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Single-Sex Education

Single-Sex Education — Should Girls and Boys Learn Apart?

In the New York Times magazine section this weekend, they examine new ways research in favor of segregating sexes is being applied in public education. Traditional reasons supporting pink-and-blue, "Girl Power" or "Boys' Only" educational structure include biological evidence, like:

  • Boys don’t hear as well as girls
  • Boys’ visual systems are better at seeing action
  • Girls are better at seeing the nuance of color and texture

But social reasons and student preference are growing as well. In the school featured in the piece, when students and parents were given a choice between co-ed or single-sex education, the percentage who chose single sex rose from one-third the first year to 87 percent two years later.

The principal of the school notes that single-sex classes produce fewer discipline problems, more parental support, and better scores in writing, reading, and math. Those results are augmented by the fact that the highest-performing teachers and her most-motivated students choose single-sex classrooms.

The main opponent of moving toward single-sex education is the A.C.L.U. They oppose all single-sex public education, basing their argument on Title IX, the 1972 Education Amendment that bans discrimination in educational programs on the basis of sex. They also refute the biological arguments saying, “What kind of message does it give when you tell a group of kids that boys and girls need to be separated because they don’t even see or hear alike?”

What do you think? Should the playing ground be equal for all, or arranged to benefit the unique needs of a single sex? Do boys and girls learn better apart?


