same sex education

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.

and here’s a shorter summary from where i found this, oddly enough on the goofy site neatorama.

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 For several years before then, the boy had been withdrawn, uninspired and on multiple medications, but he had recently made a big turnaround, which his parents credited to having enrolled him in an all-boys school.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!

10 thoughts on “same sex education”

  1. Hara Marano Estroff (from Psychology Today) makes a good case in her book, Nation of Wimps, that today’s educational system strongly favors girls and leave boys in the dust. Essentially she argues that boys (as slower developers) aren’t able to sit nicely, follow directions, and learn in the traditional classroom. This is supported by the research she has conducted on college admissions and rate of ADHD medication. The story you’ve recounted falls right in line with what she writes. However, her conclusion leads to independent learning like what is found at the Sudbury Valley School (
    Interesting and controversial book.

  2. For an interesting perspective in particular on the ignoring of boys in the church, read Dobson’s Bringing Up Boys. Before you think I’m a Dobson groupie, some of his stuff I like, some I hate but the book (at least the half I’ve finished) is worth reading.

  3. So those of us in public schools (by economic reality and some choice – ie, we couldn’t afford private school on a ministry salary, even if we wanted to) just pray for teachers that understand our boys? This identifies a problem that I have seen first hand this year, but I don’t think we have any way of solving it either for the greater good or our two boys (bright, but wiggly…)I am discouraged today.

  4. Marko
    This is a little off topic but i ran across a book that you might enjoy. it is called stuck in the middle and is edited by ariel schrag. it is a collection of comics about the middle school years and is pretty cool.

  5. I’m intrigued by the implications for Middle School ministry.

    Often I find myself (particularly during the talk time) expressing angst towards the guys because of their impulsive behavior and other “guy” stuff.

    On the other hand after group tonight we all took turns (the guys) throwing tennis balls at each others backs while lined up against a wall. The guys loved it. The moms however frowned and voiced their displeasure with such a barbaric activity. IMO it’s the moments like these that really bond our guys together. That probably sounded a lot worse than it actually was BTW.

    Hopefully that makes sense. Just a random spewing of thoughts running throw my head after spending 90 minutes with 75 middle schoolers.

  6. looking for help with support for our “youth pastor’s daughter”. (15 yr old) She’s going thru so much, but doesn’t have anywhere to turn (peerwise). Know a safe place for Youth Pastor’s daughters? She needs it. We need it.

  7. Hey Jeni,
    just wanted to comment.
    I am a pastors daughter, and i recommend looking for a grown up/been there daughter of a pastor that you know very well and that can connect with her… at least it worked for me.
    So yeah… my 2 cent.

  8. I read the whole article last night. It was excellent and well worth reading. I particularly loved the part where it mentioned guys needing to talk side to side. Think about it, where do men talk…it’s awkward even for the best communicators across a table. But you take a bunch of boys and throw them in front of a game console or on a football line (any sports team) or you put something in between them like a chess board and their mouths come to life…as we all know it’s not always wholesome or encouraging content that comes out.

    I thought about the ramifications of ministry too…I think this stuff is more crucial at younger ages (not that it goes away later) but we all can see and research seems to show that puberty is the catch up stage (not that we ever catch all the way up in some respects). That means youth ministry is one more transition point where we need to balance teaching them (Luke 2:52) how to be godly in social settings and giving them safe places where they aren’t on the spot. That guys night or girls night or JH guys/girls Sunday School class, etc. is much more important than we think.

    Another great book on the topic is Bundschuh’s Passed Thru Fire. Sorry ladies, I don’t know what the female equivalents are for books, hopefully they’re out there.

  9. Jeni (and anyone in ministry with a kid)

    I’m a YPK too. I agree with Prissy, try to find an older pk to mentor her (officially or unofficially). PK of any kind or MK will probably work too if you can’t find a YPK. I’d also try to find one that is positive (but not rose-colored viewpoint) about being a PK. There are lots of us out there.

    PK’s in general. In my experience there aren’t many if any middle grounders. We are either angry at God/the church/pastor parent because of the church’s flaws or we love God/the church/pastor parent despite the church’s flaws. All of us are affected by watching how the church treats our parents. Tragically churches are often so messed up they treat them poorly. Most are underpaid, overworked and fought the entire time by the people that called them lead but who refuse to follow. Pastor’s kids get to watch the whole thing. Add to that, often, pastor parents who add church expectations (instead of only God’s and parent’s) onto these kids along with a tendency to be a workaholic skipping vacations, holidays, etc. and it’s a bad recipe for disaster.


    It can also be amazing. I loved it. My parents balanced ministry and family well. I saw my dad chewed up once or twice but I also so when the church worked well and the leadership defended him. I saw God working despite people and through people. I saw a God of grace. On top of that my dad’s business trips included me. I mean, who else gets to have them kid join them for work at places like a missions trip or a camp or an amusement park. And who else gets paid to go watch their kid’s sports/band/etc. at the high school because that’s wherer the other students are at. My dad was at all my stuff even stuff other parents couldn’t get to – he could because of work, they couldn’t because of work. He knew all of my friends and all of my friends wanted to hang out at our house. All that was as a kid/teen. I don’t know if anyone, even pastor’s, have as clear an understanding of what church ought to be and what it really is like a pk/mk. Like anything, if that drives them to God it’s incredible and not something you’d want to deprive them of even though it might be accompanied by some pain.

    I know many pk’s who are doing very well like me and some who struggling. It helps if you have a someone (parents included but not only) to help you walk through it though.

    It seems like every trip I go on know I bump into a pk and get a chance to know them. They are simply amazing kids but some of them are carrying some very heavy burdens.

    Pastors with kids…try to figure out how your job is appropriately advantageous for your family and don’t be ashamed of it…also try to figure out how your job causes conflict for your family and then try to minimize the damage or remove it altogether. As appropriate, talk about as much as you can with your kids, too, but don’t forget to protect them which sometimes means defending them without they know it.

    I’ll stop know…sorry Marko, you can have your blog back now. As you can tell I’m a little passionate about both pk’s and the job we have as youth pastors.

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