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Is Single-Sex Education Better Than Coeducation?

Biological differences lead boys and girls to learn in a different manner, according to Dr. Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author. Because of neurological differences, Sax advocates that classrooms are segregated by sex.

As you can imagine, It's a controversial idea (one of the main opponents to same-sex education is the ACLU). Here is a report by Elizabeth Weil of The New York Times about an intermediate school that had began offering separate classes for girls and boys and the positive (though biased) results that it achieved:

Sax comes off as a true believer and describes his conversion experience like this: In 2000, one of his patients, a 12-year-old boy, came to his medical office. For several years before then, the boy had been withdrawn, uninspired and on multiple medications, but he had recently made a big turnaround, which his parents credited to having enrolled him in an all-boys school. Upon hearing this, Sax said to the boy’s mother, “With all due respect, I regard single-sex education as an antiquated relic of the Victorian Era.” To which he says she replied, “With all due respect, Dr. Sax, you have no idea what you’re talking about.” After visiting a handful of single-sex schools, Sax threw himself into studying neurological differences between males and females, eventually focusing on how to protect boys from a syndrome he calls “failure to launch,” which Sax often characterizes as caring more about getting a Kilimanjaro in Halo 3 than performing well in high school or taking a girl on a date.

Link (a bit long, but very interesting)


i'm not about to read the whole thing, but the first couple pages gave me enough to be pissed off. there is so much wrong with advocating same-sex education in public schools. i'm not ok with private schools doing it either, but if parents really want to spend the money to have their child in a specialty school, hey.. it's their money.

first of all, boys and girls NEED to be educated together. it is essential that they be taught to deal with the opposite sex, as they will be submerged in a co-ed environment for the rest of their lives. when you separate them in childhood, they learn that boys and girls need to be separated because they're different. the article stated that they teach the children in different environments as well (different room temperature and yellow vs. blue walls). this advocates different treatment of the genders and instills an expectation that they they will always be treated this way for the rest of their lives. news flash: boys and girls are not treated differently in the real world; therefore, they should be treated the same in the social institution of school. the girls were being taught that oil and water separate, as they might notice when they're 'doing the dishes with mom.' they're being socialized into the domestic realm, that this is where girls are supposed to be: in the kitchen. aren't we supposed to be encouraging our little girls to succeed and NOT be oppressed by society? i mean, didn't the civil rights acts exist for this reason? on the other side, the boys were being socialized to spend their time outside when the teacher said "when you're out fishing with your father." this teaches the boys to be comfortable outside the home and be ready for work.

second, as soon as you separate them, you immediately begin to instill gender stereotypes in them, allowing them to later perpetuate that stereotype. children lead by example. they don't know what stereotypes are, but we do. they don't understand that boys and girls learn differently, therefore don't understand the reason for separation to begin with. all they understand is that they are being separated by 'boys vs. girls' and they will think that it's ok to do so in all situations. and what message will they receive when their parents tell them that boys and girls are actually equal? confusion.

third, it's likely they will be more insecure in adolescence than those boys and girls who were educated in the same classroom. yes boys and girls learn differently, but that's the case throughout their whole lives. what happens to the children when they're introduced to a mixed gender school? they will avoid each other. they will make fun of each other for being different. the boys will tell the girls to 'go back to the kitchen and make me a sandwich.' (trust me.. kids are cruel and WILL think of things like this to say). they will gang up because they won't know what else to do. yea i know this happens anyway, but that's just evidence that we HAVE been socializing our children to fit certian stereotypes via the media, school, home, stores, and even the law. but if we're doing it on purpose, it can only result in stronger feelings of separation.

i could go on forEVER about this junk, but moral of the story, this is not a good idea. we're supposed to be equal in all aspects of life these days (although i know people are awful and universal equality is still some reach away), and i think by supporting these schools we're supporting those traditional standards we've fought so hard to combat since the 60s. we've made such progress as a society and i have hope for the future, but not if parents are just going to destroy what barriers we have fought so hard to destroy.
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oops.. that last part didn't make sense.. i meant to say "...but not if parents are going to put back the barriers we have fought so hard to destroy."
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from a personal perspective I have noticed that my (male) friends who were educated in 'mixed' schools are more socially at-ease than those educated in single sex schools.
It may be that the sexes gain an academic advantage in single sex schools over mixed ones, but perhaps focusing schooling on 'understanding humans' rather than academic achievement would not be too bad for our troubled society.
It seems to me that the human are currently quite good at litigation, medication, invention ... but not so hot at communication and inter-relation. Perhaps focusing more on understanding each other and less on our competitive strengths.

