Last weeks’ Washington Post profile of an all-girls school and their emphasis on engineering sparked the ongoing debate if this is the answer for increasing the number of girls majoring in engineering in college. Get the boys away from the girls and viola! Instant girl scientists. I really wish it was that easy. The problem is complex and thus the solution is equally complex.
Betty Shanahan, executive director of the Society of Women Engineers, said it best in the article:
“The real challenges for reaching out to young women is to get over the stereotype that this isn’t something girls do and then to help them build their confidence.”
I wish I could find the link, but a few years ago a man wrote an op-ed about why he thought women left graduate school in the sciences, despite being intelligent enough to handle science. His answer? That science is presented as a field where there are answers, rock solid, X = 125, C answers. That is until you get to graduate school and you are investigating a question where there is no answer.
But early on, focus is on the answer not the method or the route to the answer. This is where our energies need to go, not continuing the debate if single-sex schools are the solution. Girls and boys do indeed learn differently, but the difference between any two boys is usually far greater than any girl and boy. And as the achievement gap between boys and girls continues to close, the comparison gap within genders will increase. The AAUW has documented the challenges our children may face in single-sex schools.
I do believe that there are valid reasons for parents to choose to send their children to single-sex schools, but I don’t want anyone to believe that this will turn your daughter into the next Nobel Prize winner. In fact, you telling them that they can do it, that girls do math, that boys do read, will go much farther than single-sex education ever can.
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