liberties were threatened by the passions of the time. The ACLU has always been what Donohue says it is: an organization committed to a shifting agenda of substantive policy change as dictated by the political perspectives of its most active members.
Those members’ perspectives, of course, are hard left. And so, to continue our litany of anti-child positions held by the ACLU, let’s recall its harassment of the Boy Scouts for alleged sins of anti-atheism and heterosexism (see my CRC colleague Patrick Reilly’s report, “War on the Boy Scouts”).
The Union also fiercely opposes school choice programs, even when no government funds go to private schools (as in Arizona’s tax credits, recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court), and when low-income children are proven to benefit (as in D.C.’s voucher program).
Then there are the Union’s attacks on numerous policies that promote discipline in schools. For instance, Newark had a program to deal with its severe truancy problem, and no less liberal an institution than the New York Times applauded it, but the ACLU demanded it be stopped. The Union likewise sees the mailed fist of fascism in dress codes, even though Long Beach, California officials found that fights, assault and battery, sex offenses, and robberies declined after they adopted a dress code, while rates of attendance improved.
Worse, in 1986 Detroit saw one child shot on average every day, and it also saw the ACLU use the courts to force schools to abandon random searches for weapons. It goes without saying the ACLU has also worked to eliminate the use of paddling or restrictions on speech in grade-school student publications.
And that’s not the end of the ACLU’s knocking around of schools. If – thanks in part to the ACLU’s “success” in hindering a school’s ability to maintain decorum – that school then has to suspend or expel unruly students, the Union will sweep down upon it yet again and scrutinize the race and ethnicity of students who are punished, looking for signs of “disparate impact.”
It won’t matter whether the race and ethnicity of the school officials match those of the punished students, and it certainly won’t matter if no one in authority intends to discriminate against a particular race or ethnicity. No, if the ACLU’s bean counters find the least “disparity” between the overall student population’s race/ethnicity mix versus the mix of students who are punished, you’re sunk. You and your system are ipso facto guilty of discrimination.
Now interestingly, given the Union’s interest in single-sex education, the ACLU bean-counters do not seem to bother to track whether one sex is “disparately” affected by punishments. Perhaps even the Union’s lawyers couldn’t keep a straight face if they had to claim that only sex discrimination explains boys’ greater rate of punishment.
In another instance of incoherence, the Union’s bean-counting sometimes includes stats for Asians’ likelihood of punishment, but those numbers are ignored. If the Union were principled, it would trumpet this “disparate impact” and insist that whites are being discriminated against by Asian-favoring school officials across the land.
Another Union incoherence is its championing of discrimination that occurs under the label of affirmative action:
Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools for redressing the injustices caused by our nation’s historic discrimination against people of color and women….
Which brings us back to an especially incoherent aspect of ACLU policy. When attacking “disparate” rates of punishment by race/ethnicity, the Union insists that schools must not be color-blind; they must see and talk about differences. They must realize, in the words of an organization the ACLU repeatedly cites, that
past practice has been to change the student to fit our system ... generally doesn’t work. Must change our system to meet the needs of the students we work with.
And so, in order to help “all students” and to avoid such intolerable things as “racially disproportionate placements in special education,” the ACLU demands that educators have “trainings in culturally responsive pedagogy” and achieve “culturally relevant pedagogy.”
Have you got that? Apparently students from some “cultures” need to be taught differently from others. Obey that diktat of difference or face ACLU lawsuits.
But if you turn around and presume that boys and girls are different, and then implement a pedagogy that attempts to be “responsive” and “relevant” to those differences, the ACLU will land on you with both feet, screaming “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes”!
That's the ACLU's slogan for its anti-single-sex campaign, and the Union wants you to think that its only aim is to stamp out “discredited” science propagated by stereotyping hucksters. But the Union’s self-justification is a lie. The ACLU has opposed single-sex schooling the second anyone has proposed it, with no need to investigate any "science" at all, and the authors of its latest report attacking single-sex education are lawyers, not scientists.
Indeed, thanks to the ACLU and others, single-sex education in government schools was virtually illegal after Title IX passed in 1972. Then in 2006 the Department of Education eased its Title IX regulations, with the vocal support of Senators Hillary Clinton, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Dianne Feinstein (Clinton and Feinstein themselves attended single-sex schools, notes Peter Meyer in Education Next).
But as those regulations were about to be eased, did the ACLU demand rigorous studies of new single-sex experiments so we could all follow the science? Of course not. It immediately opposed any such experimentation, and now demands that the Department re-impose its old regs. In its more honest moments, the Union even admits that the social science on single-sex school performance is mixed (see, for example, this article by ACLU attorney Emily J. Martin).
