Separate but equal? In Kindergarten?

Hi all, I’m Eesha Pandit, and am delighted to be doing some guest blogging here. For my day job, I do some international human rights work. And I blog over at the Crunk Feminist Collective, and recently at Feministing as well. Hello!

As happens from time to time, long-standing issues resurface in new and interesting ways. This time it’s gender segregation in classrooms.

As a proud graduate of a women’s college, I understand both the merits and drawbacks of gender based segregation in a classroom setting. However, there are clear differences between gender segregation at the college level and the same practice at the elementary and middle school level. The students’ age and ability to chose the experience, for one.

A steadily increasing number of elementary and middle schools are embracing the notion that having gender (male and female) segregated classrooms can eliminate the distractions that exist in having mixed classrooms.

According to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE) this is a booming trend. In 2003 there were 50 such classrooms. Today there are over 400. South Carolina has 100 districts offering all-boy and all-girl classes. And 39 other states are also giving this approach a shot.

So there are several interesting points of contention. Opponents of this practice liken it to racial segregation. And supporters say the practice creates a better learning environment and allows the teachers to create lesson plans that are specifically tailored.

Interestingly, “Girls will usually say that they’re able to share their ideas more in an all-girls classroom. Boys will tend to say that they’re not distracted by the girls,” said David Chadwell, South Carolina’s coordinator for single-gender initiatives.

Apparently, this isn’t about making a gendered (read: essentialist) claim that boys and girl learn differently. Instead, it seems that the rationale is nuanced. E. Mark Mahone, Director of Neuropsychology at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute, which specializes in child brain development and disorders, says that natural differences between boys and girls combined with social factors can lead to big differences in how they act in the classroom.

“There are a lot of factors that go into learning that can either enhance it or get in the way,” he told The Washington Times in an interview. “There is a lot of evidence to suggest benefits for having single-sex education. According to NASSPE, schools that have successfully implemented same-sex classes often report more attentive students and fewer disruptions.

So, ok. I’m following the logic. Boys and girls are socialized differently. There might be some “natural” differences in the way they learn (though, I remain unconvinced about what that means, and how it is determined and measured). And so far, participation in these classrooms is optional at the schools that have instituted them. So there can indeed be benefits to this approach. For example, some schools that are using the method are finding that students are thriving – girls are speaking up and choosing to pursue math and science, boys are acting out less (to mention some of the notably “gendered” issues. Now, how about the implications of the idea itself?

It seems there are several possible concerns here. Firstly, there are only two genders represented. In addition to reinforcing the gender binary, we know that even at a young age children are aware of gender identity/expression and can begin resisting the gender identity (and related sexual orientation expectations) given to them at birth.

Secondly, it seems that by cementing the gender binary we’re not challenging the problem of gendered socialization at it’s core. Is it really a solution to just separate the folks who are being socialized differently, even if much of that socialization is happening outside of the classroom? Or might we come up with some big picture, community based solutions that address the kinds of problems that arise, i.e. that little girls are told to be beautiful and boys are encouraged to be brilliant?

I haven’t any answers, but even though I went to a women’s college (where we wrestled with issues like trans-inclusion, among others), I am reluctant to move immediately to reinforce the very binary that is at the root of the problem. I’m curious of your thoughts Feminste-as. Please share them in the comments.

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95 Responses

  1. annajcook
    annajcook September 8, 2011 at 10:15 am |

    I just finished reading a forthcoming book about this phenomenon and the fact that it’s a trend scares the shit out of me. Like you, I’ve had some good experiences with “women only” spaces, but I have deep ethical reservations about what it means to police spatial boundaries using binary gender categories. And more importantly, about what messages that sends to very young children about gender when they’re being segregated in that way. The research shows that children learn about the importance of gender as a sorting mechanism from adults, rather than doing it themselves — that is, in spaces where they aren’t “primed” for gender-based activities or sorting, they’re more likely to play with children across gender lines. Single-sex primary education is like priming eight hours a day, encouraging children to think about their identity in terms of gender. That, in turn, evokes the gender stereotypes we have about what girls and boys are good and not good at. Unless someone works hard to combat those stereotypes in a conscious and constant way, children are going to conform to what they think adults and peers expect of them (outwardly at least) in terms of behavior.

    Sigh. This stuff makes me so irritable.

  2. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl September 8, 2011 at 10:22 am |

    So there are several interesting points of contention. Opponents of this practice liken it to racial segregation.

    Of course they do — the major proponents of separate classrooms are African-American educators who are trying to mitigate the social and political structures that damage the educational experiences of black male children and black male youth. This is a very complex and nuanced issue and I’m not sure it can be discussed from a solely gendered lens. Race issues are equally at stake here.

  3. Shannon Drury
    Shannon Drury September 8, 2011 at 10:27 am |

    I am totally opposed to ANY restrictions on the learning environment of very small children, including single gender classrooms, racially and economically segregated schools, you name it! Kindergarteners aren’t learning calculus, nuclear physics, or Hamlet–they are learning how to get along with people who are from different backgrounds, including different genders.

  4. Lasciel
    Lasciel September 8, 2011 at 10:36 am |

    Is it really a solution to just separate the folks who are being socialized differently, even if much of that socialization is happening outside of the classroom?

    For me, at least, it wasn’t. Elementary school was where I first realized boys would receive different treatment than girls, and that I would be put in the girl category and treated in such a way regardless of my identity and personality.

    All normal education did was enforce to me the notion that to be female was to be considered part of the inferior half of the world.

    If anything, I think they’re right that sex-segregated classrooms would allow children develop away from the bigotries in society. So long as both sexes are together in the classroom, they will be treated differently and it will impact their development.

    Boys don’t “act out more than girls” when around girls because girls somehow distract them; they act out more around girls because when girls are around the teachers see it as contrast; boys’ rowdiness is tolerated because if they weren’t being rowdy, they’d be being quiet and well-behaved like the girls, and that couldn’t be good, would it? “Nobody wants their son to act like a girl” “Boys will be boys” etc :/ whereas in a male-only environment rule-breaking will be revealed as that; rule-breaking behavior, not something that is simply sex-appropriate and manly and that should be encouraged.

    Normal education does an extremely good job of enforcing the binary. Why not go ahead and sex-separate, and call it like we see it, when there could be some benefit to separate teaching? Short of subjecting kids to 8-hours of traditional gender role enforcing videos, how much worse can any alternative to the current system be? The binary will be enforced in normal classroom perfectly, with no benefit to the students whatsoever in the mixing.

  5. Verity Khat
    Verity Khat September 8, 2011 at 10:37 am |

    I hate this idea. I always have. Why? Sure, it gives girls who have been socialized to be quiet around boys to speak up and shine. (And vice versa for…boys showing off around girls?) BUT THAT DOESN’T ADDRESS THE PROBLEM! The socialization remains, and while some of those girls will get the proper esteem-boost and will assert themselves later in life, for others the inability to talk around boys will be reinforced because they NEVER LEARNED HOW. IMO it’s easier to assert yourself (display knowledge, question logic, call out bullshit) in front of anyone and everyone when you’re 16 if you’ve been doing it since you were 6.

    I’m not sure what the solution is for socialization hiccups in joint primary education, but I know it ain’t segregation. The poor kiddos will be spending the rest of their lives trying to get out of that mental box.

  6. Ruchama
    Ruchama September 8, 2011 at 10:40 am |

    I know of at least one private school that’s co-ed, but separates boys and girls for seventh grade math. No other grade, no other subject, just seventh grade math.

    The different learning styles thing always bugs me, because, in any one of those descriptions, the “boy” way of learning almost perfectly describes me as a child. I was extremely competitive, detested group work with a passion unless I was allowed to choose my own group, loved lessons where we got to build things and hated lessons where we had to talk about our feelings. Also, put me in an environment where I had to sit still, and I would not learn a thing.

  7. Lasciel
    Lasciel September 8, 2011 at 11:03 am |

    Verity Khat:
    I hate this idea. I always have. Why? Sure, it gives girls who have been socialized to be quiet around boys to speak up and shine. (And vice versa for…boys showing off around girls?) BUT THAT DOESN’T ADDRESS THE PROBLEM! The socialization remains, and while some of those girls will get the proper esteem-boost and will assert themselves later in life, for others the inability to talk around boys will be reinforced because they NEVER LEARNED HOW.IMO it’s easier to assert yourself (display knowledge, question logic, call out bullshit) in front of anyone and everyone when you’re 16 if you’ve been doing it since you were 6.

