Tuesday, March 4

Teaching boys and girls separately in NYC and beyond

The internet's abuzz with talk of this week's New York Times Magazine's cover story, "Teaching Boys and Girls Separately." The article describes a growth in single-sex education nationally, fueled by two sets of proponents of single-sex education: neuro(pseudo)scientists, who believe hard-wired differences in the way boys and girls learn make sex-segregated classrooms necessary; and those who want to empower boys and girls to succeed despite societal pressures that inhibit their success.

Those who believe in single-sex education because of its purported biological advantages are more plentiful, at least according to themselves, but in New York City, it's the second set of single-sex advocates who have opened schools. The Young Women's Leadership School and its three clones and Excellence Charter School, both of which appeared in the article, offer high academic standards and supportive environments. The tone of the schools may be aided by the lack of gender diversity, but those schools' success "has at least as much to do with their rigorous academic approach, commitment to high-quality teaching, and shared culture of excellence as it has to do with the fact that they're single sex," writes Sara Mead of the Early Ed Watch Blog.

(The city has several other single-sex schools, including Urban Assembly's all-girls math and science, business, and criminal justice schools for girls and history and citizenship school for boys; the Academy for Business and Community Development, an all-boys school that is adding a high school this fall; and Eagle Academy for Young Men, a successful high school that will see its first clone open in September. I've also visited a few schools that have single-sex periods during the day, often for math and science classes.)

Should public schools segregate kids by gender? The article makes it clear that despite proponents' claims, there isn't any biological justification for teaching kids separately and differently. And as Dana Goldstein at The American Prospect writes, the neuroscience approach smacks of "stereotyping, heteronormativity, and misogyny."

But I also agree with Alexander Russo's tentative claim that that single-sex education "could do some good" and Insideschools blogger Seth's opinion that some children might feel more comfortable in a single-sex setting. As Sara Mead points out, research has shown that girls can benefit when they have math and science instruction to themselves. And when issues of sexuality and gender identity come up at school, it can be safer for kids to discuss them in a single-sex environment, as in the AP English class at TYWLS the article describes. I've been to a number of schools lately that have single-sex advisories for that purpose. But shouldn't schools also teach young adults how to interact courteously and appropriately with their peers of the opposite gender, even when sex or sexuality is the topic of conversation? That's an important lesson that single-sex schools are incapable of offering.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am so against single sex schools and think it is a cop out.

"But shouldn't schools also teach young adults how to interact courteously and appropriately with their peers of the opposite gender,"

This is the least of my concerns although an important one. The most important thing to me is that teachers need to learn and be able to teach to a variety of kids that all have different dispositions. It is something I am learning now having a child is that a lot of teachers just do not know how to deal with children that do not conform and this is even in elementary school. It can be any differences, the differences of the child who is calm and pays attention to the one that is more active and high energy to the ones that are overly shy. All of these three types can be just as capable intellectually, can all have the same IQs and can have the same potential yet are treated so differently, usually the overly shy and the overly hyper active get crippled from school. The kids that are the ones that are really high energy and get so much in trouble in school and bad reports to their parents many times turn out as adults to be great when they have a loving family, I have many friends who had that kind of problem when they were young and I think school was crippling to them yet they got over it. But really to see them as adults makes me think it was not their problem but the teachers' problem along the way that just do not know how to deal with differences. Some teachers can deal with these differences and are great, but the majority just can not deal. I think separating the sexes is another cop out in dealing with differences. I think it hurts society much more as a whole to have children grow up in single sex classrooms from elementary through high school, it basically is the same as racial segregation and just as hurtful. Science and math sex segregation is as bad as race segregation for science and math.
Neither sex should look at the opposite sex as "the other" because it is this that causes problems. We all have differences in how we learn and teachers need to learn how to cope with that and bring everyone together and not separate.