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Same-Sex Education
Mom with a View

Same-Sex Education

There are many benefits to taking the male-female dynamic out of the education equation.


When reading a recent Newsweek editorial by Christine Flowers extolling the virtues of same-sex education, I was reminded of a Shabbos guest we once had. A middle-aged man (am I that age now too?), he apparently had a regular joke when meeting teenage girls. So he asked my daughter how old she was.

"Seventeen," she replied.

"Me too" he said. "What grade?"

"Twelfth," she answered.

"Me too." So far so good. "What school?"

"Bais Yaakov."

"Me too!" he proudly asserted.

The joke was on him. "It's an all-girls school," my daughter politely admonished.

The concept of separating boys and girls at school has become so unusual that our guest was completely dumbfounded. It never would have occurred to him. And that's a real shame, because there are many benefits to taking the male-female dynamic out of the education equation.

A number of years ago, Karen Stabiner published, "All Girls: Single-Sex Education and Why it Matters," detailing many of the problems of a coed system (and some of the imperfections within the single gender ones as well). It's hard to read Mary Pipher's groundbreaking work, "Reviving Ophelia," which describes the drop in self-esteem and grades of girls as they approach adolescence and become more conscious of their male counterparts, without pain and revulsion. Previously bright and talented girls watch their grades drop dramatically as they focus more on dates than academic success. Is this really a benefit to our daughters? You don't have to be religious to think not.

Despite intense pressure for egalitarianism and the subsequent requirement for integration (why can't they be separate but equal?), some parents and students are slowly waking up to the power of an all-girls or all-boys school.

As the author of the Newsweek article reminds us, school is about academic accomplishment. And the studies show that girls perform much better without the pressure of looking good for the boys. Not only are they free to focus on their studies, but all that energy that usually goes into hair, makeup and clothing could be channeled into their classes. (Okay, maybe I'm stretching a point here!)

It's a tremendous relief to be able to just be yourself and not have to be "on" at school. It's a tremendous relief to feel free to state your opinions and thoughts without trying to impress. It's a tremendous relief to keep school for... well... schooling.

Our minds are only open to certain types of learning at particular times in our lives. To forgo that opportunity in favor of some elusive social goal seems an unfortunate waste. While I don't harbor any illusions that there will be an immediate and widespread return to separate-gender education, I like to cherish the hope that thoughtful parents will consider this alternative. That we will think carefully about what is really best for our children, not just do what everyone else is. And that some parents will have the courage to go against the tide and give their children and deep and full educational experience.

High school interactions between girls and boys frequently have long-term consequences, most of them negative. There are so many challenges to parenting. There are so many difficulties in schooling. Wouldn't it be nice to remove one of them from the playing field?

And it sure sweetens the pot to hear Christine Flowers say, "At Bryn Mawr, the women I encountered were brilliant, independent and focused. Not all of them arrived that way, as this writer can confirm, but all of them exited confident of success in whatever fields they chose to enter."

October 26, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) Anonymous, July 9, 2011 2:29 PM

check each school

I wish I'd attended an all-girls school because it might have afforded me essential same-sex bonding that should occur at the outset of puberty. Our sons had similar needs for male companionship beginning in late elementary school. When reviewing high schools for our sons, however, we were dismayed to find that same-sex schools in our area (Catholic and one independent) teach mysogeny - girls are not complements of boys but "have their place" and not in an equal-but-complementary position. Physical use and abuse of girls is tolerated and even encouraged. While we of course did not study girls' schools with the same intensity, we have heard that some of these schools (again, Catholic or independent) tend to foster hyper-competitiveness and anti-male attitudes. Girls learn that a high-powered career has value, but wife and motherhood do not. We ended up sending our sons to independent co-ed schools and do not leave their education up to the schools (especially for matters pertaining to sex and sexuality). Our conclusion is that concerning the choice of co-ed or single-sex school for your child, it all depends on the school, your family, and the needs of your child. Parents must carefully evaluate the atmosphere in the school, not just the academic curriculum and sports facilities or the social prestige of the school.

(15) Liora Sitelman, July 14, 2010 1:10 PM

Bryn Mawr College!

Rebbetzin Braverman--what a charming article! It was a pleasant surprise to see Bryn Mawr mentioned, because that's where I did my college education!

(14) Harold L. Vaughn, January 10, 2007 4:26 PM

Need for studies

I like the perspective offered, but I don't like the idea of experimenting with our childrens education. Many school district and people are jumping on a band wagon for seperate gender classrooms. I have not found one conclusive study that gender is making the difference. Only that good teaching skills are needed. Which insures that gender differences are taken into account.

(13) Terry Weathers, November 12, 2005 12:00 AM

It all boils down to where to children come from and do we want the product and not the process.

It will be a very lonely world if we all pair up boy to boy , and girl to girl. At least it will be the end of America as we know it, but that is exactly what the muslim faith wants.
Either get a life or stay West of the Rockies and leave America alone. Or quit attempting to push the agenda on those love life as God intended it to be.

(12) Tanya, October 31, 2005 12:00 AM

Separate but Equal

Our son aged 14 goes to a co-ed High School with a difference, the first graders in High School have separate classes but joint recesses - his results have on average improved by 10-15 % per subject, next year the classes revert to co-ed and he asked us to look at an all Boys school so we have enrolled him at a Traditional Boys school. We were also given results of recent research implying that girls fare better on their own as they do not have to balance popularity with academics and boys fare better on their own as they are able to explore "emotives" eg in poetry without having to be "macho" to remain popular with the girls.

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