Do Children Benefit From Single-Gender Classrooms?
When I was in 7th grade we had a section of our health class titled “sex education.” Along with some requisite reading and homework we had to do to prepare for this section, we also had to be present for two days of lectures on the subject of sex, abstinence, and sexual development. But here is the thing; the boys and girls of my class were separated, presumably out of courtesy to our predicted discomfort. This meant that whatever we, as boys, were learning remained a relative mystery to the girls, and vice versa. The idea was separate but equal education that provided an environment conducive to serious learning and little distraction. Did it work? Does sex education ever work?
Beyond the inherent controversy of sex education programs, the idea of single-sex education, the practice of separating up boys and girls for educational purposes, has been one that has found its adherents as well as it detractors of recent. Seemingly single-sex education is a trend on the rise in the United States with more than 500 public schools in 40 states that offer some single-sex academic classes or, more rarely, are entirely single sex. This movement stems from the belief, touted by Dr Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian, that boys and girls should be taught differently. Recent research has gone to great lengths to call this theory, well, bogus. While gender specific classrooms are nothing new (it used to be the norm back in the day) critics of the practice point out the new logic, as touted by Sax and Gurian, as utterly bunk. An ACLU press release points out the flaws in this theory:
“Sex-segregated classes have been implemented around the country based on the discredited theories of Dr. Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian that boys and girls learn so differently that they need to be educated separately. These theories include the ideas that girls perform poorly under stress, and so should not be timed during exams; boys should be given Nerf baseball bats to hit things to relieve tension; and that boys who like to read, avoid sports and have close female friends should be forced to spend time with ‘normal’ boys.”
A report published in the journal Science claims, “sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” In addition the report, indubiously titled “The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling,” says single-sex education actually harms children by reinforcing strict, stereotypical gender roles, and, in any case, did nothing to improve academic performance. And as The New York Times reported, the strongest argument against single-sex education, set forth by the report, is that it reduces boys and girls opportunities to work together, and reinforces sex stereotypes. “Boys who spend more time with other boys become increasingly aggressive, the article said. Similarly, girls who spend more time with other girls become more sex-typed.
As a semi-objective person, I am having a difficult time disagreeing with this new evidence. I am sure single-sex education works splendidly for some, but once those students move on into a co-ed world, with co-workers of the opposite sex, the experiment would seem to most certainly backfire. Have you had the pleasure/misfortune of single-sex education? If so, how did it impact your studies, education, and socialization in the long run? Do you have objections to single-sex education, or do you feel there is inherent worth in the practice?