just to be clear, I enjoy masculine and feminine differences and think they should be celebrated. I think boys should be allowed to punch each other and play with toy guns (if they want to) . Education should celebrate difference.
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I'm fairly equivocal on this, but MoonCake: boys and girls are different. In some ways because they're socialized to be so (which is gonna happen whether they're educated together or not), but there are fundamental, honest-to-God biological differences. Boys will make jackass comments anyway. Girls will be snotty to boys anyway. This doesn't prevent them from socializing outside of school (see also: homeschoolers who are active in their communities; I hear those who go to same-sex also still manage to mingle with their opposite-sexed counterparts). You paint a nice slippery slope, too: kids aren't stupid, and even if they couldn't understand (and still cared) about the separation, you educate them to be respectful of everyone anyway, like you're supposed to. But no, oh my god, of course educating boys away from girls will lead to a regression to Neanderthal manly behavior.

And btw, we're supposed to be equally legally and have equal opportunity to do... whatever. That's all.
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Why stop here? The next logical step must be two separated single-sex societies where each sex can perform best according to their different capabilities.

But the real reason of course is this:

"Wylie says she believes she is a better teacher, and her students are better students, because they’re in a desexualized — or at least less-sexualized — environment."

This is the same argument that a lot of islamic fundamentalists are using.

"Nearly everyone at T.Y.W.L.S. acknowledges that often parents’ most pressing concern when enrolling their 11-year-old daughters is sheltering those girls from sexualized classrooms and sexualized streets."

In the end it´s all about the elder primates wanting to control the younger primates by controlling their sexuality. Freud anyone? :-)
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I've no problem with local government school districts (with taxpayer input) deciding what makes sense for their students and trying things out if there is sufficient demand. Private schools are always free to offer the product that works best and satisfies what the market demands. If there is sufficient demand for single sex schools, do it. If not, don't.

Far more important would be to segregate kids by intellectual ability and "troublemakingness". A large part of the reason U.S. government schools perform so poorly, is that all abilities are generally thrown into the same class so that very dim students are "mainstreamed" in with the brightest. The flawed idea is that the presence of smart kids will rub-off somehow on the dumb ones. In reality, the teacher is forced to slow the whole class down to the rate the lowest common denominator can handle. We are so screwed...
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I was educated in a single-sex (convent) school as were my sisters and mother and her mother (etc.!) My husband was educated in a single-sex (Christian Brothers) school. As was my father. Single sex schools are the norm still here in Ireland.

I left the convent school in July 1992 and started studying engineering in September 1992 aged 17. I went from an almost exculsively female environment to an almost exclusively male environment. I survived :) I qualified as a mechanical engineer at 21 and stayed on at university to conduct research and earned a Masters in Engineering Science two years later. I've since worked happily in a male-dominated industry.

My younger sister followed me into engineering and has since earned a doctorate in electrical engineering and now lectures in the subject.

I can't tell you if and how my life and education might have turned out differently had I been educated in a mixed sex school but I think that being educated in a single sex school may have afforded some advantages. The main advantage as I would see it is the opportunity, particularly in adolescence, to get to know and grow yourself without the pressures and distractions obviously present in a mixed sex environment. I'm sure eductation in a mixed sex environment offers many advantages over the single-sex environment but I think we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss the notion than the single-sex environment can offer its own advantages too.
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I can understand separating the sexes for some classes. I had single-sex gym class in high school, and that's probably an okay idea (after all, in the "real world" you don't have men competing against women in athletic competitions, do you?). It took a lot of the pressure off, not having to worry about keeping up with guys who were physically faster and stronger. In every other class, though, it seemed that having both sexes worked just fine. There were lots of successful guys; not really any widespread problems of "failure to launch". If anything, this whole issue is probably more of a commentary on today's teaching or today's students, rather than single-sex or co-ed education.
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I taught for two years at the same all-boys high school that I graduated from.
I agree with the commenter who says the single-sex educated tend to be more socially awkward. I and many of my classmates were.

