Gender segregating public schools does not work

There’s a move afoot to gender segregate public schools in the United States. Actually, it’s already started. No, you read that right:

In 2002, only 11 public schools in the United States had gender-segregated classrooms. As of December 2009, there were more than 550.

The movement is based on the hypothesis that hard-wired differences in the ways that male and female brains develop and function in childhood through adolescence require classrooms in which boys and girls are not only separated by gender, but also taught according to radically different methods.

Where’s their evidence? Oh, they don’t have any. Christ, I don’t even allow gender essentialism on my fucking website. There is absolutely no actual science behind the belief that female and male humans are biologically driven to approach the world and their lives differently, and all sorts of indicators that cultural gender conditioning starts when you’re still in the womb.

Yes, it’s true schools have massive disciplinary problems, and almost anything is worth trying as a solution. I get that. But how can this possibly help with discipline? Even accepting the pro-segregation camp’s suppositions without evidence, what happens when you segregate a bunch of unruly people together in a competitive, confrontational environment? For the answer, visit your local prison and let me know how that’s working out on the discipline front.

Change.org reports that a Kaplan, Louisiana middle school is gender-segregating many of the kids’ courses, on the basis that:

He wrote that boys are “more likely to enjoy argument and lively classroom debate” while “females may be content to simply observe,” requiring a different teaching approach based on gender.

The good news is: the parents wouldn’t have it.

But then the ACLU informed the school gender segregation violated Civil Rights laws going back to 1964, so they’d have to at least offer a coed option. They did – or, more precisely, they lied to delay legal proceedings:

But in fact, there was no real choice. The administration was actually asking parents to choose between sex-segregated classes or pre-existing special education classes that had always been coed. (Curiously, the school principal’s belief in the superiority of sex segregation didn’t extend to students with special education requirements.)

I don’t know where to start on the special education side of this. Isn’t that where we’re assured the most disciplinary problems and poor grades come from? Shouldn’t that be the first place to try out a program like this, if your motive really was to improve discipline and learning? Yes, if that was your motive. Clearly, it’s not, because here’s what the kids in the segregated classes had to look forward to:

The girls’ class was assigned a book about a love triangle, while the boys’ class was assigned a book about hunting. The girls’ book conveys the message that girls who are independent and take risks are rejected by society, and that elopement with a man is the best escape from society’s scorn. The boys’ book, by contrast, conveys the message that boys who are independent and take risks are rewarded with adventure and societal approval.

Is it still paranoia if they really are out to get you?

I know there are a few studies floating around that suggest single-sex schooling produces better grades, but they don’t hold up to scrutiny, and anyone who actually works in education should know more on this topic than I do:

Some studies find the opposite. Many studies show no difference between the two. The U.S. Department of Education recently undertook an extensive review of the data and concluded that the results were “equivocal” – in other words, there is no clear evidence that students are more likely to succeed in single-sex schools.

At the same time it was undertaking this review, the U.S. Department of Education was seeking to change federal rules to allow more schools to segregate students by sex. If the evidence showed sex segregation led to student success, the U.S. Department of Education would likely have been eager to publicize this information as part of this effort. But the evidence did not.

So how can we interpret this move as anything other than a desperate attempt to condition tomorrow’s adults back into the gender roles we’ve worked so hard to make available to all human beings? Why would you want to discourage kids from learning to socialize with the other gender? When you combine this with the choice of books for the girls and boys to study, it’s obvious: so the boys will feel intruded upon when women show up in their workplaces in a few years, and women will be keenly aware they’re not wanted. There can be no other goal for this policy.

Don’t read the comments at Huffington Post. It’s mostly of the why oh why must everything be politically correct variety.

Comments

  1. The Other Patrick says

    Germany is trying to do the same, though not only on gender essentialist reasons. Basically, it seems that boys, for many subjects, get (slightly) worse grades than girls. One of the postulated reasons is that when entering puberty, the presence of girls in a classroom makes boys (“even more”) lively and unfocused, so they’re disadvantaged – and of course generally, “boys are simply louder and more lively and are therefore disadvantaged by teachers grading for behavior”.

    At the same time, in subjects like math, girls are at a disadvantage simply due to social stigma and upbringing.

    So of course, instead of fighting social stigma and trying to make grades correspond better to actual performance, you can claim defeat and start up gender segregated schools – with the dangers of different contents to boot.

    I’m a fledgling teacher, btw.

  2. Jen says

    This sounds like some kind of dystopian vision a la The Handmaid’s Tale!!
    My boyfriend and many of the young men he is still friends with went to all-boys private schools, can’t tell whether it’s the private or the all-boy element, or both which made most of them have an air of superiority and entitlement around their female ‘friends’. Including not being vaguely willing to listen to their opinions. And hating their mothers. related?

  3. AmyMcCabe says

    Scary, scary stuff.

    We have an ongoing controversy of sorts at the college campus I work at. We have a evolutionary psych professor who believes and teaches that women and men have evolved very different brains. He’s really active and brought speakers to campus. There is also an coalition of professors that speak up against it, and he claims they are infriging on his rights by…disagreeing with him apparent. It isn’t like they’ve ever stopped any of his activities so much as protested and created literature with an alternative viewpoint.

  4. Dom Camus says

    So how can we interpret this move as anything other than a desperate attempt to condition tomorrow’s adults back into the gender roles we’ve worked so hard to make available to all human beings?

    Whilst that may indeed be exactly what’s going on, the idea of single gender education is not completely without scientific support. Nothing to do with gender essentialism, it’s statistical economics. See, for example: http://www.slate.com/id/2173028/

    I’m still against it – for the reasons you give and more besides – but it isn’t one of these debates where one side is simply crazy.

