This story came across my feed and I found it fascinating, not so much because of its content per se, but rather for the chain of thoughts it set off in my head.
Put briefly, the story runs as follows. A school district in Florida streamed some classes based on gender segregation, rather than ability and tailored girls’ classes to girls and boys’ classes to boys. This prompted the ACLU to get involved filing an objection that this violated anti sexism legislation and that it was based on junk science about gender differences (contentious topic).
I’ll offer no particular comment on that, save to say that while gender-separated schooling is often praised for higher standards, this may well be because it tends to only occur in private institutions. I would also say that I think schools provide an excellent opportunity to socialise and to learn to deal with the opposite gender that segregation can rob kids of.
Still, the question that was missing was whether or not standards had improved, in other words, whether the different teaching approaches had made a difference to grades and attainment while they had been running. The actual impact of the experiment appears nowhere in the news stories or summaries and doesn’t appear to be a question worthy of consideration.
If standards had improved, wouldn’t this be worth examining? Same if they had declined?
Men and women, boys and girls are different, though the extent of that difference is a contentious subject, especially when it comes to behaviour. Might it be possible that different approaches might work better for different genders? Well, we’re not going to find out from this.
This isn’t the only example though, we can look to another case, and this might not be the kind of instance you might think.
Before December 31st 2012 women used to get cheaper car insurance. Why did they get cheaper car insurance? Well, that’s a complicated matter but insurance companies rely on reliable calculations and as far as they were concerned women were – on average – safer drivers. This was based on hard data, collected by companies whose livelihood depended on accuracy.
However, in a rare case of total gender parity, the EU decided that this was unfair and that discrimination on the basis of gender – even factually based – wasn’t allowed. You might think as an egalitarian I would be happy about this – as a rare case of men being treated as equals. That’s not the case though. If men are higher risk drivers, it’s only fair that men should pay more for car insurance, just as it would be fair that women would pay more for private health insurance.
In theory, spreading the risk should bring down the prices for the high risk group, since the low risk group takes up the slack. Of course, this being private companies, this didn’t really happen, it was an opportunity to gouge.
Taking equality to mean being identical then, in this practical case, didn’t result in a positive for anyone except the companies. Men’s insurance barely went down (10% at best), if at all and women’s insurance leapt up by as much as 25%. Nobody won.
Sometimes we’re just going to have to accept that there are differences, whether they’re innate or whether they’re (temporarily) cultural and to ensure everything’s fair and appropriate. That’s going to necessitate studies into our differences but we need to strip these studies of their ideological taint and not attack them – or even interest in them – on an ideological basis in order to find out what’s true.
Shortly after hell freezes over…