Should Single-Sex Schools be banned for the Gender Divide?

Guest Post:
For years and years we have seen a gender divide in classrooms and outside of classrooms both indirect and direct. A solution to that was thought to create single sex education, meaning having all girl schools and all boys’ schools, separating gender stereotypes and creating a safe and comfortable environment for both sexes. However, in some cases single sex education heightened the gap between boys and girls creating an enhancement of stereotypes.

In an academic classroom setting boys were still often being taught in a more regimented and structural way while girls were taught in a more nurturing and passive way. This segregation of teaching methods only expanded the gap between the genders. If anything it pushed girls to act in a certain stereotypical feminine way and boys act in a stereotypical masculine way. There is little wiggle room for individuality.

In a three-year California study conducted from 1998 to 2000, 12 schools from northern California through to southern California where observed and interviewed. Over 300 parents, teachers, and students ranging from middle school to high school were interviewed about single sex education. Research found that, “Gender stereotyping, harassment, and other problems common in co-education do not necessarily disappear in single-sex schools”. Elizabeth Zwerling, WeNews Correspondent, discusses the findings behind this particular study, creating a lean away from single-sex education.

Gender roles were more prevalent in single- sex education and schools contrary to many beliefs. “Students received mixed messages about gender. While both were told women could be anything they want, girls were made aware of restrictions on their behavior reinforced through expectations about clothing and appearance. Boys were led to assume that men are primarily wage earner, that they should be strong and take care of their wives who were emotionally weak”. This strong statement signifies the ongoing assumptions of what girls and boys should be and most importantly is expressed mainly in schools. Shocking claims from this study hint at a downfall in single sex schooling that was not anticipated.

Many may think this type of education decreases stereotypes however it is the separation of boys and girls in the first place that increases these characteristics.  For example, in the show Glee, Kirk leaves the co-educational High school to then enter into an all boys’ school because of the harassment and constant disapproval and name calling from the anti gay bullies. Soon after joining the all boys’ prep school, he still was ridiculed by his peers at the other school calling him ‘fag’ and ‘preppy’ which was the exact reason he wanted to get away from that school to begin with. At that time in the show very few people there were accepted as homosexual. This is an example showing students in school now that single sex education should solve all harassment issues but in some cases that does not work through the constant abuse Kirk still deals with even at an all boys’ school.

Although evidence has proved that single sex schools and education create a larger gender gap, other evidence has proved the opposite.  Myra and David Sadker, authors of the book, Failing at Fairness, visited several private single-sex schools interviewing students and teachers, observing classes in action, and then reporting all of their findings captured in an all-boys and all-girls school. Before the study, Sadker questioned the importance of single sex education and if these schools would be around another decade. Contrary to their belief, David states, “for girls especially, they offered an academic refuge, a place to free voices too often silenced in coeducational schools” (253). Their evidence showed that girls were finding it rewarding based on self-esteem, academics, and stepping away from stereotypical feminine norms. Research even concluded that women’s colleges attain more degrees in nontraditional fields such as economic, life science, physical science, and mathematics than women who attended coed colleges.  This data is quite different than the findings above opposing it yet let’s readers create their own opinion and interpretation.

Regarding boys in single sex education showing fewer evidence of success, there were still advocates that argued that boys benefited from all boys schools. Sadker says, “Free of gender role expectations and less concerned with impressing girls, boys were more willing to enroll in nontraditional courses such as language and the arts without fear of ridicule. Many male alums recall that sexual stereotypes seem to fade into the background in these boys’ schools” (254). For many this is hard to believe being that when a group of boys gets together they tend to abuse other boys of lower self-esteem and power. However, in this case, these common stereotypes are dropped.

From these pros and cons the big question still stands, are single-sex schools and classrooms better than coeducation?  Looking back to when coeducational school first became part of the picture was in the last 1900s after Title IX came into play; a law prohibiting many forms of sex discrimination in public schools. This forever changed the fate of single- sex schools.

Girls started enrolling in more challenging courses that were often only sought out by males which led to the market forces eliminating single- sex schools. Because with girls and boys enrolled in the same class, single sex classrooms and education seemed outdated. Private Ivy League Universities started to open their doors to women such as Harvard, Yale, and Columbia ending three centuries of discrimination. If this was the end of sexism and the gender gap in school then why now are public schools striving to create single sex classes or schools?

Picture (Harvard then single sex)
Picture (Harvard now co-ed)

Starting in 1996, the number of public single sex schools jumped from 5 to 30. What is the cause of this? This is where gender segregation comes back into the picture fueled by political and social trends. Ultimately leading back to Sadker’s argument and evidence proving that single-sex education has come back in full force helping decrease sex discrimination. So where do we stand now?

The answer to this question eventually ends with us as future educators and parents and the ways in which we can do about the gender gap between boys and girls. Andre Boyd, a South Carolina middle school teacher explains, “ As educators, our efforts should not be driven by how we can separate students to minimize distractions but by how we can bring all students together to maximize learning. In my experiences, students tend to learn better when teachers learn to teach better-regardless of the gender of the students”.  In addition, Kristin Maschka, a best-selling author and a consultant in organization development and change leadership, says, “For every problem for which “single-sex” is given as an answer, there is an alternative. For example, “in a co-ed class boys are called on more often” can be addressed by teaching teachers how to use random selection strategies to call on students”

To sum it up, it is up to each individual student and parent to determine which schooling is best for their own personal benefit. Maschka also says, “Sometimes the reasons given to support single-sex environment sound more like ways to simplify things for teachers and to avoid addressing the reality of social interactions and existing gender stereotypes in adolescent children”. There are pros and cons to both ways of educating a student or group of students therefore the students and parents and even teachers should answer questions about the quality and equality of schools before choosing the best fit for themselves. Sadker suggests:

-Does the school honor each student’s learning style and experiences, or does it assume that all members of a group learn and behave in the same way?

-Observe classes. Whether single-sex or coed, are some student’s dominating and other silent? Are there different teaching and learning styles? Does the classroom feel like a safe space for all students?

-Look at the bulletin boards, the hallways, and classrooms. Are both genders represented and honored in a wide array of roles and accomplishments? Is there stereotyping?

-Ask current students what their thoughts on their school system are and if they have found it a comfortable and fun environment to learn in.

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