  5. says

    Other Patrick, there’s much hand-wringing in this country about how boys’ grades have been slipping ever since an uproar in the 90s which showed that girls were being ignored while many teachers focused all or much of their energy on the boys. I can’t speak to whether the schools addressed the imbalance badly, causing boys not to get the attention they need, or if this is the typical kneejerk reaction that always happens whenever a new practice assures that people other than white boys will now get a snowflake’s chance in hell to excel, which is of course perceived as Taking An Important Birthright Away From Our Boys. But either way, the problem of schools failing to address every student’s needs adequately is not a gender-based one. Here in the US, it’s about not making teaching jobs attractive to quality potential teachers, and funding, and parents not helping the situation, and the usual kids’ troubles (bullying, peer pressure, etc.) intruding on the learning environment, and so on.

    But what no one is even considering is how, gee, maybe it’s a bad thing that manliness is equated with not needing to use one’s brain. Boys come into class bragging about how little they studied or slept the night before a test. If they fail the test, that’s hilarious and their friends have a blast joking about it. Meanwhile, girls – who aren’t going to get anymore popular by behaving similarly – quietly apply themselves and, not surprisingly, get better grades. Gee whiz, I know it sounds far-fetched, but could this socialization combined with teachers trying to divide their attention more fairly between boys and girls, explain why boys’ grades are slipping?

  6. says

    My boyfriend and many of the young men he is still friends with went to all-boys private schools, can’t tell whether it’s the private or the all-boy element, or both which made most of them have an air of superiority and entitlement around their female ‘friends’. Including not being vaguely willing to listen to their opinions. And hating their mothers. related?

    Excluding girls leads to… excluding girls? Makes sense to me.

    he claims they are infriging on his rights by…disagreeing with him apparent.

    That right there is the mark of a not-so-great mind.

    I’m still against it – for the reasons you give and more besides – but it isn’t one of these debates where one side is simply crazy.

    I wasn’t suggesting they were – just that there’s a privilege agenda here.

    Your Slate article talks about British schools, and I have to say up front there may be different nuances between British education issues and US ones, and I can really only speak to US problems. Note how the Slate article is concerned about what works for girls, but the links I cited above (from US sources) are worried about boys, whose grades are dropping in the past decade or so because some uppity liberals have forced teachers to stop ignoring girls completely, which is robbing our boys of the 100% teacher attention they deserve for having a Y chromosome.

    I agree with the Slate article about how boys disrupt wherever they go and this is a disadvantage to girls. What I disagree with is the idea that this male behavior is biologically determined (and can’t be changed) rather than cultural (which could be changed). If we assume without evidence that it’s biological, then we needn’t ever try the obvious: conditioning boys to behave themselves like, well, girls. Goddammit, we need our boys to be butch so we can send ‘em off to war and kick some foreign ass! ;)

    I do believe we’re shorting boys – by teaching them entitlement instead of actual skills.

  7. I. Scott says

    I went to a boys’ school (an ex-grammar school, with it’s own old boys’ club, in fact), and I don’t remember anyone being particularly lively unless the teacher was particularly ineffectual or disorganised (not that there weren’t loads of those). My brother and sister’s anecdotes tell me that this is little different to how it was at their mixed school.

    The argument that girls distract boys, so they should be segregated also feels a bit far-fetched. It’s not like nobody could get hold of mens’ or porno magazines, and there are still times when I have to stop myself staring at women in a kind of whoa, what’s that? amazement.

    The only advantage I can think of is that without girls a lot of the pressure to be macho can probably be eliminated. For example, my school had GCSE and A-level cookery and sewing/textile options among more “male” subjects like electronics, carpentry and graphic design, and there was a strong pressure to take multiple foreign languages (again a supposedly female area).

  8. AmyMcCabe says

    I do believe we’re shorting boys – by teaching them entitlement instead of actual skills.

    What a radical concept! :p

  9. says

    I’d heard of gender-segregating schools as a way to make sure that teachers weren’t ignoring the girls and only interacting with the boys, but, as far as I know, that plan didn’t include curriculum changes. Even if it did, though, one has to wonder if there would be parallels between gender segregation and race segregation, particularly in the kind echoed in the Clark Doll Experiment.

  10. The Other Patrick says

    Jennifer: Gee whiz, I know it sounds far-fetched, but could this socialization combined with teachers trying to divide their attention more fairly between boys and girls, explain why boys’ grades are slipping?

    Ha! And of course, that’s where the essentialism comes back in because, hey, “boys will be boys”.

  11. Jen says

    (BTW My Boyfriend isn’t included in my above estimation, despite going to an all boys school, he’s a feminist. Though he is very shy around girls which is probably a symptom.)

  12. says

    The only advantage I can think of is that without girls a lot of the pressure to be macho can probably be eliminated.

    Maybe indirectly, but if I’m right, this could be achieved without gender segregation. Let me explain.

    From my observations as a high school girl, guys in machismo mode would get so focused on posturing with/at each other that the most desired girl in the whole school could walk by and they wouldn’t notice. Machismo didn’t seem to be fundamentally about girls. In fact, these events felt laden with something very like sexual tension: two human beings, for whom all other human beings have suddenly disappeared. I was just waiting for them to kiss. I remember being blown away by the fact that a ritual which was supposed to demonstrate masculinity came off so… well, gay. :D

    Would taking girls out of the equation make boys lose interest in posturing at/with one another? I doubt it. Because the urge to be macho isn’t created by girls – it’s created by the adults who are pressuring kids of both genders into their assigned gender roles. And the adults do this because one of the fundamental aims of civilization is to show that men are actually necessary by proving they can do stuff women can’t.

    So, what the all-boy environment *might* do is relieve the pressure the *adults* feel to prove they’ve done their level best to make sure the boys are manly and the girls know their place over by the wall.