    I’m not sure what the solution is for socialization hiccups in joint primary education, but I know it ain’t segregation. The poor kiddos will be spending the rest of their lives trying to get out of that mental box.

    Homeschoolers get this constantly. I guess their kids are all destined to be social-phobic shut-ins who never met other children ever? And going to public school means you’ll become a social butterfly with everyone.

    And now you’re saying the same about genders. Using your logic few people would ever be able to talk to me, because few people are non-binary, so how can any kids learn how to talk in front of us when they’ve encountered so few of us? They’ll be unable to talk and have to spend the whole time “trying to get out of that mental box” I guess.

    If your kids are ONLY ever meeting other people at school, for 12 years of their life, well, *that* seems a little troublesome to me. Like, really? They’re never going to see a cartboy at Walmart or a male doctor or kids in the waiting room or anything?

  8. Aisling
    Aisling September 8, 2011 at 11:12 am |

    Hm. Afaik, there are studies that say girls learn better in all-girls schools, and boys better in mixed?
    In ROI, the standard is: 8 years probably mixed primary, 5-6 years probably single-sex secondary, and apart from seminaries 3rd-level is all mixed. This is mainly because our system’s all tied up with the Catholic church, and as such mixing sexes’d definitely fall under “occasion to sin”. It’s usually the state-established community schools that’re mixed.
    This, however, doesn’t seem to lead to much social sex-segregation. If girls want to socialise with lads, a petty obstacle like school won’t stop them. (I’m assuming this applies both ways.) The fact that I haven’t (better things to do, like), though, probably skews my views about blokes horribly. I honestly don’t know any other than teachers.
    There’s the issue, though, of subjects- as my school’s a girls’ school, we don’t have metalwork, woodwork or agri science as options. Boys’ schools, afaik, don’t tend to have home ec. classes. I wonder, how the hell are all these lads going to cope with cooking their own food later in life? (Although it used to be far worse; in the 70s at my father’s school, boys weren’t allowed to do languages. They did woodwork instead. For srs.)

    Not even getting into the gender-binary issue. I could rant FOREVER about how that’s enforced. :/

  9. K
    K September 8, 2011 at 11:13 am |

    Q Grrl: I’d love more information about how this movement is coming from African American educators.

    One piece of context that’s missing is in places that are offering sex-segregated kindy classrooms, is this part of a myriad of educational choices or is it: co-ed kindy or sex-segregated kindy? I agree with Verity that it doesn’t deal with the root of the problem, but as a parent, I am raising kids in a patriarchal society, and I want to minimize the harm as much as I can while we work to undo sexism. If I thought messed up gender socialization negatively and strongly negatively impacted one of my kid’s education and that a classroom exclusively for the gender my kid identifies as would help, I’d like to be able to make that choice, but in the context of a lot of other public school choices with a variety of different focuses in terms of pedagogy, identity, etc… I think it sends a very different message if there’s a kindy class for kinesthetic learners, and an all girls one, and a Montessori-inspired one, and a gifted one than if you are just choosing between sex segregated and not.

  10. igglanova
    igglanova September 8, 2011 at 11:30 am |

    No comment on the boys being ‘distracted’ by having girls in the classroom yet? WTF do kindergarten girls do that is so distracting for their male peers, act in ways that are un-male and therefore baffling?

    This whole gender segregation trend seems to be picking up a lot of steam because it’s a way of (potentially, mind you) improving outcomes without expending any actual effort on trying to address those problems’ origins. In other words, the problem is sexism, not co-ed classrooms; single-sex classrooms may promote short-term gain at the expense of long-term progress in the fight against sexism.

    Another idea – are there any countries which show less dramatic differences in the way male and female students express themselves in class? If so, have they already implemented a successful strategy that we can just copy instead of reinventing the wheel?

  11. Rachel
    Rachel September 8, 2011 at 11:31 am |

    I have to admit, I’m not crazy about the idea of gender segregated classrooms. What I would prefer are learning-style segregated classrooms at all levels of secondary education. I can appreciate that boys and girls learn differently but learning is not a binary. Not all girls learn the same way and not all boys learn the same way.

    Maybe the thing to do would be to keep everyone together for kindergarten and then seperate based on observation of learning styles.

  12. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable September 8, 2011 at 11:44 am |

    I actually like the idea of gender segregated classrooms for some of the reasons discussed above – specifically, the idea that little girls are “allowed” to be smart. That said, the only reason it would never fly for me in practice is because I have a hard time believing that there isn’t one trans kid in those 400 schools that’s erased by the system. Are there ways that we can mimic the social dynamics you get in segregated classrooms in one integrated classroom?

    @Q Grrl – I think that’s a really interesting line of thought and would love to hear you expand on it if you have the time.

  13. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. September 8, 2011 at 11:47 am |

    @K,

    I can’t link on my phone but if you google gender segregation Lancaster, Pa you should get some info on a program there which illustrates what I think *some* people are trying to acheive with these programs.

  14. Azalea
    Azalea September 8, 2011 at 11:51 am |

    Well I am going to be the oen everyone hates on this post because you know what, where this has been implemented for young black males they fucking THRIVE. Young men who were failing and told they’d never go to college graduated all black male high school classrooms with full scholarships. Until we find out WHY I am against ANYONE trying to take away that academic oasis from them.

    I have yet to hear how these young men and in the case cited above the young women who are going against the grain and showing more interest in math and science and thriving are somehow hurting other students. When schools were racially integrated, white students didn’t do worse and a huge part of the separate but equal was that the quality of the education was NEVER equal down to the textbooks used.

    I am onboard with the issues associated with pushing gender binaries but taking away what is essentially the light at the end of the tunnel for some students is not the answer.

  15. Yonah
    Yonah September 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm |

    Love this:

    I have deep ethical reservations about what it means to police spatial boundaries using binary gender categories. And more importantly, about what messages that sends to very young children about gender when they’re being segregated in that way. The research shows that children learn about the importance of gender as a sorting mechanism from adults

    The rationale mentioned in the article doesn’t impress me. Why stop at kindergarten? It’s possible to argue that the same would apply in adult spaces, too – in fact, I hear it argued all the time in my part of the world. Gender segregation is presented as simply practical, and always, always is described as being great for the girls, no matter how restrictive it gets. The “distracting the men” thing has no age expiry date, either.

    As well, it’s amazing to hear people say that the solution to supposed problems of kids interacting with other genders is separation. If there are problems (and how could there not be in our intensely patriarchal world), then the kids need to learn to get along and be able to function well with each other.

  16. Kyra
    Kyra September 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm |

    I think they could get the same sort of goals done a lot better by switching up how they teach some instead.

    Put in more movement-time, when they’re not required to sit still and listen. Teach kids the importance of letting everybody have a voice, and encourage the quieter ones to speak up more. Have small groups of various sorts, different groupings so it isn’t the same kids interacting with each other all the time. Give teachers the basics of a Recognizing Gender Bias In Treatment Of Children course. Try out, openly, a whole lot of learning styles on all the children, and then ask each kid how zie likes to learn and thinks zie learns best. Then start grouping them by learning style sometimes. And be very proactive in communicating that bullying is not tolerated in the classroom.

    Teach the kids to be strong individuals and compassionate classmates, and to find their own strengths and work with them, and the arbitrary rules of classification and gendered behavior will have much less of an effect on them.

  17. Gabrielle
    Gabrielle September 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm |

    One thing that does need to be remembered is trans* children. Those who are not male or female do not fit in this system. In our existing schools it is hard enough to come out as a trans boy or a trans girl, parents and local leaders often throw up a fuss, and that’s with co-ed schooling. What will happen when a child wants to move to the girls class or the boys class, and the school doesn’t want to let them?

  18. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil September 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm |

    And now you’re saying the same about genders. Using your logic few people would ever be able to talk to me, because few people are non-binary, so how can any kids learn how to talk in front of us when they’ve encountered so few of us? They’ll be unable to talk and have to spend the whole time “trying to get out of that mental box” I guess.

    I think the issue is more reinforcing the idea that boys and girls are different and therefore should be separate. I think we do ourselves a serious disservice by focusing on difference, rather than similarity.