In addition, while I was teaching there, the school principal wanted to open the school up to girls (but was prevented by the trust that helped fund it) based on the belief that it would have a calming affect on the boys.
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I have two words for Dr. Sax: Quack Quack.

So, we most of us can agree that, in our experience, little boys and little girls are different. We can conjure up a dozen examples which fit whatever gender role ideas we have. The problem is this: anecdotes do not equal scientific data.

When dealing with general categories of people (males v.s. females in this case)we have to look at the scores en-masse and analyze them through tried-and-true statistical methods. The reason for this: it is as close to isolating variables as you will be able to get, because we chose only one variable of interest , separate subjects based on that variable and nothing else, and then test them. So when we get huge amounts of data from many different recipients that shows some consistent patterns (either no difference or some difference) we can assume the difference is based on our chosen variable, assuming of course we got a good and random sample of the general populace.

If you only look at a few, or even a few dozen examples, too many variables like family income level, parenting style, native hormone production levels etc. confound any assumptions you could draw resulting in a test with far less predictive power.

Ok, sorry about the rundown of psych methodology, but it is necessary to understand the next point. This guy Sax is clearly picking and choosing what data he uses very carefully. The general consensus within the psychological study of gender is as such: While there may be differences in the range and variability of certain traits between the sexes(height, IQ, learning style etc.), the variability of almost any given trait is greater within the sex than between it. This is to say: the smartest woman is far smarter than the stupidest (or even above average) man, and the top 10% of women as measured by IQ have IQ scores that look almost exactly like the top 10% of men. So, assuming we are accepting the above statements as true it is highly inefficient and potentially harmful to segregate boys and girls. Put another way: the teaching methods Dr. Sax is using are assuming that all girls learn better in (for example) purple rooms, and all boys in yellow. While it may be true that MORE girls than boys learn well in purple rooms, the variability is such that most girls are not going to fit into that quite narrow pigeon hole.

So why does it matter? Studies like the Jigsaw classroom and the minimal group bias literature show us that if we integrate and intermix groups that self-identify as mutually exclusive (black v.s. white, male v.s. female), their tends to be a reduction of intergroup tensions, increased understanding, and a far greater level of identification with some higher order group (human beings, for example). I think most of us can agree that we would prefer our children identifying more strongly as human beings than as antagonistic gender groups.

Remember: this is not to say that all kids who come out of sex-segregated schools will be sexist or painfully gender-stereotyped, but that it increases the probability of that outcome. We are dealing with tens of thousands of kids here folks, so a 10% increase in the number of misogynist boys being churned out is a big jump.

Wow, that was quite the rant, sorry to take up so much space, I just felt a few things in here would add meaningfully to the discussion.
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I went to an all-boys High School (Jesuit) in California, and while I do not know how I would have turned out had I gone to a "normal" school, I do know that I am not really any more awkward socially than most nerdy types are A bunch of my friends in H.S. were actually girls anyways due to theater and a wider outside of school network of friends. I also think that I personally thrived in the school I went to due to the extreme focus on school- socialization was an after school activity, and not having girls in the mix made the pressures that come from traveling through the wonderful wide world of puberty a lot easier. I just can't say either way if it is a better system, having experienced only one side, but I can say that from my side of this one, single sex education can work. Most people who rail against it have not experienced it, so really neither side is going to win this one anytime soon.
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I'm going to have to agree with Mooncake AND L here. I would have much preferred a separate gym class from the boys, especially swimming in junior high (worst time for it!!)
That said, Mooncake makes a very good point in saying that the real world is not segregated. I agree. Isn't the point of school to prepare you for grown-up life, being able to handle a variety of situations with a variety of people?
Besides, if parents think it will take their child's focus off of the opposite sex, they are just kidding themselves. Boys and girls will always get themselves muddled up over each other no matter what, and it's just another learning experience for "real life".
If someone chooses to go to a single-sex high school, that is their choice, but by no means do I think it should it be made the mainstream.
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Whatever it does to social skills and such, something does need to be done about teacher bias, not just around gender but around race and other issues too. There have been plenty of studies that show that they tend to assume boys and african-american and latino kids are "troublemakers" with far less reason for doing so than other kids, that they tend to call on girls less and ask them easier or more "soft science" questions, etc., which then gives kids clear messages about how they are supposed to behave, which then encourages the teachers' stereotypes....
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My older son goes to an All Boys Boarding School. It is worlds better than the public high school he started in. Plus, he now has a 4.0.