  13. Fiona says

    I feel that the option should be available, because what works for one child is going to be different from what works for another.

    (That said, it should be an option, like arts high schools and alternative schools, not the default.)

    I really benefited from the single-gender nature of my high school… that said, they didn’t rely on stereotypes about girls wanting to read about love triangles. (It also attracted a lot of feminist teachers.)

  14. says

    HEADS UP, LONG POST IS LONG.

    …Oh. This is totally based on the social constructs of gender being defined as physically hardwired. I made my dad turn off 60 Minutes last night for similar tripe.

    “Isn’t everybody so surprised James Cameron’s ex made a mediocre movie with VIOLENCE in it? She’s a giiiiirrrrl! Directing… boyyyyys! Also, she should totally be applauded for being a normal human being and not turning into the caricature bitchy ex-wife, competing with her ex-husband for success! Haha, silly girl. Everyone knows women are allowed such things as movie-making as HOBBIES, but leave it to the BIG BOYS.”

    An aside: “Punisher: War Zone” was directed by a woman. And it was totally badass, utterly, explicitly, and senselessly violent, plus, you know, actually entertaining. And colorful and pretty to look at! (I wouldn’t bring that up, since it’s stereotypically feminine, but I am a sucker for cinematography. It’s a selling point. Plus, the whole thing is so graphically iconic it reminds me of comic books only in a good way.)

    Re: content to sit by and observe? I was well-known in middle school as one of the handful of students who would not only argue with other students on points made in class, but would argue with teachers. I once had another student refuse to get up out of his seat and let me out of the trunk of a car (long story, but my gifted group wasn’t able to use a bus to travel out of state after 9/11, so I rode in the trunk) when we (okay, I) started an argument about religion. I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance when I was 11. Even in my college Bio class that I’m in right now, during lecture, I am one of 3 people who frequently speaks up to contribute or ask questions during class, and the only woman to do so. The entire “girls will be seen and not heard” thing is social conditioning at its finest. My parents taught me to speak up for myself and question authority, and that’s what I did.

    Also, I fucking hate hate hate gendered reading assignments. Don’t get me wrong, if your book was all “MANLY MEN BEING MANLY IN THEIR MANLINESS AS HETERO BUDDIES” I wasn’t interested because I couldn’t relate. But I have also never in my life even picked up a Sweet Valley High book, because it never spoke to my experiences or motivations. Unfortunately, my entire sixth-grade class was forced to read “Tuck Everlasting.” I don’t know if that’s a “girl book,” because it really sucked so bad that I wasn’t concerned at all, but I know the movie stars Alexis Bledel, firmly in “girl movie” territory (sans Sin City, where I think she had less than 20 words to say).

    Personally, I believe that gender integration has been great for schools. Even when I was in preschool, I hung out with boys about as much as I hung out with girls. It’s social interactions with people who have varied interests and experiences, and when you are not only removing a section of the population, whose views by basis of social privilege and expectation would be vastly different, you are not only removing those opportunities for widening of mental boundaries, but also enforcing social conditioning to a level where there isn’t room for anything but conformity. When I was 4, most of the little girls in my class played in the kitchen set and with the baby dolls. I had a baby in my house. I did not want to pretend the baby was following me to school. So I played with my toy dinosaurs in the sandbox. The only other kids at the sandbox were boys. If this segregation continues down through elementary schools, I have to presume the girls won’t even get dinosaur toys to play with.

    More reason to shop around for school districts, I guess. *heavy sigh of relief that I am not a parent*

  15. Katran says

    I also benefited, overall, from my K-8 all-girls’ education, but that being said, there were also drawbacks even at this school which tried to have a fairly feminist curriculum. I had friends whose brothers went to various private boys’ schools, and they seemed to have a greater emphasis on math and science than we did; they offered Algebra and Geometry, for instance, while ours only went to Algebra despite a number of girls in my class (myself included) who would have benefited from a more accelerated curriculum. Our computer classes focused only on graphics (this was in the 90s) and we never did any programming, unlike the equivalent classes at the boys’ schools. To be fair, I felt like I came out with a really good background in liberal arts and languages, but I was much more interested in math and science starting from the time when I was a kid, and our science classes just weren’t that great. When I went to public high school I learned that my classmates who went to public middle school in the city had a much stronger background in those subjects and I was envious of their opportunities. I can’t help but wonder if the reason our more technical classes were average/mediocre was that the parents of the school just didn’t care, overall, about whether their girls learned any science, because it wasn’t a girl thing.

    On the other hand, I never encountered any sort of stereotype-threat situation when I was actually in school. No one ever told me girls weren’t supposed to be interested in science; I just thought I was rare in my class because I was a nerd. So once I entered a co-ed environment I had no confidence problems at all. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that most of the women I know who attended a girls’ school or women’s college at any point during their schooling seemed more confident about career/academic stuff, but maybe I’m just biased or my sample is. It took me a while to recover, socially, from basically not interacting with guys for 9 years, but part of that was probably due to my shy personality, and being in a small private school in general, rather than being only around girls. Like Fiona, I do think that single-sex education should be an option, and that some people would benefit from that option and some people would not. But if it is implemented in any way, it should be done sensitively–and free of love-triangle/adventure story stereotypes, because that’s total crap.

  16. The Other Patrick says

    Liking films with good cinematography and art direction is typically female? Damn, who knew? From now on I will love Michael Bay, as any man should.

  17. says

    @The Other Patrick: LOL, I didn’t mean liking cinematography and art direction was considered feminine, I mean approaching your criticism of a movie as “It was so pretty” is a “girl” thing to say. But really, the color choices (which were deliberate; what, I can’t watch the extras? On Punisher: War Zone?) really gave a lot of visual interest to each scene.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that “arty” films (P:WZ in in no danger of being classified as such, but for sake of argument) are seen as snobby theater major intellectual crap or “girly movies.” Especially period and costume dramas, and while I will say most of those are based on either romantic stories or historical novelizations, you don’t get costumier than the Star Wars prequels. I think that’s one of those things that’s labeled “feminine” by definition of not being “masculine” enough.