    Also, apparently the idea that there are different learning styles (auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) is well-supported by research.

  19. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl September 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm |

    K & PA: Most of what I’ve been exposed to is what my professors are sharing with us (I’m in the Sch. of Ed at an HBCU). Personally, I like the works of Jawanza Kunjufu, who is a lot more structured in his thoughts. My profs throw the idea out there as part of exploring new methodologies, but I think that even they too are torn by the double-nature of the concept. No one wants to hurt children because of gender, but there is research that highly suggests that black boys do better in separate classrooms. Considering that 4th grade is the typical year that public education starts to “lose” black boys, it does not surprise me that separate classrooms are being suggested as young as Kindergarten.

    I’m torn and fascinated by the concept at the same time. Folks are arguing that separate classrooms will entrench gendered differences, but we seem to be doing a damn fine job in “co-ed” (hate that term) classes doing the same thing. Certainly the gendered roles that I see young children emulating are much more entrenched than they were in, say, the 70’s. I’m up for giving it a try — with strict ethical guidelines to ensure gendered expectations don’t become part of the curriculum.

  20. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin September 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm |

    I’m of the opinion that gender segregation causes problems, not solves them. If there hadn’t the moderating presence of women in the public school I attended for K-12, bullying would have been twice as bad. I really do feel like all-male schools end up with some, if not many of the same problems as Lord of the Flies.

    Female friends I’ve had who have gone to all-girl schools talk about vicious gossip and exclusionary behavior, which may be the way that hostility manifests itself.

  21. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl September 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |

    Also, “yes” to everything Gabrielle said above. I guess I come down on all sides of this issue.

  22. La Lubu
    La Lubu September 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    In my city, the two public schools that have single-sex classes base their methodology on the work of Leonard Sax, which is very essentialist (boys are more physically active and need more hands-on, kinetic learning while girls are more sedentary and need more sit-down learning; boys are naturally aggressive and need more individualistic and overtly competitive activities while girls are naturally cooperative and need group learning plans and classroom instruction that includes processing of feelings and sharing of emotion).

    That’s as good an explanation as any to why I would not consider single-sex education for my daughter; not just because the framework would be her idea of the last circle of hell, but because it reinforces the already pre-existing sexism in our city (jobs and advancement opportunities are more gender-segregated here; women and girls are recognized as being better at “book learning” while men are recognized as being *actually* more intelligent, etc. The city council recently voted to repeal the leases of clubs on city property—translation: the lakefront—if said clubs discriminate on the basis of race, sex or religion. It was highly controversial, because so many of the (white) people were in favor of the private clubs (whose lake and lakefront property is owned and maintained by the taxpayers) retaining the ability to discriminate.

    Which brings me to Azalea’s comment. I fully believe that the motivations of black parents and educators to support this option is *entirely* different from the motivations of white parents and educators. I think it’s worth mentioning just how intrinsic gender-segregation and gender-oppression is to the maintenance and expansion of white supremacy. (Damn, where is bfp? She is very eloquent on the interplay between women’s oppression reinforcing white supremacy and the different impact women’s oppression has on white women and WOC)

  23. La Lubu
    La Lubu September 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm |

    Still gathering my thoughts here…..but need to say this: the reason children of color are getting a shitty education in the US is not due to “coeducation”, but racism and classism. Meanwhile, because gender essentialism works hand in glove with white supremacy, it’s fairly easy to get majority white school boards and majority white administrations and majority white elected officials to come up with funding for the type of resources that improve learning in *single-sex* schools that they traditionally won’t for mixed-sex schools.

  24. Essi
    Essi September 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm |

    I think one of the dangers of segregation is the possibility that gradually the schools would get different financing and education plans. In the same way that, for example, high school boys’ football team has a bigger budget than the girls’ volleyball team. The boys will be the future leaders, so they should have business administration classes, while the girls should be glad with just home economics.

  25. Anastasia
    Anastasia September 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm |

    My daughter’s been in kindergarten for two days now, so I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience. But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing and discussing it with my sister in law, a teacher (she specializes in teaching reading to kids in the inner city of New Haven).

    The problem is that we equate learning styles with gender, and we only recognize two of each. That’s so …. stupid.

    Instead, what we should do is have three or even four classes (and all the money in the world to fund them, while I’m dreaming) based on different learning styles.

    Sure, because we socialize kids in such a gendered way, some may trend towards mostly female, and some may trend towards mostly male, and some will be mixed. But instead of deciding the child’s learning style based on their genital arrangement, could we, you know, pay attention to KID and sort based on the fact that this kid learns best kinesthetically and this one learns best visually and this one learns best in an aural way? And, wonder of wonders, we could get teachers who have spent time learning how to TEACH that particular style, instead of cramming a one-size-fits all style down the kids’ throats.

    It’s not that hard to figure out who learns in what way and many schools (including my daughter’s) have four classrooms per year anyway.

  26. Noemi
    Noemi September 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm |

    My best friend through elementary school was a sweet, shy, and slightly effeminate boy who liked reading and doing theatre more than anything in the world. The boys treated him mercilessly. Everyday at lunch he sat with me and other girls we were friends with, just so he’d have someone to talk to. I don’t like to think about what would happen to people like him in environments that presume that all male children fit right into all-male environments. Or for that matter, that all female children fit right into all-female environments.

  27. sc
    sc September 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm |

    q grrl:

    i’ve read pretty decent portions of most of jawanza kunjufu’s books (i work in the warehouse they’re distributed from) and i have serious mixed feelings about his “black boys must be taught by good christian-and-saved black men”.

  28. sb
    sb September 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm |

    My thoughts on this are a big mess — I spent 9 years in an all-girls elementary/middle/high school (private, secular), and I can’t answer this from any sort of objective viewpoint.

    We had a lot of opportunities that cultural narratives make difficult in mixed schools. Leadership roles, being encouraged in math and science, girl’s teams being the sports superstars, all the starring roles in plays, etc. And we could discuss things that would often not be considered up for classroom discussion — feminist theory and sexism in literature, sexual imagery in classical poetry, etc. Things that teenage boys have been socialized to treat with mockery and dismissal (note: I don’t think that’s inherent in the boys or lacking in the girls at all. totally a socialization thing, but we play the hand we’re dealt).

    But I also learn like a stereotypical boy, and it hurt like hell to be told I didn’t exist. I’m comfortable in my assigned-at-birth gender, but I was an obnoxious little twit who blurted out answers at age 10, and my ADD went entirely unnoticed by the school. Instead, I was marked off the honor roll for failure to be a “good citizen” and sat through lots of lectures on “how girls learn and how [school] was helping that” going “but…but…but”.

    Looking back at it — the number of schools I could have attended was not infinite, and the one I went to was probably the best overall experience. Which I also felt at the time. But the single-sex aspect of it was, for me, only rarely a perk.

    Out of curiosity: my school was one of the ones Carol Gilligan used for her studies. Would I want to throw her books out the window if I read them due to my experience, or is her work more nuanced than the way it was presented via school administration to my younger self?

  29. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm |

    I have to agree with Azalea–it seems like folks are suggesting that we get rid of something that genuinely, truly works for some kids on the basis of what could/should be regarding gender, not what actually is. I don’t think it’s fair to sacrifice a kid’s shot at an education that will be better for them for hypotheticals or what would be nice in theory.

    Honestly, the gender binary/gendered socialization is something kids pick up way, way before school age. Haven’t you ever noticed how people interact with babies? (Isn’t that the first question anyone asks about a baby–“boy or girl”?) Aren’t there studies out there showing that people treat babies differently depending on what gender they think the infant is? Most toddlers seem to have already absorbed the “boy and girls are different” lesson.

    I’m also have to laugh about the pearl-clutching over how kids in gender-segregated schools will learn how to interact with the opposite gender. Since when do kids live in a bubble where school is the only time they leave the house? Aren’t there other kids in the neighborhood, on the playgrounds? Don’t a lot of kids do activities outside of school? I mean, I went to a gender-segregated school, and the boys in my grade were always in a classroom that was literally right across the hall. They weren’t in the same class, but we still interacted in the cafeteria, during recess, and during all-school events. (My best friend growing up was a boy I met at church–plenty of kids make friends and interact with the other kids at whatever religious institution their families attend.) And speaking of families–kids can have male relatives, and with cousins, it’s possible to have some that are about the same age you are.

