Single-sex education

August 20, 1991

The federal judge in Detroit who ordered last week that female children be admitted to an experimental school for boys seems to be operating on the theory that any discrimination is wrong and therefore illegal. That's fallacious law, and fallacious thinking as well.

The law does not prohibit all discrimination, only irrational discrimination. And there is rational basis in abundance for the Detroit school authorities to conclude that single-sex schools, staffed primarily by male teachers, could substantially improve the educational performance of inner-city children who see few males in their lives who are worthy of emulation.

Far from showing that girls are disadvantaged by single-sex classes, there is solid evidence that female children do better when they attend all-girl classes. This being so, it's hard to see how the female children would be hurt by being excluded from the all-boy classes -- assuming, of course, that they are not being deprived of better funding and equipment for the benefit of the boys.

If upheld, the Detroit ruling could have an impact in Baltimore, where two experimental all-boy classes are now being tested in elementary schools. Moreover, Western High School has been an all-girl school for nearly 150 years -- and from all accounts the students and parents want to keep it that way. Would the ruling require boys admitted to Western? It's hard to see how boys can be excluded from all-girl classes when girls are ordered admitted to all-boy classes.

More than anything, inner-city schools cry for innovative experimentation. It will be a great pity if the single-sex education experiment, here and elsewhere, gets shot down before it even gets off the ground.

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