  18. Mel says

    I went, by my own choice, to an all-girls high school, and while it was Catholic and certain ideology was present (e.g. required religion classes–and “world religions” taught by a well-meaning nun is…interesting–and all-school masses), it was also a very competitive college-prep school, much more academically rigorous than most of the local Catholic high schools and, to my knowledge, most (perhaps all) of the public ones. We certainly were not discouraged from math and science because it was all-girls; quite the opposite.

    We had a program to mentor 5th-grade girls in science (competitive for both 5th-graders and high-schoolers), a senior elective in scientific research methods where students did projects, and honors/advanced science and math classes (I think calculus was the only AP course in that area–it was a small school and there were not as many AP offerings in general as at larger schools). We also had a fantastic theatre program, despite only having a few boys/men in each production (or sometimes none at all).

    Understand, I am emphatically against REQUIRED single-sex education, and I think a lot of the arguments made for it are offensive, harmful bullshit. But it is an important OPTION to have; all-girls education in the US has a strong tradition of being MORE focused on helping girls succeed academically and personally, MORE focused on sending girls to college. Although my high school had many flaws, I never had to worry about teachers who call on boys more (statistics show this is common), or about people perceiving girls as “dominating” the class for talking only 50% of the time (again, statistics show that this is common). And believe me, we weren’t all sitting there passively absorbing information, nor were we all conforming to one ideal (if anything, there was less pressure to conform than in mixed-sex environments).

    For me, the ability to learn and debate and find my academic voice and bond with other girls at that formative age WITHOUT having to fight with boys for teacher time, or deal with teachers who think girls can’t do science (funny, they don’t often seem to teach science at all-girls schools), or deal with sexist crap from male students was INVALUABLE. (And yes, I have done just fine making friends with men in college and adult life; all-girls high school did not socially ruin me forever.)

    Single-sex education is not a choice I would want taken away.

    It is also not something I would want forced on anyone.

  19. Craig says

    Although the Kaplan example seems to be sexist and traditionalist, there are arguments for gender segregation of classes (if not whole schools) that are decidedly feminist and about empowering girls in coed environments that give more attention to boys and encourage them to be passive. See
    Reviving Ophelia. As an English teacher who has taught in vocational schools where classes are sometimes single-sex or nearly so (because boys study carpentry and girls study cosmetology), I saw positive outcomes in those classes. 20 boys are much easier to handle than 15 boys and 5 girls. And girls are often, in my experience, much more vocal and engaged when there aren’t any boys around.

  20. says

    To those of you sharing your positive experience with gender segregated education: how well did it prepare the girls for dealing with hostile and less-than-supportive/friendly men in the workplace?

    • jennygadget says

      Well, mine was a college, and very few of us came from single sex high schools (and so were already used to dealing with male peers), so they didn’t do a whole lot to formally address that issue. Unless you count encouraging students to study abroad or to take classes at nearby colleges as well. I really do think they could and should have done much more, but I also think – for my school at least – the lack of preparation for sexism in the workplace was mostly to do with it being an snobby liberal arts school that didn’t offer a lot of job prep resources to begin with.

      I definitely went through a period after graduating where I felt very disoriented and had a hard time gaining back the confidence I’d achieved in college. At the same time, most of that was simply reverting back to what I had been like in high school. So while I do wish my school had done a better job helping me with that, I don’t think that going to a co-ed college would have been better for me. Going to Mount Holyoke gave me all kinds of opportunities to see what I was capable of that another larger and co-ed (and less academically oriented) school would have never been able to do. While I’ve had some definite setbacks, a lot of my belief in my ability to overcome them has come from the faith my classmates and professors had in me and other similar memories of being valued at MHC.

      All in all, going to MHC was one of the best choices I’ve ever made and one that I have never regretted.

      That said, I agree with Mel that single sex education is not something that I would force on anyone. I, personally, also very much disagree with single sex education in public schools. I think it’s rarely done for the right reasons and is pretty much impossible to implement properly even when it is.

  21. Katran says

    Jennifer- My school didn’t really deal with workplace issues since it was K-8, but I have to say it lacked somewhat in the area of talking about dealing with guys at all. It was just ignored. I guess they thought we’d figure it out on our own or learn from our families, which isn’t that safe of an assumption. They were more in the vein of, “You can do everything you want to do! Girl power!” Not the best approach, but it actually worked for me transitioning into high school, probably by accident and because I was pretty bright, but also because I was naive about what the expectations were for me.

    When I said before that I’m not opposed to optional single-sex education if it’s treated sensitively, I did mean that it would eventually prepare people for a co-ed world, and the realities of what that would be like. “Girl power!” doesn’t really cut it.

  22. MaggieCat says

    Reading these articles, I just can’t help but think how catastrophically this would have worked out for me when I was in elementary and middle school. Several years back I found most of my elementary report cards when I was going through my father’s papers after he died, and every single one of them says something to the effect of “she needs to learn to be quiet while other students volunteer an opinion”. And having a competitive streak a mile wide (I’m not allowed to play Monopoly anymore, something about making Donald Trump look like Mother Theresa…) which was frequently the only thing keeping my attention in classes that didn’t interest me means that whole bit about boys debating and girls observing is making my skin crawl.

    But not as much as this:

    “When most young boys are exposed to threat and confrontation, their senses sharpen, and they feel a thrill,” explains Dr. Leonard Sax, the founder and executive director of the National Associate for Single Sex Public Education. “When most young girls are exposed to such stimuli, however, they feel dizzy and yucky.”