There is a lot that the school does to promote socialization between boys and girls. And he still dates when he comes home on breaks.

In fact he seems much more self assured.
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Re: #11 (Jitterbuggery) --- Beat me to the punch. While a fair number of people may have no problem with a single-sex school, and some may even do better in such an environment, it's not always preferable to a co-ed school. In my case, since I've been an autodidact from the start, I found the educational value of school to be quite lacking and at least 3 years behind where I was. Hence, I found it boring, time-wasting and often rife with inaccuracies. Couple that with the fact that I quickly discovered that it meant at least 12 years of unpaid labor, and there just wasn't much of an incentive for me to even attend school, let alone apply myself --- except that I would have been punished if I'd failed to comply.

The fact that I'm a straight guy and some of the girls at school were nice was about all that institution had going for it. A same-sex school, for me, would have been even more of a prison.

I also know several people who attended single-sex schools, and even single-religion schools. In such cases, profound ignorance of the opposite sex and other religions is the norm. (In their cultures, marriages are arranged by the parents, and the couples don't communicate very well at all.)

However, it seems some people who attended single-sex schools turned out all right and were even able to compare & contrast them with the co-ed model. If indeed there are definite advantages to single-sex schools, then it would be worthwhile for certain districts to set up a few of them, just to try them out. I imagine there would be an improvement, if only because students attending the school either want to be there, or their parents want them to be there. (This happens in connection with charter schools, regardless of the quality of teaching --- either the student or the parent actually has a stake in it. With public schools, it's just a state requirement, so nobody really cares.)
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I think coeducation is much better as you tend to become more familiar with the opposite sex and have friends from both sexes so that depending upon your problem you can call on boys or gals for help.
It promotes healthy interaction between boys and girls..

Girls & boys at a self conscious age take extra care of themselves. Growing up together and sharing activities such as dramatics, art and other things like socials, widen the students talents and a healthy atmosphere pervades in all co-educational schools. The spirit of co-operation that grows between boys and girls makes it easier later on to adjust in a mixed society. Boys become aware of girls' abilities and vice versa. A spirit of co-operation and competition thrives in the co-educational system.
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Mooncake made my point.
But, I have many other issues.
It won't prevent boys and girls from interacting with eachother. Period. Sorry. Your child is going to have a boyfriend/girlfriend by age thirteen either way.
Yes, boys and girls learn differently than boys. I don't think that schools should seperate them, however. I think that schools should seperate them in certain subjects, such as math and science.
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well, i studied in an all girls school myself and i don't find myself as a 'socially awkward' person. i had no problems interacting with the opposite sex, contrary to popular beliefs, about single-sex schools.

also, i think that this debate on gender differences is inconclusive. there are going to be people who think differently than you, just accept it. everyone has a right to their opinion. besides, its not like students attending single-sex schools are taught in an isolated space. they do get to interact with the opposite sex outside of their schools. and you're not in school for 24 hours. majority of your time is spent in the real world, which is more than enough for kids to understand that there are differences between girls and boys, not just the apparent biological differences.

i don't believe that schools instill gender stereotypes. okay, so some single-sex schools choose to paint their walls with pink or blue color, big deal? its not the end of the world. people need to grow up. i mean even if the schools didn't do this, girls are gonna b girls like boys will be boys, they will figure out a way to be themselves no matter what. it's what people do. it is like saying that girls in an a co-education system wouldn't like pink? that's bizarre.

and the stuff about competition. i find this laughable to say the least. who said that girls and boys have to compete in the real world? whoever said it is naturally out of their mind. NO they do not need to COMPETE with each other, they just need to CO-EXIST, and that comes naturally to human beings. people tend to get along with each other, coz that is what they are taught in their families, by their parents. they have siblings at home, who may be of the opposite sex. they get along just fine.

yes, boys and girls do have to compete in professional spheres, but there the competition is about their credibilities, intelligence, wits, qualification etc. its nothing physical, where boys are at a greater advantage. GIRLS do not have to compete with BOYS, they have to compete for the position that they want to be in, through sheer hard work and dedication, and that's what schools teach us - good values, good education and the confidence to excel, co-education or otherwise.
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