i’ve been intrigued by the interest in same-sex education over the last decade or so. as we move beyond the last-century pressure to assume that there is no difference in the genders, there’s a pile of research showing two primary issues:
– girls and boys learn differently (and socialize differently, and develop differently, and other things)
– and, girls and boys are enculturated differently; meaning, our culture treats them differently. this means that it’s difficult or impossible to separate those differences that are physiological/neurological from those that are cultural.
but, either way, girls and boys seem to (in most cases), succeed differently when in single-sex classrooms.
here’s a (fairly long, but worth it) article in the new york times magazine about this issue.
both articles highlight an author and single-sex education proponant named leonard sax. interesting to me was his turn around on this issue:
Sax comes off as a true believer and describes his conversion experience like this: In 2000, one of his patients, a 12-year-old boy, came to his medical office. For several years before then, the boy had been withdrawn, uninspired and on multiple medications, but he had recently made a big turnaround, which his parents credited to having enrolled him in an all-boys school. Upon hearing this, Sax said to the boy’s mother, “With all due respect, I regard single-sex education as an antiquated relic of the Victorian Era.” To which he says she replied, “With all due respect, Dr. Sax, you have no idea what you’re talking about.” After visiting a handful of single-sex schools, Sax threw himself into studying neurological differences between males and females, eventually focusing on how to protect boys from a syndrome he calls “failure to launch,” which Sax often characterizes as caring more about getting a Kilimanjaro in Halo 3 than performing well in high school or taking a girl on a date. Among his early proposals was that boys should start kindergarten at age 6, a year later than girls, in order to ease the “sense of scholastic incompetence” that so many boys feel early on because they tend to develop later. Several friends quickly convinced Sax that American families would never go for this. So Sax started thinking it might be better for boys and girls to be in different classrooms.
i’ve tended to think that our current educational models favor boys’ learning styles, and that single-sex education was really a shift that was helpful for girls. but sax’s findings have as much to do with the benefit for boys as it does for girls. as i think about this, it makes sense: my own middle school boys small group are obsessed with girls and what those girls think of them.
liesl, my 14 year-old daughter, will be attending a brand-new high school next fall, an extension of the waldorf school both my kids attend. she’ll be in the starting freshman class (and an additional class below her will be added each year). so this first year, she’ll be one of 22 students (with 5 faculty!), 20 of whom happen to be girls. while she’s a little disappointed in this, i’m quite pleased with it!