    In a landmark essay published in the Spring 2006 edition of Educational Horizons, just as the SSPE movement was gaining strong momentum, Dr. Sax detailed the different ways elementary school teachers should address their students in gender-segregated classes. “[The teacher] may move right in front of a boy and say, ‘What’s your answer, Mr. Jackson? Give it to me!’ Far from being intimidated, boys are energized by this teaching style. With girls [teachers should] speak more softly, use first names, terms of endearment and fewer direct commands: ‘Lisa, sweetie, it’s time to open your book. Emily, darling, would you please sit down for me and join us in this exercise?’”

    That’s just insulting. I can honestly say it would have taken about 15 minutes for my fear of getting in trouble to be beaten into submission by my desire for everyone to know my opinion and my aversion to being talked to like a 2-year-old. That would have been just in the first grade. I’m aware that I always had a strange reaction to school (could not force myself to talk to kids at recess, waiting with bated breath for an opportunity to get into a debate with a teacher) but I wasn’t the only one — there was always at least one or two students who were just as willing to argue a point as I was. When I was in high school and had the choice, I made it work for me by deliberatly scheduling some classes where I knew I was inclined to slack off so that I’d be in a class with one of the classmates I ended up arguing with the most frequently and was perfectly happy to take the teachers known to be the ones who didn’t just assign reading and then lecture for the whole period.

    It’s not so much the idea of separating classes based on gender that I hate — although looking back I’m noticing that there was usually a particular person I wound up competing with academically and it was usually a boy, and that would have changed in a girls-only school but wouldn’t have disappeared — but if these are the people advocating it, for these reasons, then I’m going to have to call bullshit on their methods. Because I can’t suppress the vision of some poor girl like 7-year-old me getting sent to the principal’s office for telling the teacher to stop calling her “Sweetie”, and then not growing up to be the girl who breaks out the verbal smackdown when a teenage boy says that recent productions of The Taming of the Shrew that play Kate’s last speech as satire are “perverting the moral of the play” seriously. And that scares me.

    • Brandon says

      I sympathize. The learning environment advocated for boys would’ve been hell for me.

      I on the other hand was a very quiet boy who did well and enjoyed lectures. Though I did like asking questions (of the teacher). I hated and never learned as much from group work, esp. if I was stuck with a bunch of rowdy boys who spent more time playing grab-ass than working on the assignment.

      Strangely, I usually chose math and science classes but I think that had more to do with the fact that the English and language teachers I had seemed to teach through osomosis.

  23. Suzi says

    This subject is a pet peev of mine. In Ireland, education has historically been run by churches, with catholic schools (~90% I think) being run by priests/nuns and thus segregated. Mixed schools are much more unusual. I was fortunate enough to go to both mixed primary (elementary) and secondary (high school) and, exceptional circumstances aside, I would want the same for my own hypothetical children.

    I don’t see any reason, beyond it’s-always-been-like-that, for students to be separated by gender, and the potential restrictions in things like subjects offered and careers advice available quite frankly scare me. I’m not sure I would have been able to do the subjects (applied maths and physics), or activities like maths olympiad, if I had been in an all girls school. And anecdotally, the people I knew who were segregated seemed less able to deal with male/female relationships in a non-sexual way. Plus there are a pile of practical issues, like brothers and sisters having to attend different schools, children who don’t conform to gender roles, children who don’t conform to their assigned sex, children who aren’t heterosexual, etc. Unfortunately a lot of people here get upset with the idea that single sex schools aren’t the bestest thing eva.

    (Also, not going to a single sex catholic school meant getting actual comprehensive sex ed. Le shock.)

  24. says

    Here’s what I’m getting from the positive chatter about gender segregated schooling:

    It’s not that mixing genders together is inherently a bad thing, it’s that teachers MAKE it a bad thing by having a favored gender and/or making unsound gender-based assumptions about individual kids. Is the long-term solution really to separate the genders, or is it to teach teachers that this is bullshit and they need to do better (which may also involve improving conditions for teachers in some countries so that the jobs are desirable to quality people)?

    Because one of the best experiences I ever had preparing me for adult life went like this:

    In my gender-mixed public high school in the Bible Belt, boys behaved in incredibly sexist ways, and a lot of girls bought into it, as kids do. My junior year English teacher explained at the start of the year that most teachers go to boys for answers first and ignore girls because this is a sexist society and people aren’t even aware they do this stuff. So she was going to reverse it by favoring the girls, just so we could all experience what that was like for a change. True to her word, she not only went to girls for the answer first, she would ignore three boys with their hands up and say, “Anyone? Doesn’t anyone have an idea? Come on, anything?” while the boys huffed in frustration and waved their arms ever higher in the air.

    Funny. I remembered having exactly that experience more than a few times. It was tremendously enlightening, and not just for me. It went over a lot of kids’ heads, as these things do, but not all.

    One day several boys and girls, including me, had the conversation that began with one of the boys saying, “She hates boys! She just hates boys!” I told them that everything she’d put them through had been done to me by other teachers – they were, of course, surprised. Why shouldn’t they be? They were usually too busy getting attention in class to notice who was getting ignored. That’s how privilege works.

    Then, because I shared other classes with one of the guys, we started watching for examples, and sure enough, they showed up. In one instance, one of the boys even pointed out to the teacher that I had my hand up, and the teacher’s response was to narrow her eyes, sigh and finally call on me. As if she was being asked to do something that was beneath her. He was amazed that a woman was engaging in that sexism – I wasn’t, and told him about misogynistic women I had known.

    I don’t think the actual problem is the mixing of genders. I think it’s the teachers buying into gender essentialism. The apparent quick solution may be to gender segregate, but as we’re seeing in the Kaplan example, at least *some* people – and I’m going to guess a majority in the US – will use the segregation to push their gender essentialist shit even harder.