    Honestly, until we live in a perfect world, gender-segregated classrooms are a great way to fight the idea that certain things are for girls and certain things are for boys. When my class was all-girls, it didn’t matter that math or science were supposed to be “boys” things. You weren’t defined (and limited) by being a girl because everyone else was a girl, too. I think that idea was one of the most powerful ones I ever absorbed as a child, and the fact that it was something I readily accepted as an 8-year-old? That amazes me, looking back now.

    Coed schools don’t seem to help anyone, and my time in coed schools (up until kindergarten–I got transferred because my mom was appalled that neither the teacher nor the principal saw anything wrong with the fact that nearly every girl in my class thought she wasn’t supposed to play with blocks–and then for middle school and high school) convinced me that coed schools do even more to reinforce the idea that girls should do one kind of thing, boys another. Separate classes may not be a perfect alternative, but I think until we figure out what that perfect alternative is, they’re an excellent option to have.

  30. Opheliac
    Opheliac September 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm |

    Shannon Drury:
    I am totally opposed to ANY restrictions on the learning environment of very small children, including single gender classrooms, racially and economically segregated schools, you name it!Kindergarteners aren’t learning calculus, nuclear physics, or Hamlet–they are learning how to get along with people who are from different backgrounds, including different genders.

    Any restrictions? Really? I’m sorry, but I disagree. See, I’m an autistic girl, I’m still in secondary school, and my school happens to be one for autistic students. I went to a public kindergarten and primary school, and it was hell. Seriously, the other students hated me, I was harassed, and my little Aspie mind had no idea how to connect with them. Special schools aren’t always terrible. I agree, gender- and racially separated schools are very bad, but not all special schools are.

  31. Opheliac
    Opheliac September 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm |

    @ Shannon Drury
    Any restrictions? Really? I’m sorry, but I disagree. See, I’m an autistic girl, I’m still in secondary school, and my school happens to be one for autistic students. I went to a public kindergarten and primary school, and it was hell. Seriously, the other students hated me, I was harassed, and my little Aspie mind had no idea how to connect with them. Special schools aren’t always terrible. I agree, gender- and racially separated schools are very bad, but not all special schools are.

  32. Sanoe
    Sanoe September 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm |

    Possibly interesting links?

    Gender-Neutral Preschool in Sweden.

    Gender Segregation: Separate but effective?
    This articles covers some of the gender essentialism that’s part of the SSPE. It’s more than just separating, but calls for different teaching methods and content.

    McCaskey Tries New Mentoring Program
    Here’s some information about a school that has seen positive results for black children due to separation policies. Note that they’re segregated not only by gender, but race, and are given adult mentors.

  33. Marlene
    Marlene September 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm |

    If single sex classrooms are optional, we are also allowing defacto segregation of children whose parents like this sort of thing from children whose parents don’t like this sort of thing. I think that social phenomenon is something we see entirely too much of in our culture at the moment.

  34. Stephanie
    Stephanie September 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    Noemi:
    My best friend through elementary school was a sweet, shy, and slightly effeminate boy who liked reading and doing theatre more than anything in the world. The boys treated him mercilessly. Everyday at lunch he sat with me and other girls we were friends with, just so he’d have someone to talk to. I don’t like to think about what would happen to people like him in environments that presume that all male children fit right into all-male environments. Or for that matter, that all female children fit right into all-female environments.

    This would be my concern for my son. He’s a quiet, shy, gentle, skinny 6 year old, and very sensitive. I can’t imagine him thriving in an all-boy school. He plays most with the other boys in school, but only a few and takes comments very personally. Put him in a school with only other boys, and I suspect he’d be miserable as he got older and other boys act the way so many boys do.

  35. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig September 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm |

    I went to a co-ed school myself, but I never really fit in with any girls my age. Actually, at my school, the gender ratio was so skewed that there was only one other girl in my class. (Special private school for ADD/ADHD/ LD kids, so no wonder it was pretty heavily male, at least in primary school.) I only had one bad class: a disruptive spoiled brat of a boy completely ruined our English class’s Shakespeare unit, and in kindergarten through first grade I got teased by boys and girls. The girls were much more vicious.
    I have to admit, up until college, I didn’t like most girls that I knew. I didn’t act like them, and didn’t share any of their interests. If I’d been in an all-girls school, I probably would have totally self-destructed. Or taken the school down with me.
    I did go to a woman’s college, and attended some classes at our brother school. The difference was pretty remarkable. Women at the ‘brother school’ (men’s college, went co-ed in the 60s) were much less approachable and friendly, paid more attention to their appearances, and were very competitive in their approach to classwork. Women at the women’s college were very friendly, pretty relaxed, and leapt at the chance to help people.
    But personally, I think the exploration of different learning styles is much more helpful. I didn’t realize till college that I was a very visual/auditory person. I also need to write things down- having a physical notebook to scribble in was a big help.

  36. Miss S
    Miss S September 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm |

    I am onboard with the issues associated with pushing gender binaries but taking away what is essentially the light at the end of the tunnel for some students is not the answer

    QFT. I can see how girls would benefit from gender segregated learning. If it works, and it benefits girls, I say go for it.

    We have seperate learning spaces now, anyway. Like someone pointed out above, we have seperate spaces for people who process differently, like Autistic people. We have spaces for children whose first language isn’t English. We have spaces for children who communicate using sign language, and read using Braille. This isn’t really a new concept.

  37. bhuesca
    bhuesca September 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm |

    In Madison, WI, a charter school headed by a Black man is going further than a simple boy/girl segregation. The middle school he’s created will be for MINORITY MALES ONLY (well, Black and Hispanic, as Asian and Asian-American students seem to be erased here), located on the south side as kind of a neighborhood school/charter school hybrid. There has been a TON of excitement about this, especially since the graduation rates for female minority students in this area are right up with the White male and female rates.

    However, the Madison Area School Board was unimpressed. So the new plan is to have a split academy, with 60 minority 6th grade girls having their own charter ‘school within a school’ and 60 minority 6th grade boys having their own school within the same school….like….separate but equal. Nevertheless, the major newspapers, the independent papers, as well as the minority-focused Madison TImes are jumping out of their shoes with glee.

  38. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm |

    Waitaminute, we don’t want separate classrooms because of gender essentialism, but if we have an all-male classroom, that’s probably bad because, what, boys will be boys? HUH? Putting a group of boys together doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to be worse than ones in coed schools. I suppose we should be worried about all-girls classrooms because they’ll be mean catty gossips and it will be awful for the tomboyish ones? Is that the logic we’re using here? REALLY?

    (I was a pretty tomboyish girl growing up. I didn’t even realize it until I was in a coed school, where apparently my appearance and enjoyment of watching sports and reading comic books meant I was probably a lesbian.)

    Honestly, I think the solution to how much not-gender-normative kids are going to fit in/be happy is far beyond the gender balance (or lack thereof) in classrooms. That’s going to come from what we succeed in teaching our kids about treating others, and how individual schools decide to handle bullying. Plus what wider cultural/societal messages there are out there about gender performance for kids to pick up on. (Also, I think this is be one are where uniforms might genuinely help.)

  39. La Lubu
    La Lubu September 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm |

    From the “Gender Segregation: Separate But Effective” link that Sanoe provided above:

    “Hankins teachers were directed to create “competitive, high-energy” classrooms for boys and “cooperative, quiet” classrooms for girls. Boys were to be taught “heroic behavior.” Girls were to learn “good character.” Sixth-grade language arts exercises called for boys to brainstorm action words used in sports. Girls were instructed to describe their dream wedding cake. Electives were gender-specific. Boys took computer applications. Girls took drama. No exceptions.”

    Granted, the Haskins program is no longer operative (primarily because this program was more strictly gender essentialist than other single-gender programs in the same district, enough that the ACLU was willing to challenge it)….but still. This is exactly the problem I have with the single-gender education movement as it is being pushed in the US public schools. It isn’t just separate classrooms (which I think is enough of a problem); it’s separate lessons and teaching methods as well.

    Combine that with the media blitz about how women’s educational and workforce achievements have been made at the expense of (white) men; how women need to be reined in so more men have room at the table….

  40. Elizabeth Hill
    Elizabeth Hill September 8, 2011 at 5:43 pm |

    Sometimes having specialized schools with alternative teaching methods can be cool, but I could really only support it if it was a choice to go to a school using a particular approach, not something dictated by gender.

