I am the product of public, mixed-gender education where I did pretty well, thankyouverymuch. That, combined with my feminist spidey-sense that separate-is-never-equal, has me furrowing my feathery brow over this recent article from the Times, about the movement to gender-segregate underperforming public primary schools in the Bronx.
In the past, I’ve read statistics that indicate that girls tend to perform better in a single-sex environment, while boys ultimately do worse (these studies then go on to focus on how girls serve as civilizing influence for boys, which: yeesh), but this article can’t offer up any statistical backing for the benefits of single-gender education for either boys or girls. What does it offer?
The testimony of a 50 year old male teacher, who believes that in his all-boys class there are fewer disciplinary issues. And of course, that he can have more “closeness” with his young charges, and do “male bonding” activities like…read comic books and wear deodorant. Yes, really.
Down the hall in a female classroom, students research important black women in history. The teacher in that classroom isn’t quoted about how she feels about bonding with her students; she actually seems to be interested in talking about teaching and learning skills (both academic and larger life skills). Quite apart from the issue itself, there’s some interesting framing going on in the article, and it’s definitely worth a read. The comments, too, are illuminating, although I would recommend you only read the “Editor’s Choices.”
Plenty of ink has been spilled in the last ten years about how there’s a “boy crisis,” and how that’s largely fostered by school, which, with its sit-down-and-focus ways, is inherently hostile to boys’ “natural” inclinations? (Which prompts me to ask: why then were girls excluded from it for hundreds of years? Wasn’t that because all that sit-down-and-focus stuff was hostile to girls’ “natural” inclinations? It was? Huh. How ’bout that.) So I’m a little skeptical about the fact that nearly all the male voices quoted in the article–a principal, the teacher, a student’s father, and a student–seem strongly in favor of single-sex classes, compared to the women–the president of NOW, a law professor focussed on educational opportunity, and the teacher–who are more skeptical, or at least concerned about how single-sex ed will play out beyond the classroom.
I know we’ve got several harpies who were schooled at various points in sex-segregated classrooms, and regarded it as a boon, but I don’t know. As much as I value women-only spaces (and believe that men-only spaces are fine…ish), I’m not sold on educating children in single-gender groups, even if there were some measurable benefits in testing outcomes. We have to live with and learn about each other, and sex-segregating seems to reify difference based on chromosomes, which makes my Sexist Butt-itch flare up something awful. What do y’all think?