    So yeah, you can have great results with a gender segregated school, but when you throw that option open to public schools*, you’re going to get results like Kaplan. As indeed we already have.

    *Since I think the terms are used differently in different countries: in the US, “public schools” are free to attend, and you are “zoned” to attend a school in your part of your town. There are exorbitantly expensive private schools for the highly privileged, but most kids have no choice at all but to attend a specific public school based on where they live. If that school gender segregates courses, that child won’t have any other option, which is why I’m so against this for PUBLIC schools, as the title suggests.

  25. 12Sided says

    teachers encouraged to call the girls ‘sweetie’? Boys get adventure books while the girls get love triangle stories…?

    Can someone stop the world? I think I’ve gone back in time.

  26. Elee says

    Other Patrick, I am curious about your sources. I haven’t heard anything about a movement for gender-segregating schools, though there is apparently a minor initiative for homeschooling (according to a documentary I’ve seen, must be a couple of months back). OTOH I am not all that involved (and informed) with educational questions.

    I have a feeling, that there is a trend in film to portray education as a bad thing in general, not even gender-specific. I can’t believe I still have it in me to rage on Avatar having seen it in December, but one reason in particular always gets me, much more then racial analogies and portrayal of women. It is the message, that yes, sir, you absolutely don’t need an education to succeed in a field you didn’t even know existed before now. Knowing the language of the natives is absolutely no problem, if you are Super-Sully. All you need are superior genes and suicidal tendencies. And Avatar is only one of the recent examples.

    Though education is not everything for success, it is a more viable route to personal independence than looks or a athletic skills. Maybe it is just something the politicians don’t want – citizens who are able to think for themselves and question their decisions, and gender-segreting schools are just a part of the divide-and-conquer-tactic?

  27. Fraser says

    Echidne of the Snakes has written a lot of posts about this. One quote that stuck in my mind was the guy who said girls should be taught math by “counting the petals on flowers” because they can’t deal with abstract concepts.
    Studies have found that if you eliminate for race and poverty, boys aren’t falling that much behind.

  28. Anemone says

    I taught at two-week course for high school students my last summer in grad school, and I found it really hard. The girls were nice and quiet and good at the front of the class, and I tried to give them lots of attention, but the boys at the back wanted attention, and I found, to my horror, paying more and more attention to them (they made it fun) and abandoning the girls. I decided not to be a teacher based on that experience. I admit I wasn’t well-prepared, and a harder, more well-thought-out course would have probably worked better.

    My impression, based on teaching that course, labs at uni, and being a student, is that segregating on the basis of age is a huge problem, because it makes it harder for students to work at their own pace. A Montessori-style module approach, where students work at their own pace and ask questions as needed, would probably work a lot better, and solve a lot of the attention issue as well. I liked teaching labs that way at uni.

    I would have liked a female only computer science class in high school (there were only two of us for the two years I took it – it was Fortran on punch cards back then). Being in an almost all male class was really hard, much harder than my other math/science classes. The teachers were supportive, though, which was misleading. I was totally not prepared for the entrenched sexism of high tech when I tried to work in it in the real world, even with the entrenched sexism of the students in that class, and in our homes. (A lot of the boys had their own Apple II’s that they were doing Basic on on their own time. My friend and I weren’t getting any extracurricular support at home.)

    I have to admit that I’m still not sure, though, what the difference is between a love triangle and hunting. ;)

  29. says

    ITA agree about the Montessori approach. In fact, as a kid, I developed the theory that it was segregating by age that led to most of the discipline problems. Putting 30 just pubescent kids in a room together – what the hell do people *think* is going to happen? OTOH, once we got to high school and the classes were often more mixed as we had a more college-like environment, I found great relief from the bullying and, um, social politics of junior high school.

  30. says

    I’ve been to a school where segregated classes were suggested – to the students. We unanimously rejected it, by the way. I don’t think it even has anything to do with learning gender equality; lacking that kind of inter-gender interaction would be unhealthy in all sorts of ways, but most of all it’s no fun.

  31. rachael says

    I have heard arguments for gender segregated classrooms suggesting that the very assumptions about learned behavioral ideals and taboos between boys and girls (shorthand of this phenomena: the man is assertive and the woman is a bitch). So girls can actually participate, debate, etc better without boys. I don’t know of real research supporting this, and I don’t know, even if legit, if this could be a reasonable way to address double standards. Nevertheless, this argument is certainly better than that above. Instead of girls “being content to observe,” this rationale suggests that girls cannot meaningfully participate with boys in the classroom.

    • Raeka says

      I can see the logic here, but I have to wonder if ‘protecting’ the girls while they develop is really going to help any. At the end of school they’ll be thrown into interacting with a bunch of boys who have the whole culture telling them that girls only observe, AND have had no OTHER experience of girls.

      Even if it’s a bit harder for girls to learn to participate with boys present, my opinion is that it ultimately prepares them for life better.

      • jennygadget says

        but sometimes “a bit harder” means that they just won’t. ever.

        Different people just learn differently. In general, I do much better if there is less public pressure on me. Supportive environments – including supportive peer environments – take away that public pressure. I don’t think that I would have ever gained the confidence I have if I had never taken myself out of the excessively competitive/hostile environment that is found in most co-ed schools.

        I think a lot of the trick has to do with the age of the student and whose decision it is. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to put me in a single sex school at the age that is being suggested, but by college I knew the score and I knew what I would be heading back into when I graduated.

  32. SarahSyna says

    I have to say, I went to an all-girls school (all-girls convent school in Ireland, started by nuns, some of whom still teach there) and I’m actually really happy with it. Then again, I actually chose to go to that school (it has a library, two science labs and a computer room), and I had the option of going to a mixed school (which I didn’t do because it’s a crappy one wit loads of teen pregnancies and dropouts that occasionally gets set on fire). I think required gender segregation is just stupid though.

