Topic of the day: Single-sex schooling
By Morgan on November 29th, 2011
I’m a graduate of public schools, from my pre-K days to my college years, where girls and boys burned things in chemistry labs and ran laps in gym classes, together. So maybe it’s because I didn’t have the option, or maybe it’s thanks to my love of any book set in a boarding school, but I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of single-sex schooling.
A few weeks ago, results from a new study were released, and the headlines contradicted all the good things I’d so often heard (or perhaps assumed) about single-sex schooling. (Note: the creators of the study are also the founders of the American Council for CoEducational Schooling.) Their research asserts that “sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence,” and that it reduces boys’ and girls’ opportunities to work together and reinforces sex stereotypes.
But on the other hand, there is also plenty of research (mostly from the National Association for Single Sex Public Schooling) that says single-sex schooling can break down gender stereotypes, and has particular benefits for girls: they participate more when boys aren’t in the room, and the curriculum changes to include more female historical figures. And studies also suggest that, in particular, boys in younger grades improve their academics when in an all-boys classroom. Another interesting tidbit? A quarter of the female members of Congress and one-third of all female members of Fortune 100 boards graduated from all-women’s colleges. (Source.)
So, with all this in mind, I have always assumed my admiration of single-sex schooling was shared by many others. When the subject came up at a recent OOM meeting, though, reactions were not what I expected.
Of all the OOMers, Dante is the only one who actually went to a single-sex school – and his comments were pretty, well, certain: “It was AWFUL,” he tells me, noting that the culture at his all-boys school was rife with harassment and bullying. Whenever the student body pushed to enroll girls, the “old boys’ club that ran the place” would counter that girls would be a “distraction.”
Many OOMers agreed that school isn’t just about textbook learning – that the social aspects are important, too, and that “confining the school experience to a single gender means that students might lose the opportunity to learn empathy and how to appreciate our differences,” according to Michael. Alex agrees – she says “having appropriate interaction and real-life experiences with the opposite gender is invaluable.” And Lauren concurs: “How can we teach kids to be open-minded, to work with others, to think and argue in different ways if we limit their interactions to a specific group?”
These are all great points, and yet I find myself still leaning towards Team Single-Sex Schooling – especially for girls, who I believe can learn leadership skills and confidence there in a way they struggle with in coed classes. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the topic. Are you pro or anti? Why or why not? What are your own experiences with single-sex schooling?