Herald Journal Columns
May 22, 2006, Herald Journal

Experiments in education


Single-gender classes, where boys are and girls are taught in separate classrooms, are not new, but they do seem to be increasing in popularity.

More than 200 public schools in the US offer such classes, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

Of these, 44, including one in Minnesota, have converted entirely to single-sex instruction.

Some advocates claim that research points to learning differences between boys and girls, and suggest that single-sex classrooms may help to close gaps in male-female academic performance.

Environment is one factor that proponents have mentioned.

Some people believe that girls function better in a quiet, orderly classroom, and boys may do better in a noisy, active classroom.

They say that separating the genders will help each group focus by eliminating distractions.

That sounds like a brilliant conclusion.

I am sure that I would have done better in school if there hadn’t been all those girls around, distracting me all the time.

On the other hand, I am pretty sure I would not have enjoyed my scholastic experience nearly as much if it had been confined to segregated classrooms.

There may be some validity to the notion that boys and girls learn differently, and learn things at different rates.

But there seems to be a lack of clear, scientific proof of the success of these experiments.

There does seem to be agreement on the fact that simply separating genders between different classrooms will not be successful unless teachers are trained to adapt teaching styles to fit the situation.

One question that springs to mind is how will students whose learning style does not happen to fit into the generalized norm be handled? What happens to the boy who likes to read or the outgoing girl who feels trapped in a quiet classroom?

At this point, most of the existing single-gender classes are voluntary rather than mandatory, but isn’t it true that by their very existence, they discourage students that don’t fit the mold from crossing over?

Is the idea to break-down gender-based stereotypes, or to reinforce them?

Another question that has to be addressed, is whether separate-gender classrooms are even legal.

In 1954, the Supreme Court in the matter of Brown v. Board of Education, ruled unanimously that segregation, solely on the basis of race, denies black children equal educational opportunity.

How then, more than 50 years later, is it possible to have equal educational opportunities in classrooms and schools segregated by gender?

Even if it is legal, is it really a good idea?

The argument could be made that it is important to provide the best possible learning environment for these students during their formative years, but what happens when they move on to other schools or colleges where they are forced to attend coeducational classes in which they must interact with members of the opposite sex (the horror!)? What happens to these students later in life when they get a job where the work environment is less than an ideal match for their personal style?

Life isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always convenient, and sometimes, a guy just has to put up with having girls around (and vice-versa). We might as well just get used to the idea and get on with life, rather than trying to subject an educational system that is already in crisis to yet another experiment.

Advocates of single-gender classes say that the are an innovative way to teach, based on new research.

What they really are is a step back to the dark and unenlightened past.

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