Anecdotal and Essentialist Arguments for Single-Sex Educational Programs Discussed by Liben: a Legal Analysis

Sherwin, Galen
May 2015
Sex Roles;May2015, Vol. 72 Issue 9-10, p434
Academic Journal
This commentary responds to Liben's () 'Probability Values and Human Values in Evaluating Single-Sex Education' by analyzing the values she discusses through a legal framework. As Liben correctly points out, many single-sex education programs are animated by claims regarding 'hard wired' biological sex difference, and proponents tend to value personal experience and anecdote over scientific approaches to data. This commentary recognizes the contribution Liben makes in situating supporters of single-sex education within a particular historical tradition and illuminating their values. However, it argues that while gender essentialism and resulting claims regarding typical male and female tendencies may be established intellectual philosophies, they are of limited value from a practical legal perspective. Similarly, while anecdotes and personal experience have real power, they are legally insufficient to support sex-based classifications enshrined by public schools. The commentary builds on the link Liben has drawn between historical gender essentialist views surrounding women's education and contemporary proponents of single-sex education by providing examples of how these views are currently being applied in classrooms across the U.S. It then provides a discussion of the development of sex-discrimination law, demonstrating how historical examples of gender essentialism in law were ultimately rejected by the courts. Through a discussion of the legal requirements governing single-sex education, the commentary attempts to illustrate the relevance of both evidence and gender-essentialism in legal determinations about the permissibility of single-sex education programs in the United States.


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