    I also think once we start formally approving of discrimination in classroom assignments we could easily get to the point of people arguing that English speaking kindergardners and non English speaking kindergardners should be segregated.

  41. karak
    karak September 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm |

    This idea bothers me because boys and girls HAVE to learn to deal with each other, get along with each other, and view each other and peers and equals. Separation can be a problem.

    On the other hand, I distinctly remember as a small girl fucking hating the boys in my class for being loud, noisy, attention-sucking pits that seemed to plague me. I’d’ve been much happier as a little girl to be with only other little girls.

  42. JB
    JB September 8, 2011 at 8:14 pm |

    In reading this, I am reminded of the promotional material on the website of an all-girls school in my city.
    Part of the rationale for segregation is that it empowers girls because “all the leadership roles in the school are filled by girls”, so every day they get to see women in leadership positions.
    But I do wonder how effective such modeling can be when the girls’ “success” is (in part) a direct result of simply removing all boys from the environment?

  43. emjaybee
    emjaybee September 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm |

    I hate everything about this. I did not thrive in girls-only spaces, as a girl; most of my friends were (and are) boys. I have a son, and aside from me, the only girls he sees on a regular basis are the ones at school. It’s very very important to me that he have a chance to make friends with and learn about girls as people.

    Once you segregate, then you start to discriminate. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid that, and frankly, I think we’ve already been down that road with race and seen where it goes. I don’t want girls being discouraged from “manly” subjects or vice versa, and I certainly don’t want to make life harder for kids who don’t fit into rigid gender roles easily.

  44. Tamara
    Tamara September 8, 2011 at 8:55 pm |

    I went to an all-girls high school and I do think they are a mixed blessing. For me one downside was that I did suffer from the lack of socialisation with boys. Even though I was around boys in other aspects of my life the sheer amount of time I spent around girls only at school meant that I never got the hang of making friends with them. I’m pretty sure that the segregated school experience was a major cause of this. On the up side, there were a lot of excellent opportunities for those interested in taking them.

    In addition, the boys school serving the same area was and still has a reputation for macho elitism.

    Interestingly, my four year old girl who is at preschool the other day asked me if she could go to a girls only school when it’s time. Apparently the way boys behave at her kindergarten is irritating her. And this is a good, inclusive place. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. What seems to be happening is that the little boys tend to wind eachother up and get rowdy. The same boys that she likes to play with just fine one on one. I really don’t know what to make of this.

  45. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers September 8, 2011 at 9:00 pm |

    Well I am going to be the oen everyone hates on this post because you know what, where this has been implemented for young black males they fucking THRIVE. Young men who were failing and told they’d never go to college graduated all black male high school classrooms with full scholarships. Until we find out WHY I am against ANYONE trying to take away that academic oasis from them.

    Were they coming from mixed-race and mixed-gender environments, or just mixed-gender environments? Could the effect be due to being in a school for black people where they were being told “This school is for black people who want to be high achievers in life”, and less to do with being removed from girls?

    Black men and women have traditionally done better at all-black colleges than at mixed-race colleges, but worse at K-12 schools (where the racial segregation was typically de facto or caused by the racist desire of whites to keep blacks segregated rather than “We are proudly choosing to educate black people”). Could these kids be getting this effect because they’re going to schools that choose proudly to be for black people, rather than schools which end up being for black people because all the white people ran away?

    In most studies, boys don’t do as well in single-sex environments as they do in coed environments, so I am skeptical of the value of the single-sex aspect of this situation as opposed to the racial aspect. But without more details, it’s impossible to know.

  46. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable September 8, 2011 at 10:05 pm |

    @Q Grrl – thanks! I’ll definitely check his stuff out.

  47. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig September 8, 2011 at 10:42 pm |

    Tamara: I’ve always taken it as a given that guys of any age in groups are just bad news. At best, they’re rowdy and disruptive. At worst they engage in dangerous and downright criminal behavior.
    As a grown woman, any time I see a critical mass of men and very few women about, I know it’s time to make tracks.
    Women in groups drive me batty too, especially if all they can talk about is the males in their lives. So far I’ve been blessed not to run into a bachelorette party- I’m sure it’d end badly.

  48. Matt
    Matt September 8, 2011 at 10:42 pm |

    There is a lot of info out there on why gender separation has positive effects. One theory I like a little says that when you segregate along any sort of binary line, each group spreads out to fill the totality of human expression. So behaviors and interests can’t be easily separated into boys and girls and this allows each gender to take over roles normally reserved for the other.
    I went to a school that was about 90% black. There are many stereotypical roles that are considered more white, or in some cases seem that way because tv schools are always filled with mostly white kids. So all of the white kids crossed many group lines. There was a lot more crossover in sports/academics, most white kids did both. Most of them also listened to the “popular” music, which was mainly rap. And of course people who didn’t normally like rap listened to some because of school spirit. Nelly went to school here and some other rappers and they filmed some of their videos around where all of us lived. There were so few white kids that we all sort of glommed together and we were mostly all friends with one or two exceptions. We didn’t have the population to support separate skater and emo and nerd and general rejects and jock groups. But, the black population did. We had a large all black group that identified as skaters, where none of the white kids had such a prominent identity. There was also a large group of black kids who took japanese together and obsessed over manga. And so forth.
    This was in direct observed contrast to Webster and Kirkwood nearby. Their status was mainly reversed. My cousin in Kirkwood for instance, was a basketball girl, and my other cousin was like an emo/rock type kid with dyed hair and some tats and earrings.
    In fact the only really outstanding white identity is what some people call wigger, but was mostly referred to as fresh or ghetto by its members. Oh and we had 1 stoner sort of kid. It was kind of weird watching TV and seeing all these white kids with such a divergent experience from our own. The wild parties and hooking up and people with relationships, and like clique fights. We did not have cliques. This did change sort of. The kids who were freshman when we were seniors, for whatever reason, had like twice as many white kids, and they did clique up a little bit.

  49. Matt
    Matt September 8, 2011 at 10:50 pm |

    Oh heh, I got off track from what I was intending to write. Basically humans as social animals exist by exclusion and division. If you take away the constraints, in the case of gender separated schooling obviously the gender binary, a new paradigm is created and people find new niches and splits to create their sense of identity. Its also part of necessity. World War II is an often cited example, possibly because its so demonstrative. For a short period of time certain gender distinctions had to be set aside in order to succeed and survive. Of course some social lines are worse than others. When you take a way race and class and gender lines in identity, even though you still end up with divisions, they are much more malleable and less harmful kinds of divisions.

  50. GinnyC
    GinnyC September 8, 2011 at 11:31 pm |

    I’m left wondering who the teachers are? I think that if you get more minority male teachers that could be very benefical to Black and Latino boys. At the same time, I would have hated an all girls environment as a kindergardener. Of my four close friends two were boys.

  51. may
    may September 9, 2011 at 7:04 am |

    I understands the concerns about segregating students by gender. But I went to an all girls school from 5th to 12th grade, and I would not have wanted to do anything else. All my other educational experiences both before and after were dominated by the boys and then men in the room. That time and space was very important in allowing to become who I am.

  52. Mztress
    Mztress September 9, 2011 at 8:33 am |

    During the mid-1990s I was a fourth grader in the Chicago Public school system, at a school that was at least 99.7% black. My classroom was (I think) arbitrarily chosen to be gender-segregated. I don’t remember anyone asking us how we felt about it. It was announced that we would stay with our female teacher, but the boys would be taken away to a different classroom and taught by a male teacher; all of this would be for the entire academic year. The other fourth grade classes kept their normal, co-ed status.

    I remember being very upset. Even though most of the boys were smelly and annoying, quite a few of them were my friends, and I felt that things were boring without their presence. Of course, whenever one of us girls asked why we were split up, we were accused of being “boy-crazy” (at age nine!), and reminded that such a willingness on our part to be distracted by the boys was exactly why we were split up in the first place.

    I bet the parents didn’t even know anything ahead of time. They all seemed surprised, and a few requested that their kids be sent to another class in order to be educated co-ed style. My parents were useless when it came to any debate. My father has always wanted things to be the way they were when he was educated in the Chicago public school system in the 1940s: home-ec instead of math, and a mandatory uniform of dresses for girls. As always, my mother was too passive to argue.