Join The Conversation
designergirl designergirl 9 years
I have observed some of the experiences in single sex education to be damaging. While I was sent to a public coed school because I was in advanced classes, my mom chose to send my brother to an all boys high school for many of the reasons stated in the argument. I can attest that this didn't work out as well as planned. When he left high school, he had no idea how to be just friends with girls. Not to mention, learning is incredibly difficult when you're placed with a bunch of boys. More effeminate boys were mercilessly picked on and females teachers endured 45 minutes of burps and farts. High school was terrible for him because he's more artistic, which was not supported as well as sports were. I received an excellent education being in coed classes. I was challenged and thrived in a higher stress environment. I never felt embarrassed to raise my hand, but that's because my parents encouraged me. A lot of the problems with education begin at home.
I was thinkin about teachin both seperate so that they wont feel embarassed to ask some questions, not because one sex learns different than the other. hmmmm.... well. i dont know about that one.
remedios remedios 9 years
Maybe I'm misreading, but people are saying all-girls schools reinforce gender stereotypes? What stereotype/gender role are you referring to? In my experience, exactly the opposite is true. Girls are taught that they can be strong and smart - expected to be that. Girls didn't care about appearance much (to a degree, of course). It was by far the best thing I could have done for my confidence as a woman. Maybe it varies by person, but I was able to open up and develop so much more when I transferred to the all-girls school. Maybe some people don't need that, but I did, and statistically speaking, so do many other girls... and boys, too, I suppose - but not being a boy, I can't really say for sure. I can say my brothers agree though.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
As an example to supplement my last comment, I had a male friend who went to a single-sex elementary school and a single-sex middle school and never did very well. He is more creative, is interested in fashion, etc. His parents finally allowed him to go to a mixed sex school in high school and he flourished. Thankfully, he was able to do well enough in high school to be excepted to Parsons and he will be (hopefully) starting a career in interior design soon. He probably would never have achieved this had he not attended a mixed sex high school. Some of the reason he did so much better after leaving his all-boys schools was not institutional; he just got along better with his female classmates and that helped him. But some of it was also related to how the school taught.
leeluvfashion leeluvfashion 9 years
I don't agree with single-sex education; the real world doesn't work that way and it teaches discrimination.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I think the problem with this is, like some have already said, it applies gender roles, but separates by sex. Since gender and sex are not nessecarily the same thing, it would hinder boys who learn more like girls and girls who learn more like boys. And, while it would work for some, it wouldn't work for others. I have no problem with it being offered, but I think it should be optional. I don't think any school district should offer exclusively sex-segregated classes.
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
I agree Sofie.. and for the ones who are proven to be more advanced that is why we have honors classes. There is no need to segregate.
demeter demeter 9 years
I think this is a wonderful idea. I fully support it.
XSofieX XSofieX 9 years
I think that the biggest problem is the patterns boys and girls are "forced" to behave according to. Why is it almost accepted as a fact that boys are better at math and science than girls and that girls are softer and more creative or whatever?? I really think that its very damaging to label the sexes too much according to norms and customs, I think that the sexes has to be treated much more equal in school... even though boys may be more active and girls more passive, these labels just enforce the stereotypical loud boy and the quiet shy girl
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
The best way to beat your opponent is to know them inside out.
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
Not that this has any bearing, but I have several friends who had the decision just as I did to go to an all girls school. I went an entirely different route and chose co ed public high school even though I was accepted into the best of the best private high schools. What I have seen is that a great deal of my friends who opted otherwise are having a much struggle advancing in their careers especially overcoming men in the same positions. I on the other hand have managed not only to secure and maintain an excellent position but I have done so in a firm that where the majority are men.
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
I am saying in my opinion and in my own research I guess you could say that the socialization benefits of co-ed classes outweigh the academic benefits of single sex classes. Research is research. Research and test have provided an enormous amount of evidence that global warming exists but the fact is that people out there still dont believe the a "few degrees can change the world" I can be that far off from others on this one, since the results of this poll indicate 50% agree with me.
GossipAngela GossipAngela 9 years
My school actually experimented with this idea. One of the Physics classes were separated into 2 single sex classes. At the end the boys did better than the girls. But the grades of each group has highly increased. Although I do think that segregating the sexes isn't exactly what reality is but I do think that academia and its underlings can benefit from some extend of this approach
jennifer76 jennifer76 9 years
Bettyesque - You're absolutely right, we're all entitled to an opinion here. I'm curious whether you're disagreeing with the research that shows both boys and girls benefit academically from single sex education or saying that the socialization benefits of co-ed classes outweigh the academic benefits of single sex classes.
remedios remedios 9 years
I can only speak from personal experience, and having gone to an all-girls school for 10th - 12th grade, I can state with absolute confidence that it was the best thing for me. I was miserable in 9th grade, and I know a huge reason that I did considerably better personally, socially, and academically in 10th and on was because of the single sex education.
JovianSkies JovianSkies 9 years
This is a conflicting issue for me as well. On one hand, I CAN see how seperating sexes would be beneficial as to actual learning and class participation. Boys want to impress and draw the attention of girls. I honestly believe that when the opposite sex is around them, their hormones distract them exponentially, thus hindering their academic performance. Most girls aren't, in my own opinion, as inable to focus when boys are around, so I don't think the difference would be so dramatic for them. The results of their seperation are compelling... On the other hand, the poll is right: the world isn't a segregated place! When school is meant as an environment to prepare students for the real world, why enforce this seperation? The aspect of socialization is also key for preparing (and functioning) for the world, and I feel that the divide between the children would inhibit them from having success of interacting, and learning appropriate behavior around each other. I can't imagine not having as many male friends as I did in high school, because I always got along better with them, and had very few female friends. As a result, I feel that I know the opposite sex, and how to 'deal' with them (so to speak). It's a thought-provoking subject, and I'm interested in what everyone has to say :-)
