The Wrong Witness:
a footnote to the federal court ruling in Jane Doe et al. v. Wood County Board of Education et al., issued August 29 2012
The Wood County Board of Education hired one expert witness, Dr. Rosemary Salomone, a professor of law at St. John's University in Queens, New York. A bit of research would have demonstrated that Professor Salomone would not support the district's position. The district had previously hired me (Leonard Sax) to train their teachers, which means that I spent two days with the teachers who would lead single-gender classrooms, sharing gender-aware instructional strategies and motivational strategies which I have learned from other schools, strategies which break down gender stereotypes and boost academic achievement while broadening educational horizons, so that the same boy who loves football and video games will also love Jane Eyre; the same girl who loves Twilight and Gossip Girl will also love robotics and computer science. I share some of these strategies in my second book Boys Adrift and in my third book Girls on the Edge. I described the subsequent success of some of these strategies in Wood County West Virginia in an article for the local West Virginia newspaper in June 2012.
In an article published March 2 2008 in The New York Times, Professor Salomone said that every time she hears of a school adopting the single-gender format after the teachers have been trained by me, or after the teachers have read anything I've written, she said."my heart sinks." Given that Wood County had hired me to train their teachers, and had distributed my books to some of those teachers, Professor Salomone clearly was not the right choice. The federal court ruling specifically observed that "Even Professor Salomone, the expert witness called by the defense, agreed with the ACLU on the issue of brain research - that it's based on the rationale of pseudoscience - and suggested that many schools were 'led astray' by the teachings of Dr. Leonard Sax." (that's from page 11 of the federal court ruling)
It is not the job of the court to second-guess an expert witness. When witnesses for both the plaintiffs and the defense agree that single-sex education in general, and my "teachings" in particular, are based on pseudoscience, then that point is stipulated. In view of the fact that both sides conceded that the school district had goofed in bringing me in to train their teachers, and that the expert witnesses for both sides agreed that the single-gender classroom format is "based on the rationale of pseudoscience", it is remarkable that the judge's ruling was as even-handed as it was.
In fact, there is no lack of expert witnesses (i.e. tenured university professors) whom the district might have hired who might have vigorously defended what the district was doing, as well as my work, based on their own observation and research: I am thinking of people like Professors Bette Heins or Kathy Piechura at Stetson University; Professor Margaret Ferrara at the University of Nevada - Reno; or Professor Nancy Genero at Wellesley College. The district failed to do its homework, which it could have accomplished on this point with a single phone call to our office. As a result of the district's failure to bring in a suitable witness, both sides in this case agreed that single-gender education is based on "pseudoscience" and outdated gender stereotypes; a stipulation which, while it may not have completely doomed the district's case, certainly did not help. It would have been better for the district not to call an expert witness, rather than spending the district's money to fly in Professor Salomone.
September 1 2012
Return to the web site of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education
Return to the web site of the Association for Choice in Education
Return to my personal web site, www.leonardsax.com.