    Worst of all is the fact that I don’t think anyting was improved by such an “experiment.” As far as I could tell, my teacher felt less inhibited about telling us that it was time that we talked to our moms about getting us bras and deodorant, and educating us about our periods. And, for all I know, the male teacher probably found it easier to talk to the boys about nocturnal emissions and jerking off without girls present.

    Mostly, I felt like something unnecessary and pointless was done to me, for reasons I wasn’t told, without my prior permission. And that is the very essence of being a child, and a woman in this society.

  53. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl September 9, 2011 at 9:56 am |

    One thing I like to keep in mind/question is the balance we demand of schools between socialization and education. Lots of folks here who are arguing against separate classrooms are distinctly talking about the social aspects of their classroom/school experience (i.e., friends made, interests, etc.).

  54. Verity Khat
    Verity Khat September 9, 2011 at 10:50 am |

    Lasciel: Homeschoolers get this constantly. I guess their kids are all destined to be social-phobic shut-ins who never met other children ever? And going to public school means you’ll become a social butterfly with everyone.

    That was not what I was saying AT ALL. My point was that physically separating the children for every classtime reinforces the idea in their malleable young brains that boys and girls are inherently different, an idea that they may find harder to shake when they get older. (As emjbee pointed out, segregation breeds discrimination. Much more to the point than my ranting!)

    I was a loud, active, proud know-it-all in elementary school (still am, actually). I loved skirts and pink and Barbies, but the girls in my classes uniformly hated me anyway, so I distinctly remember all my friends being boys until at least the 3rd grade. I would have been miserable in a gender segregated classroom even though I identify as female, so my heart aches at the idea of non-conforming, trans and non-binary kids being forced into .

    Pull-out situations can definitely improve learning if they’re tailored properly. Learning style programs (like Kyra mentioned), gifted, magnet, and needs schools work great for the kids they’re geared towards. And I’ve been watching as my local school systems moves more and more towards inclusion-only programs (no pull-outs) for ALL special needs children; “breathing ‘regular ed’ air” is not helping most of them learn in the slightest, even socially.

    I guess my true objection is adults choosing segregation for children “for their own good.” Parents don’t always know what is truly good for their child, simply because humans aren’t mind readers. Making options available for children is a good thing, as long as the child is happy and thriving. Forcing children into an option that makes them miserable isn’t.

  55. depizan
    depizan September 9, 2011 at 10:53 am |

    I’d really like to know what those in favor of gender segregated education plan to do with genderqueer and trans individuals. Do you sort people based on their bodies or their minds? What if their minds say they are neither boys nor girls? I have reservations about the idea even when dealing with cis students, but the reality is that not all of the students will be cis.

    Hell, as people have pointed out, even people who are off from the gender stereotypes may have more problems in gender segregated schools.

    I really have doubts that this is the solution. (And I’m very curious as to whether there are other factors involved in it’s apparent effectiveness. Are the gender segregated experimental schools getting more money than their counterparts? Do they have smaller class sizes? Etc, etc.)

  56. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable September 9, 2011 at 11:31 am |

    depizan: Hell, as people have pointed out, even people who are off from the gender stereotypes may have more problems in gender segregated schools.

    This is anecdotal, but I have a friend who went to an all-girls Catholic high school. At her school, I believe they had to wear skirts, but they all stopped shaving. I thought that was pretty nifty.

    Obvs this doesn’t address nonbinary gendered folks, but I thought it was neat.

  57. La Lubu
    La Lubu September 9, 2011 at 11:50 am |

    There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that the *academic* environment will improve *for girls* in the absence of boys, and I am totally unconvinced of that. I also can’t help but wonder how many people participating on this thread either have school-age children, or teach school age children….because frankly, as a parent who regularly observes and deals with children, I haven’t noticed any differences in behavior between boys and girls. What I do see are adults that bring sexist, racist baggage with them when observing kids. For example, a prime reason for the “behavior improvement” in black boys in single-sex programs is that normal, boisterous kidlike behavior isn’t automatically *pathologized* in that environment as it is in mixed gender environments. I guaran-goddam-tee you that the number of referrals routinely handed out to black kids has everything to do with racism, and nothing to do with any behavior difference between black and white kids.

    And why the assumption that girls are being outclassed by the boys due to boys being more aggressive and self-confident in the classroom, rather than teachers rewarding the competitive spirit in boys but punishing the same behavior in girls? FFS, do you really buy the “girls are delicate flowers that need a hothouse environment to thrive” schtick that’s being sold by the proponents of single-sex education?

    I live in an area where there are enough people who think women have progressed at the expense of (white) men to do real damage. Where there are enough people who think the unemployment problem could be alleviated by (white) women getting back in the home, under the (Christian) leadership of her husband. This shit is still going on. What good does it do for girls to be leaders in an all-female classroom, when the boys are simultaneously doing the same in *their* classrooms, AND having the full backup of an outside society that confirms/affirms men as *natural* leaders (and women as good at following orders), that men are *naturally* better at math, science, tech, creative thinking, and solving problems (while women are better at performing mundane, routine tasks)?

    What the fuck, Chuck? I’m not as concerned about the socialization aspect as I am about the substandard, watered-down academics *my daughter* would encounter in the Leonard Sax styled classroom she would be in…because that’s what we’re talking about here. I’m already dealing with well-meaning, generally feminist-minded people that think the remaining gender segregation we have (in government, academia, STEM fields, the trades, etc.) Is due entirely to women voluntarily self-segregating, and not to sexism.

  58. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil September 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |

    I think that if you get more minority male teachers that could be very beneficial to Black and Latino boys.

    I volunteered at an elementary school that was (I would guess) at least 95% African American. The majority of the teachers were white women. I really don’t think it was a good thing for the kids.

    I had one student who was sent to me for tutoring in reading. When I did an assessment with him, I found that he had no trouble reading at grade level. He was just your average rambunctious 7 year old but his (white female) teacher had clearly labeled him as a problem child.

    (This was close to 10 years ago–I still think about him sometimes and hope the world was better to him than his second grade teacher was.)

  59. depizan
    depizan September 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |

    Q Grrl:
    One thing I like to keep in mind/question is the balance we demand of schools between socialization and education. Lots of folks here who are arguing against separate classrooms are distinctly talking about the social aspects of their classroom/school experience (i.e., friends made, interests, etc.).

    I’m not sure those are as separable as you think. If a child has no friends, it’s almost certainly going to have an impact on other aspects of their life, including their grades. If a child is routinely picked on and harassed (possibly even by the teachers), it’s going to have an impact on other aspects of their life. If a child is surrounded by people they feel they have nothing in common with, or if they’ve been missorted (i.e. a trans child sorted by their body), it’s going to have an impact… And so on and so forth.

  60. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub September 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |

    What LaLubu said. My niece and nephew exhibited the same behaviors at the same ages, but it was telling how my nephew was “all boy” for climbing on furniture (and people forgot that my niece was quite the furniture mountaineer) or how my niece “loved” quiet time and people reading to her (ignoring the fact that she’d run around and play with stuff while you read, and ignoring the fact that my nephew would come running to me with 3 or 4 books for me to read to him).

    Also, as someone who did deal with sexism in her education, I can guarantee you that I did get slammed, hard, by adults for doing the same damn things that were praised in boys.

  61. Azalea
    Azalea September 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm |

    Miss S:
    I am onboard with the issues associated with pushing gender binaries but taking away what is essentially the light at the end of the tunnel for some students is not the answer

    QFT. I can see how girls would benefit from gender segregated learning. If it works, and it benefits girls, I say go for it.

    We have seperate learning spaces now, anyway. Like someone pointed out above, we have seperate spaces for people who process differently, like Autistic people. We have spaces for children whose first language isn’t English. We have spaces for children who communicate using sign language, and read using Braille. This isn’t really a new concept.

    What is QFT?

