Thursday, July 12, 2012

Single Sex Classrooms: Yay or Nay?

By Amy Esselman

do single-sex classrooms help or hinder education?
When I think of all-boys and all-girls classrooms, I think of private schools and uniforms.

But apparently the tides are turning. There are more single-sex classrooms in public schools than ever before.

And as is to be expected with any change, controversy has ensued.

There are those who support the divide, claiming that students will learn better with fewer distractions. However, those against the new trend fear that separating their children will create stereotypes and could affect level of learning.

I attended both same-sex and co-ed schools growing up. Having experience in both settings, I have to admit that there are valid arguments to be made for both sides.

There is no way to completely cut out school room distractions. They’re inevitable. However, while I was enrolled in an all-girls school it became obvious that certain exclusions do make it easier to focus. For one, uniforms took the guesswork out of the ‘what to wear’ dilemma. You weren’t trying to impress anyone with your outfit, or show off with a certain brand name or pair of shoes. You went to school, went to class, spent time with your friends, and didn’t sweat the seemingly small stuff.

Another big pull for me was sports—I got to play on teams and give it my all, something that was difficult to do when I was worried about what boys in my class would think if I missed the ball, or didn’t run as fast as someone else. Gym class is never fun—but with single gender groups at least it took a little bit of the humiliation away from not being super athletic.

Now on the flip side, there were a few things I felt the all-girls setting lacked. Zero boys in the room was good for certain things, but as far as social interactions go it did more harm than good. Kids need to interact together—both boys and girls—to figure out social cues and learn how to get along. If kids are separated during these fundamental development years it really could lead to gender stereotypes, biases, or unbalanced learning techniques.

I had to learn to sew and paint flowers. My brothers in the all-boys school were learning how to work with metals and wood. Now I’m not saying I would want to learn woodwork, but then again, I was never given the chance. I was always left to wonder if we were taught a certain way just because we were girls, and if things were made easier or harder based solely on our gender.

When it comes to gender separation in schools there will always be tradeoffs—single sex schools offer less distractions, but at the price of interaction and growth. Co-ed settings can be more of a handful, but gender stereotypes are fewer and farther in-between.

So I guess it’s up to parents to decide. Parents will have to choose what makes the most sense for their kids and their learning style.

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