March 02, NY Times

On an unseasonably cold day last November in Foley, Ala., Colby Royster and Michael Peterson, two students in William Bender’s fourth-grade public-school class, informed me that the class corn snake could eat a rat faster than the class boa constrictor. Bender teaches 26 fourth graders, all boys. Down the hall and around the corner, Michelle Gay teaches 26 fourth-grade girls. The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes.

The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author and advocate who this May will quit his medical practice to devote himself full time to promoting single-sex public education.

Foley Intermediate School began offering separate classes for boys and girls a few years ago, after the school’s principal, Lee Mansell, read a book by Michael Gurian called “Boys and Girls Learn Differently!” After that, she read a magazine article by Sax and thought that his insights would help improve the test scores of Foley’s lowest-achieving cohort, minority boys. Sax went on to publish those ideas in “Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences.”

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photo: An all-girls class of fourth-graders at Foley Intermediate School (Michele Asselin for The New York Times)