  62. Joy
    Joy September 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm |

    I’m a recent college grad, and I just started working at a girl-focused middle school. I definitely had my doubts at first, but the way that girls are empowered to explore different topics and aren’t held back by their gender is what makes it so fantastic. We had 20 students go on a field trip the other day for science to a cow farm, and all 20 of them put on a big rubber glove and stuck their hand up a cow (…did you every do THAT in middle school!!). I can’t help but think if it were a traditional school with 10 boys and 10 girls, that the boys would be ready to try it out, but the girls would think it’s “gross” and wasn’t a “sexy” enough activity to participate in. Also, I think there is a huge difference between some of the traditional “all-girls” schools and our school, which has its foundation in social justice. Ours is a public charter school and “girl-focused”, meaning we could enroll a boy at any time, and we also have multiple students that identify as transgender. The idea of the classroom in this way is to take the focus off of what each student identifies as, and instead focus on their unique skill set and ability to learn and excel. I can see how a traditional girls’ school where the girls are taught according to their gender could be a disaster, but here the girls have engineering and technology classes in addition to art, orchestra, and the occasional cooking class. It’s FANTASTIC!

  63. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos September 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm |

    La Lubu: There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that the *academic* environment will improve *for girls* in the absence of boys, and I am totally unconvinced of that.

    I disagree on this. Feminist educational research in this area strongly supports both the view that even well-intentioned teachers demonstrate unconscious biases in terms of time and attention, and that girls do benefit from single-sex academic classes and extracurricular activities like science clubs.

    Granted, a complicating factor in this is that we’re talking research that’s motivated by improving outcomes for girls in STEM, and I don’t think that motivation would survive mass implementation. But feminist single-sex education isn’t entirely without justification.

  64. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil September 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm |

    QFT=quoted for truth

  65. RR
    RR September 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm |

    So someone will have the job of picking male-only textbooks and female-only textbooks? Can it be me?

  66. Girls to Girls, Boys to Boys « Priyanka Nandy

    […] just come across a link to Feministe‘s post on gender-segregated classrooms. Eesha, the author, has just discovered that the […]

  67. FYouMudFlaps
    FYouMudFlaps September 9, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

    Rachel:
    I have to admit, I’m not crazy about the idea of gender segregated classrooms. What I would prefer are learning-style segregated classrooms at all levels of secondary education.I can appreciate that boys and girls learn differently but learning is not a binary.Not all girls learn the same way and not all boys learn the same way.

    Maybe the thing to do would be to keep everyone together for kindergarten and then seperate based on observation of learning styles.

    Best idea ever

  68. FYouMudFlaps
    FYouMudFlaps September 9, 2011 at 6:32 pm |

    Sheelzebub:
    What LaLubu said.My niece and nephew exhibited the same behaviors at the same ages, but it was telling how my nephew was “all boy” for climbing on furniture (and people forgot that my niece was quite the furniture mountaineer) or how my niece “loved” quiet time and people reading to her (ignoring the fact that she’d run around and play with stuff while you read, and ignoring the fact that my nephew would come running to me with 3 or 4 books for me to read to him).

    Also, as someone who did deal with sexism in her education, I can guarantee you that I did get slammed, hard, by adults for doing the same damn things that were praised in boys.

    Thumbs up for confirmation bias

  69. Kate
    Kate September 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm |

    For what it’s worth, being trans even in a co-ed situation where you have the opportunity to socialize with people of a similar gender identity is still grossly uncomfortable. I don’t think having been sent to an all-boys school or class would have affected the amount of external bullying and internal strife I experienced by a particularly large amount in either direction.

  70. Matt
    Matt September 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm |

    This. It isn’t necessarily that girls act differently in class, but that they are treated differently based on the teachers feelings. This is the same for race and even class, although less so for class.
    I did have a few teachers who actually treated all the kids the same, regardless of race or gender. Several of them were math teachers, although that is probably a coincidence.
    The thing about socialization is that if you miss even a few problems, all the other changes will have limited value.

    CBrachyrhynchos: I disagree on this. Feminist educational research in this area strongly supports both the view that even well-intentioned teachers demonstrate unconscious biases in terms of time and attention, and that girls do benefit from single-sex academic classes and extracurricular activities like science clubs.

    Granted, a complicating factor in this is that we’re talking research that’s motivated by improving outcomes for girls in STEM, and I don’t think that motivation would survive mass implementation. But feminist single-sex education isn’t entirely without justification.

  71. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm |

    Verity Khat: That was not what I was saying AT ALL. My point was that physically separating the children for every classtime reinforces the idea in their malleable young brains that boys and girls are inherently different, an idea that they may find harder to shake when they get older.

    Do you have a source for this? Even anecdotally, this doesn’t seem to match up with how folks I knew who had single-sex education think as adults. (I do have one former classmate who thinks boys and girls are inherently different, but seeing how conservative Catholic she and her family are, I would wager she’d feel the same way regardless of her schooling.) And coed classrooms don’t seem to be doing much to prevent this kind of thinking.

  72. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil September 9, 2011 at 9:43 pm |

    Do you have a source for this?

    Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender does a good job outlining why perceptions of men and women as different are generally bad, though she doesn’t link it to single sex education (to the best of my recollection).

  73. bhuesca
    bhuesca September 10, 2011 at 11:36 am |

    Verity Khat: That was not what I was saying AT ALL. My point was that physically separating the children for every classtime reinforces the idea in their malleable young brains that boys and girls are inherently different, an idea that they may find harder to shake when they get older.(As emjbee pointed out, segregation breeds discrimination. Much more to the point than my ranting!)

    I was a loud, active, proud know-it-all in elementary school (still am, actually). I loved skirts and pink and Barbies, but the girls in my classes uniformly hated me anyway, so I distinctly remember all my friends being boys until at least the 3rd grade.I would have been miserable in a gender segregated classroom even though I identify as female, so my heart aches at the idea of non-conforming, trans and non-binary kids being forced into .

    Pull-out situations can definitely improve learning if they’re tailored properly. Learning style programs (like Kyra mentioned), gifted, magnet, and needs schools work great for the kids they’re geared towards. And I’ve been watching as my local school systems moves more and more towards inclusion-only programs (no pull-outs) for ALL special needs children; “breathing ‘regular ed’ air” is not helping most of them learn in the slightest, even socially.

    I guess my true objection is adults choosing segregation for children “for their own good.” Parents don’t always know what is truly good for their child, simply because humans aren’t mind readers. Making options available for children is a good thing, as long as the child is happy and thriving.Forcing children into an option that makes them miserable isn’t.

    This. And I also think that children should be able to be sorted by means other than age, when age is used NEARLY ALWAYS as age=ability. A five year old may have the spelling skills of a 12 year old and read at ninth grade level (hi!) but begin to be burnt out on learning by being assigned ‘See Spot Run’, and the converse. and Also, another thing I’ve experienced myself and my peers having problems with is relating with others who are not our same age in the ‘post-college and post-grad world’ and in employment in general.

    (Note that I do not mean this for newborn and smaller children ages, where the correlation *is* often the strongest, but for older ages such as those children who are ‘school-aged’ (4 plus, maybe?).

  74. Alexis
    Alexis September 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm |

    I tend to be of the opinion that students always benefit from teachers who respond to each student as an individual instead of a characteristic (race, gender, etc.). Also, I think in terms of the issues particular to black male students, part of it may be that the teacher of an all-black-male classroom is going to be held accountable for the success/failure of zir students vs a mixed setting where a teacher can let students slip through the cracks and blame it on the student (I’m partially basing this on the struggles my sister has had in school when as her at-home tutor-at least til I went to college-I KNEW she had the mental capabilities to learn the work she just needed more individual attention than any teacher was willing to give her).
    I think that part of the success of gender-segregated may be that the teachers are in an environment that trains them to be aware of bias? I’m not sure if I’m phrasing that correctly (shouldn’t drink and comment ugh). But yeah I think the solution to this would be training for teachers to encourage all students equally, be far less tolerant of bullying, and not have that “boys will be boys and girls will be girls” attitude toward behavior problems. Then maybe I wouldn’t have had to chase (in an attempt to punch) so many boys around in elementary (in full view of the teacher! those brats were lucky im so sloww).

  75. Azalea
    Azalea September 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm |

    Alara Rogers:
    Well I am going to be the oen everyone hates on this post because you know what, where this has been implemented for young black males they fucking THRIVE. Young men who were failing and told they’d never go to college graduated all black male high school classrooms with full scholarships. Until we find out WHY I am against ANYONE trying to take away that academic oasis from them.

    Were they coming from mixed-race and mixed-gender environments, or just mixed-gender environments? Could the effect be due to being in a school for black people where they were being told “This school is for black people who want to be high achievers in life”, and less to do with being removed from girls?