    That said, I don’t think it automatically leads to a ‘girly’ curriculum.

    For example the texts we studied (in my Honours English class anyways) were a (godawful) ‘thriller’ book about a guy in Northern Ireland doing, um, something, or else they’d kill his (utterly awesome) wife. I couldn’t finish reading it because it was so bad, and neither could most of my class. Then a film called Il Postino, about a guy from 50’s Capri growing as a person and becoming a poet and communist, and a play called Dancing at Lughnasa, about five sisters from Donegal who are ultimately thwarted emotionally by the repressive society they live in.

    So yeah, it was a nice enough mix-up, considering they were picking from a small list of state-chosen texts.

    And about what Rachael above me said.

    I don’t know where anyone gets the idea that women are content to observe and don’t debate. In my school religion classes were essentially a place where we’d debate suicide, pre-marital sex, abortion, drugs, basically anything that counts as an issue, and let me say, it was heated discussion. We got really, really into it. Plus, the school has actually won awards for its debating too, competing against all-girls, all-boys and mixed schools across the country, if not the EU.

  33. Turelie Telcontar says

    I agree that mandatory gender-segregated schools don’t seem like a good idea. What I find interesting is that if I remember correctly a study here in Germany showed that gender-segregated education is better for girls than “normal” education, and worse for boys.
    Better for girls because they can learn especially the sciences without being in direct competition with boys who think they know more, and can therefor develop their skills better. Worse for boys, because of the lack of interaction with girls which will make it harder for them to interact with women.
    I did attend a girls-only-school (my own decision), and have to say that I think it was the right thing to do for me. I was so easily influenced by what adults told me that it was good I wasn’t confronted with gender-bias from the teachers, and the first time I was confronted with the idea that I couldn’t do something science or technical-related I was already sure I could do it.

    I think those results are a logical consequence of the rest of society: Boys as small children learn to be assertive and are generally over-confident to girls being under-confident, especially in typically male fields. I think it’s less problematic for girls to be in a single-sex environment for learning, as the rest of our culture will show us boys and men as full persons, while boys need more contact with actual girls because they don’t get much contact with women as full persons through the media.
    Additionally, while my school was Catholic, as a whole it wasn’t very religious, religious education classes were mandatory (meaning we couldn’t exchange them for ethics like you can in state-run schools), and there was optional mass once a week, but no one was bothered that very few people attended it. The Catholic ideas about women weren’t really influencing anything at our school.

  34. Nicole says

    As a high-school student currently in her senior (and eighth) year at a girls’ school, I have to disagree with the idea that single-sex education is inherently damaging. I’ve found that my experience has been overwhelmingly positive– at least at my particular school, the lack of boys has resulted in a much relaxed social atmosphere and a greater focus on academics. When I first began attending my school, I literally never talked in class. (For the record, I was coming from a “progressive” Montessori school, too. I went to a really twisted one, though, so I don’t want to generalize– there were some teachers that really should not have been around children working there.) At this point I’m pretty confident in my ability to coherently express and defend my ideas in a public forum. It’s held up when I’ve left my school’s “bubble,” too– it’s not like suddenly being around dudes undoes eight years of reassurance that my opinions count. Also, my school has one of the best debate teams in the state, competing quite successfully against much larger co-ed schools, too!

    That said, I think that single-sex education is not as good for boys as it is for girls. Some boys’ schools do it better than others, but my personal experience of our “brother” school is that the lack of females allows the stereotypes apparent in the general culture to fester and become concentrated. My very-feminist English teacher’s husband teaches over there, and she says that he often expresses surprise to her at how all of his students assume that men are inherently superior. I think part of this may have to do with the fact that the school is really very brutal as a whole, but hey. The problem obviously has some root in the fact that many of the boys probably have very little casual contact with girls their age to offset the sex and stereotypes fed them by popular culture.

    Also, to add to what Turelie Telcontar says– the parochial boys’ schools in my area seem to produce better-adjusted guys than do the independent ones. Food for thought.

  35. SeeMore says

    It seems the root cause of much problem is is a gender segregated society. And that gender segregation root goes as deep as the grammatical rules of English composition. And that to even think in English forces the brain to think in terms of gender segregation. A similar kind of bias would result towards people based on eye color if the English language had an exclusive set of pronouns segregating by eye color. It seems that the internet is opening up new opportunities for people to cross gender lines anonymously or even intentionally. And that at some point, a critical mass will rise with enough of a voice to cause gender segregation to dissolve in an orderly fashion, thereby providing more people of any and all genders more opportunities to fuller expression.

  36. Sally says

    In capitalist Australia, sub-tertiary education is a responsibility of the individual states and territories, and schools are divided between those which are run by government education departments and wholly funded by ‘public monies’ and those which are run by ‘private’ bodies, mainly religious, but also philosophical (eg Montessori ), but still receive a fair dose of government funding. ‘Government’ schools are co-educational (I dislike the term ‘co-ed’ when it refers only to female students, since it implies that women are ‘added-on’); ‘private’ schools may be, but, especially where they also espouse a particular religious ideology, are often gender-segregated.

    As a communist, I oppose segregation of any type (and I would be disgusted to learn of any school that promoted segregated schooling to reinforce traditional gender roles — such schooling in the ‘public sector’ died a well-deserved death here in the 1960s), but as a teacher *in a capitalist society* I have my doubts. IMO — and I am a product of co-educational schooling — mixed-gender education might be seen to disadvantage boys (requiring them to be ‘docile note-takers’), but can just as readily be seen as disadvantaging girls. This occurs in several spheres, not all of which can be attributed to the system of social relations obtaining under capitalism.

