Nothing “new” is happening, but single-sex education has been in the news recently. USA Today ran an article about it last weekend, and it seems other publications have reprinted it or otherwise picked up the ball (see here, here and here). These articles don’t seem to be making a particularly complex point beyond “this is controversial — people disagree,” so I was glad that a little analysis entered the discussion via this recent column in Slate. The author, Cassie Murdoch, made the point that SSE sounds compelling when proponents like Leonard Sax describe it as a mechanism to break down gender stereotypes — to give boys and girls the freedom to pursue interests that might be constricted by usual gender dynamics. But, she continued, it is hard to find evidence of this objective being realized in real-life segregated classrooms. Quoting from a description of segregated elementary classrooms in Idaho, Murdoch says:
“In the single-sex classes, teachers use microphones that allow them to electronically adjust the tone of their voice to match the level that research suggests is best for boys. When preparing for a test, the boys may go for a run, or engage in some other activity, while the girls are more likely to do calming exercises, such as yoga.” Okay, so that’s maybe not the worst thing imaginable, but might it be more beneficial to teach some of the boys to learn to calm themselves down using yoga and to encourage some girls to run around more?
In the end, Murdoch makes the point that segregating classrooms harmfully ignores the variation in learning styles within each gender.
Maybe instead of presuming all boys need to run before a test, they could sort the kids by finding out which ones—boys or girls—benefit from being more active and which ones thrive in a quieter, more introspective environment. If we instead just give in to what we assume girls and boys are stereotypically interested in, it doesn’t change anything; it only reinforces the problems we already have—and risks alienating a lot of kids who don’t fit neatly into gender stereotypes
Amen to that.