Now of course single-sex education isn’t the silver-bullet solution to all our school woes (nor are single-sex proponents trying to imitate the intolerance of the ACLU by eliminating their less-preferred type of schooling). The most thorough evaluation of the scientific literature, conducted by the Department of Education, concluded that the findings are mixed, and more research should be done, but there does exist
some support for the premise that single-sex schooling can be helpful. Among the concurrent academic accomplishment outcomes [we studied], 53 percent were null (favored neither single-sex nor coed schooling), 10 percent had mixed results across sex or grade levels, 35 percent favored single-sex schooling, and only 2 percent favored coed schooling.
The ACLU tells another lie about single-sex schooling, this time by omission. It would have you believe, observes Thomas Reeves of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, that these schools’ advocates base their support solely on “broad gender stereotypes and psychological differences between boys and girls.” Left unsaid is the other major reason for single-sex schools: “that the absence of the opposite sex in the classroom eliminates a major distraction that hinders learning.” This, Reeves notes, is so “obviously true” that the ACLU just ignores it.
And yet it is no small matter. Teachers, parents, and students observe the phenomenon, as did the Department of Education in its thorough scientific review:
Students in elementary and middle single-sex schools exhibited a greater sense of community, interacted more positively with one another, showed greater respect for their teachers, were less likely to initiate class disruptions, and demonstrated more positive student role modeling than students in the coed comparison schools.
This phenomenon goes to the heart of why the ACLU’s jihad against single-sex schooling is ridiculous: The promoters of that schooling, far from hoping to imprison boys and girls within confining stereotypes, believe that separating the sexes will actually lead to less stereotypical patterns of learning.
Dr. Leonard Sax, director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education and, if you read the ACLU’s propaganda, the #1 thought-crime villain in America, explains his hopes for single-sex schooling:
If you ignore [differences between the sexes,] you end up reinforcing gender stereotypes. Therefore, you end up with fewer girls studying math, computers, and physical science and fewer boys studying languages and art.
I see this in my son’s school, the Heights, which has regular school-wide competitions which the boys – credits to their stereotype – do indeed love. But they don’t just compete in sweaty tests of physical prowess; they also compete, to loud applause, in “The Bard,” a contest to see who can best recite long poems from memory. As one Bard winner exulted, “It was just like hitting a home run for my team!”
Similarly, Senators Clinton, Hutchison, and Feinstein didn’t hope that loosening the Title IX regulations would send girls back to typing classes, resigned to being men’s secretaries. They thought girls-only classes could inspire students to do things like pursue careers in math and science.
And guess what – that’s just what a 2009 UCLA study of girls' schools found. The study controlled for characteristics of the schools and the girls studied (including race/ethnicity, family income, and parental education). It found higher-than-coed rates of SAT scores, math confidence, political and social activism, and interest in science. The alumnae of single-sex independent schools were three times more likely than those from coed independent schools to report an intention to pursue an engineering career.
In the same vein, low-income parents strongly support efforts like the single-sex boys' and girls' schools run by Brighter Choice Charter Schools in Albany, New York. But not because the parents seek to reinforce stereotypes. Instead, as Martin Luther King III declared,
Like the American Civil Rights Movement, [Brighter Choice’s] efforts to educate … children … is about liberation – liberation from prejudice, liberation from socially imposed limitations, and liberation of the dignity, capabilities, and potential for excellence that dwells in the heart of every human being.
At bottom, the greatest distinction between the ACLU and the proponents of single-sex schooling is simple: One side supports diversity, thinks both types of schooling are legitimate and appropriate for some students, and believes parents should have a rich variety of options for their children. The other side wants to strangle the very small baby of single-sex schooling in its crib; is sorry it was ever conceived; abhors the diversity it could bring to education; doesn’t really care what the science says, or what parents, students, or educators want; and is straining mightily to use the courts and the federal bureaucracy to impose its will on every American from now till the end of time.
Oddly, it’s the latter group that brags about its love of liberty.
UPDATE: Dr. Sax, with whom I'd had no contact, sent me his books. I was amazed to discover in his Boys Adrift that my son's all-boys school dramatically changed one of the doctor's patients and led him to crusade for single-sex schools. I've posted the story here.
FOOTNOTE: For more information on single-sex education, see the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s website, especially here and here. Fordham has a brief rejoinder to the article in Science that the ACLU’s current campaign treats as Holy Writ. The Daily Caller has comments on the ACLU crusade from Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War on Boys. The best history of Title IX is Jessica Gavora’s Tilting the Playing Field. For more wide-ranging critiques of the ACLU, see the ones by my CRC colleagues Matthew Vadum and Cheryl Chumley, as well as Bill Donohue's second book on the Union.