Recently, there have been suggestions that public schools should offer single-sex classrooms. A recent story in the Portland Press Herald entitled “Single-Sex Learning” reveals that while both boys and girls learn better when they are in single-sex classrooms, it is girls who especially benefit.
Some reasons given are that these kinds of classrooms allow more focus to be placed on schoolwork since girls are not as worried about impressing boys or their social lives. They are more likely to be in charge of clubs and student council since there is no one else to run these clubs for them. In these classrooms, girls will not encounter male-dominated discussions and are more eager to participate in class. They also get to learn about subjects without the male bias often found in typical school textbooks.
However, does single-sex education really benefit girls in the long run? Certainly, girls growing up with more confidence and taking on positions of power in their schools are definitely some very positive things for women, but there must be some way to apply this same confidence to girls in co-educational schooling.
Typically, the argument against such single-sex education is that it does not prepare girls for the “real” world, where they will have to interact with men every day. That argument is definitely valid.
My biggest problem with single-sex education is that we are not fixing the real problem. Perhaps instead of just segregating the sexes (and I do mean sex – where would transgender teenagers fit into this scheme?), we should switch our focus to helping girls feel confident and assertive in co-educational classrooms. Why can’t all schools have textbooks that are not solely focused on men’s history (or white history, for that matter)?
Certainly, this would benefit all genders (and races).
We should encourage participation among girls in co-educational classrooms to make sure that the discussions are not male-dominated. A study done by the American Association of University Women shows that teachers are actually more likely to call on a male in class even if several females are raising their hands. Teachers are also more likely to compliment boys on their academic achievements (“Wow! This is a really great idea!”), whereas girls are complimented on their behavior (“Wow! You are really good at listening!”). This is probably not done intentionally. I’m sure it is some kind of subconscious action on the part of teachers, but maybe it is indicative of a larger issue.
The system still seems to be set up for males to succeed over females. What else would explain the panic felt when girls started out-performing boys in school? Interestingly, some sources cite girls’ success in school as the motivation behind this same-sex school system (but if it seems that girls are the ones who benefit even more, is this creating a wider gap between the two?). If we want to see females succeed in co-educational school systems, then we will have to change the way the system is set up. Clearly, it’s not working as it is now. Part of the problem is that society has not changed enough. We still expect girls to be nice and sweet and quiet but we excuse boys’ behavior with the adage “boys will be boys.” I think that this shows through in our classrooms.
It seems that gender roles abound; girls are feeling intimidated because there is still societal pressure to act dainty while boys are expected to exercise their privilege and show off their knowledge. Of course, this is not to say that boys intentionally try to intimidate girls in the classroom. This is not a girls vs. boys kind of situation by any means.
A system that empowers women is a system that benefits everyone.
Spinelli is a member ofthe class of 2007.