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
I am not attack the idea, I just dont think its necessary for all subjects. Perhaps when touching on sensitive topics such as sexual education maybe.
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
You can acknowledge biological reality without having to separate. I dont consider your words an attack. I have a right to my opinion as do you. I am sorry but I have always been a firm believer in that it doesnt matter where you go or who is in your classes it all matters how you apply yourself. I have seen children in the worse possible mix of peers you could imagine with every distraction and still excel. I also have a little brother who is disable, he is he in a class solely of students with autism .. NO.. he is in a group with children that all have different types of needs. Do we pull him out because these children are different than him, learn at different speeds ..? Absolutely not.. why? Because part of learning is learning amongst people at all different levels.
wackdoodle wackdoodle 9 years
I've actually seen this class sex-segregation work. They tried it at my youngest nephew's middle school. The made separate gender classes for English, Math and Science. And the pre-teen and teen boys started to improve on tests and started to actually participate in classes and ask the teachers questions and started to feel less self-conscious about "feeling stupid" if they got an answer wrong. The girls stayed ahead of the boys of course but they got too felt less pressure to "dumb themselves down" for the boys. I believe that his public middle school still offers this program for students or parents to opt-into. Not all of the classes are broken up by sex but the core classes were the children really need to participate and feel confident are offered that way. Funny thing is the pre-teen boys are opting for mixed classes and the majority of the girls are opting for same sex. Because of girls success, many parents are putting their boys in single classes at the school. My nieces are currently at the same middle school and finally opted for single sex classes for their core classes because they finally decided that they want to go to college (like they have a choice) and they said the boys were always acting goofy in class. Had to tell them "it's your boobs" boobs drive some boys slightly nutty.
Merlin713 Merlin713 9 years
When I was in the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades, we were required to have a sex education class. For the 7th and 8th graders, we were all taught together, except when we learned about our own anatomy. That was the only time we were separated, but, we still learned about the boys, and the boys still learned about the girls. We were then all put back into class together after those few days apart. We were fine. However, I still don't understand why we had to be separated. In high school, 9th grade, we were all together. We re-learned everything, and we had those super sweet STD slides that we had to watch. Wow were those informative. All in all, I think it was fine. I don't think there should be separation the entire time for those classes, but sometimes, depending on the age, it is ok to be apart. One thing that I liked about each of those classes was that we had a question box that we would refer to every week. Students would submit questions to the teacher and we would talk about those questions in Friday's class. It was interesting to say the least, and I think that's where most of us learned the "good" stuff.
BloodyFuFu BloodyFuFu 9 years
I'm mixed on the topic. I went to catholic school and we actually had a good deal of sex education. Oddly enough we had more than the kids I knew in public schools. I think they handled it very well. At a pretty young age, maybe 10, we got sex ed separate just to teach us about our own bodies. It can be a little uncomfortable for girls at that age, and boys laugh at any body function so it was just better. Any topic that had to do with both sexes was done in one class though. I think that more knowledge is better but it needs to be in a way that helps make it comfortable on a personal level first. Once you know about your own body you can then learn about the opposite sex and how it all works together.
megnmac megnmac 9 years
I think we place so much emphasis on the difference BETWEEN the genders that we forget the differences WITHIN the genders. Every mars/venus book ever discusses how women just want to be heard and men want to problem solve. I problem solve, constantly, and grew up with two boys as my best friends (from my 1st bday party to today). I've read some studies that say girls learn better segregated out, but that boys learn better in coed. That study makes me hesitate more, as to the idea that we're stunting the girls by putting them around boys. But, again, one of the most hyperactive kids in my elementary classes was one of the girls - we don't all fit a mold, even within the boys/girls classes. Either of the genders may be active learners, and either may be needing something other than the cookie cutter answer to public education. Individualized focuses within coed classes is possible, and it allows kids to be socialized and educated. I personally wouldn't want to raise my kids in separated, genderized classes, I'd worry too much about pressuring them to fit within those gender confines (I worry about a lot and I fit in better with the boys my whole life)... but I wouldn't stop anyone from pursuing it if they thought it would be better for their particular child. Arizona (where I am) really supports the charter school movement and parents can look for whatever they want in a school and pursue it through the public system this way.
hayworthgilda hayworthgilda 9 years
if you've ever taught single sex groups vs. mixed groups, the difference in attention and focus is night and day. Honestly, it all depends on your kid. Some kids really thrive in a single sex environment, and I think as many educational settings as possible should be available to parents. And frankly, separate but equal CAN be separate and equal. Separating the genders doesn't mean that one group learns better or is intrinsically smarter, but that boys and girls tend to learn differently. But if this separation led to a worse educational experience for one gender, why did more and more parents & students choose it? Being against single sex education in all cases seems unnecessarily rigid and inflexible.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
jenifer-I think you have some fabulous points, and I really agree with you. The only thing I would add is that parents and students should have a say in this. I don't think that the government should be able to use public funds to fund mandatory segregated classes and it must be something that the students volunteer for. "Separate but equal" is just such an obviously loaded phrase, and it has soo many negative connotations that I think we really fear going there without thinking critically about what will really happen. I think the fear about socialization is ridiculous. Taking algebra or language arts without boys in the class will not stunt anyone's growth, there are still so many opportunities for socialization. As far as worries about the "real-world," well, I can only say that my "real-world" boss appears to care an awful lot about how intelligent and professional I am. We allow students to participate in after-school sports activities separately because we recognize that there are physical differences between boys and girls, why would we allow this and not allow them to learn separately if they want to?
meumitsuki meumitsuki 9 years
Parents should have the option to choose. I went to an all girl's school and loved it.
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