    Firstly, gender stereotyping often inhibits girls in co-educational schools from taking/showing interest in ‘masculine’ subjects, such as maths, physics, computer science or ‘craft’ (of course, it also inhibits boys in the same situation from ‘feminine’ subjects, such as languages or ‘art history’). In single-gendered environments, not only are girls more willing to try subjects that their cultural milieu says are not ‘appropriate’ for their gender, but they can learn without the judgment, teasing and competition of boys and they often achieve better results than their peers in co-educational environments.

    Secondly, girls in gender-segregated schools are exposed to more successful female role models. The top students in all academic subjects, and the leaders in sport and extra-curricular activities are female, as are most teachers and administrators. Furthermore, female ‘heroes ’are often objects of respect in ways that they are not either in co-educational schools or in the wider society. Because of this and because the ‘noise’ of misogynistic ideology doesn’t reach into their school environment, adolescent girls often feel better about themselves in many ways (their bodies and body image, for example, as well as about their academic abilities) when they are educated in girls-only schools as opposed to co-educational schools . By promoting self-esteem, gender-segregated schools may better equip girls to fight for their human rights in gender-biased male-dominated societies.

    Thirdly, the classroom dynamics of the co-educational school are often very hostile to girls. Just as girls are socialized to be ‘docile’ and ‘obedient,’ boys are socialized to be ‘aggressive’ and ‘pushy’ (note that I didn’t say ‘assertive’ — deliberately). And, despite the neanderthals of the ‘Men’s Movement’ who claim that “listening respectfully to the teacher and taking notes” renders the traditional classroom threatening to boys, most teachers know that this is not the way things work. In co-educational classrooms the boys will often be the ones who raise their hands or call out to answer questions (or simply to gain attention) and will sometimes be quite insistent in doing so. Many teachers will simply give in to this dynamic — male teachers because it is ‘natural’ to them, and female teachers because it “makes life easier.” Either way, girls are silenced. In addition, teachers (especially male ones) will often allow girls less time to formulate or express their answers, thus suggesting to them that they are less capable than boys.

    Another aspect of this is that — straight — adolescent girls in co-educational schools are often more concerned with being amenable to boys than with the subjects they are supposed to be studying (yes, adolescent boys are similarly becoming interested in girls, but they are not socialized to defer to them in the same way that girls are socialized to ‘go along with’ boys). In my experience, girls in gender-segregated classrooms are engaged in *learning* more of the time, show more co-operative behaviour and identify better with their female classmates than when they are in co-educational classes.

    Furthermore, girls in co-educational situations can be subject to harassment, intimidation, embarrassment, verbal abuse, bullying and even physical and sexual violence not only from males but also from other girls ‘competing’ for male attention. This can build up and destroy girls’ ability to concentrate and their joy of coming to school. IMO, such behaviours are much reduced in girls’ schools staffed with female teachers.

    I hear your argument that co-education aids in ‘socialization’ or ‘teaching members of both genders to work together.’ Sure, socialization is necessary and wonderful, but, if you claim to be a Marxist, then you will know that people are socialized in ways that benefit the ruling class — under capitalism conformity is enforced (usually in the Anglosphere dressed up as consensus and the avoidance of ‘hostility), obedience to authority is enjoined, individual competiveness is enthroned as the ultimate virtue … and boys and girls are indoctrinated into patterns of aggressive and conciliatory behaviour respectively. If you are not a Marxist, you will doubtless regard the sometimes comical and sometimes tragic behaviour of adolescent males and adolescent females in mixed settings as ‘natural.’ Under either paradigm, girls ‘learn’ to take the back seat, or risk the consequences.

    There is nothing sadder, IMO, than seeing a girl who, at 9 or 10, is a strong and competent woman-in-the-making and has good friendships with her ‘sisters,’ suddenly, at 12 – 16, becoming a passive admirer of male tomfoolery, because she knows that (most) adolescent males have no time for strong and competent women — or a hyper-competitive ‘bitch,’ dumping on other women, because she knows that (many) boys and men go into absolute toxic meltdown when they think that women are “banding together” against them, and that competing for male ‘favour’ is a way to ‘stay alive’ socially, and often physically too

    Finally, and this is a subject rarely raised, co-educational schools can be testing for female *teachers* as well as female students — there will always be a certain number of boys who will never accept a female teacher, and are prepared to ruin everybody’s educational experience in order to assert ‘male superiority’ (usually, this is code for their intention to set themselves up as leader of the pack). Where such behaviour is endorsed by the male student’s socio-economic or cultural base — (some) boys learn from a very early age that is their ‘role’ to ‘control’ women — or is tolerated or ignored by the school administration, it can lead to the loss of female teachers, who simply ‘drop-out’ out of fear or frustration … and the ‘rescue’ of the female teacher by *male* administrators often merely reinforces the sexist assumptions of students of both genders.

    Note that I am not denying that most of these problems are exacerbated by capitalist social relations, and will be attenuated by capitalism’s overthrow — I am merely pointing out that, even after the Revolution, there will need to be protracted effort (‘a leap in social consciousness’) to ensure equal educational opportunities for both genders.

    Footnote — ‘Research’ in matters sociological can be skewed by a myriad of factors, not least by the tendency of researchers to choose their target groups, frame their questions and interpret the responses they get so that their original assumptions are confirmed.
    Moreover the same researchers can produce different results at different times — witness the ever-shifting debate between ‘nature’ and ‘nurture.’ Or the same research can be ‘spun’ to produce different results — the AAUW (American Association of University Women) reports that argued that girls are better off in single-gender schools were spun in press releases to read the opposite. This merely reflects the fact that ‘research’ is usually tailored to larger socio-economic currents.

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