    Black men and women have traditionally done better at all-black colleges than at mixed-race colleges, but worse at K-12 schools (where the racial segregation was typically de facto or caused by the racist desire of whites to keep blacks segregated rather than “We are proudly choosing to educate black people”). Could these kids be getting this effect because they’re going to schools that choose proudly to be for black people, rather than schools which end up being for black people because all the white people ran away?

    In most studies, boys don’t do as well in single-sex environments as they do in coed environments, so I am skeptical of the value of the single-sex aspect of this situation as opposed to the racial aspect. But without more details, it’s impossible to know.

    No.

    I am teling you, point blank, these were inner city kids where the vast majority of their co-ed peers were black or latino. As I said, there is SOMETHING and no one has yet to pinpoint exactly what it is that allwos for them to thrive but I still say stealing the prospect of a prosperous future from them is complete and utter bullshit. This isn’t to say each and every singe school ought to be sex-segregated but the children who benefit most from these single sex school deserves that chance to succeed. Let them be.

  76. timberwraith
    timberwraith September 11, 2011 at 9:46 am |

    So, I wonder what those sex segregated classrooms will be like in, say, Texas, Indiana, or Mississippi? They might be formed on a “social justice” philosophy in progressive communities, but what will communities with large populations of conservative Christians do with the notion of sex segregation for children?

    Answer: Most likely, something fucking terrible.

    Also, as a trans woman who was physically/emotionally abused and bullied by her male classmates from grades one through seven, I shudder to think what being in an all boy (supposedly) environment would have been like. At least in a mixed sex environment, I could count on the likelihood that approximately half the students in class were going to leave me alone. If all of my classmates had been boys, I shudder to think how much more abuse I would have suffered through.

    I’m against this totally and completely. As far as I’m concerned, it’s time for a barrage of law suits.

  77. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig September 11, 2011 at 11:28 am |

    Bheusca: I was actually at a school that did that. I think it’s a good approach, but it can only be done in a small school with constant supervision. Otherwise, the impulse to victimize the smaller student will be overwhelming- and the smaller student often needs a bit of help adjusting to being in the ‘big kids’ class. Ability sorting is far more useful than sorting by gender, and it often leads to a senior-junior friendship. In elementary, once I transferred, most of my friends were older than me. I felt much more comfortable with them than with girls who were my age.

  78. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth September 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm |

    I went to a high school with a drop out rate of 40%, an average household income of less than $14,000, and a teen pregnancy rate that is so unbearable I can’t remember it. (Tables were brought in so that multiple students could sit comfortably while pregnant-after out growing the regular desk of course, and it wasn’t unusual for a student to have multiple children.) We needed a lot of help when it came to actual school because so many kids were worried about helping to support their families. The one sex segregated class we had was biology and it made a huge difference. In a place where sex was the norm but knowing about sex was considered “skanky”, an all female atmosphere to talk about reproduction in animals and cells was amazing. It also helped a lot of us who had problems with one another (usually male based-baby daddy issues etc) to just work together in groups. It was a new thing for females not to be pitted against one another-not that we were singing kumbia or anything but we were able to stop ripping each others hair and earrings out and cooperate. I know that by the time people enter high school they have already absorbed gender norms so maybe that’s why it was positive. I don’t know if that’s right for little kids, but it truly made a difference at my school.

  79. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

    FashionablyEvil: Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender does a good job outlining why perceptions of men and women as different are generally bad, though she doesn’t link it to single sex education (to the best of my recollection).

    But that’s not a source for “single sex education makes kids think in such a way.” I’m still not seeing anything but assumptions about how kids who receive single-sex ed might turn out, with no facts to back them up (I mean, yeah, all I’ve got to go on is anecdotal, but that’s better than nothing). The actual studies, as noted elsewhere in this thread, show that girls tend to do thrive in single sex classrooms. While the results aren’t as clear for boys in general, Azalea’s right that black students seem to do better in all-boys classes. So, I have to agree with her–why take away something, in our broken education system, that clearly helps certain kids? (I think it should be extremely obvious by now that when it comes to education, there is no one-size-fits all solution.)

  80. La Lubu
    La Lubu September 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm |

    I’m still not seeing anything but assumptions about how kids who receive single-sex ed might turn out, with no facts to back them up (I mean, yeah, all I’ve got to go on is anecdotal, but that’s better than nothing).

    That’s because you haven’t been looking hard enough. The American Association of University Women has produced several thorough, comprehensive critiques of single-sex education (here’s one of them). Here’s an entire book that blasts the new “Venus and Mars” style single-sex education that is being foisted upon the public schools. Here’s a 2006 study from Education Sector that is critical of both single-sex education and the supposed reasoning in favor of it from it’s proponents; it helpfully contrasts the facts with the media headlines of “the boy crisis” and young women attending college in greater numbers than young men. From the Education Sector study: “(single-sex education is) based on an inappropriate application of brain research on sex differences. Many of these authors draw causal connections between brain research findings and stereotypical male or female personality traits without any evidence that causality exists … These analyses also tend to ignore the wide variation among individuals of the same sex.”

    The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) produced a good study here. You might find it interesting to read the detailed descriptions of the different classroom instruction as well as methodology (even down to room temperature and paint on the walls) that await boys and girls in this NYT article. Note how girls’ lessons revolve around housework and how boys’ lessons revolve around adventure, discovery and exploring.

    Look, a whole industry—a rapidly growing one—is based on sketchy pseudoscientific claims on male and female brain differences. The chorus of folks claiming that “coeducation is not working” is wrong–coeducation *is* working. More women than ever are continuing their education after high school. More women than ever are entering fields of study or work that were previously closed to women.

    To some folks, *that* is the problem. And that’s what the new generation of single-sex education is all about—reining back the girls.

    Don’t take my word for it, and please don’t go on your anecdata. Go check out some of Leonard Sax’s books from your local library, and make your own evaluation of the level of gender essentialism in the NASSPE. They have an agenda, and it sure the hell is not one of equality for women.

  81. delagar
    delagar September 12, 2011 at 12:02 am |

    Separate but equal. Well.

    I went to public school in Jefferson Parish, Lousiana some time ago. We had sexually segregation high schools then (a practice which ended in the mid-80s after the parents of a 14 year old girl student sued with the help of the ACLU). I am entirely certain the male students learned much better than we did — I have the evidence of the greater number of admissions the male high school students got to excellent universities, and the *much* greater number of National Merit Scholarships they earned, and so on.

    I also remember well that the boys high schools had gyms, and Latin, and physics, and calculus teachers, and Physics teachers, and huge new physical plants. My school, Riverdale, was ancient, built next to a chemical plant, an hour away from my house. My brothers went to East Jefferson, ten minutes away from our house. When I was fifteen, I petitioned my principal to be allowed to take Latin and Physics. (Our school offered Spanish and two years of French, one year of Chemistry, something called “Advanced Math,” nothing beyond that.) I sat outside my advisors office for two weeks. They finally hired a “physics” teacher (no Latin) who had taught second grade the year before.

    Separate but equal is a dicey proposition. Maybe it will be different in this enlightened day and age. Maybe the world is different now. I wouldn’t bet my child on it, however.

  82. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub September 12, 2011 at 7:59 am |

    Thank you, La Lubu.

  83. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 12, 2011 at 10:30 am |

    That’s because you haven’t been looking hard enough.

    Why the hell should be I researching other people’s claims for them? It’s not my job to support their arguments.

    There is clearly a wide subset of people pursuing single-sex education for awful reasons. I went to a single-sex school that didn’t do that and held everyone to very high academic standards (which I’m pretty sure they still do, as it’s become one of the most difficult schools to get your child into in my hometown). There’s clearly a wrong way and a right way to go about single-sex education, and it would extraordinarily helpful if perhaps folks articulated that they were talking about a specific type of it, instead of all cases of single-sex education. Nuance–it’s awesome.

  84. groggette
    groggette September 12, 2011 at 11:04 am |

    timberwraith: So, I wonder what those sex segregated classrooms will be like in, say, Texas, Indiana, or Mississippi? They might be formed on a “social justice” philosophy in progressive communities, but what will communities with large populations of conservative Christians do with the notion of sex segregation for children?
    Answer: Most likely, something fucking terrible.

    Texas already has some sex segregated schools (at least in the Catholic system at the high school level) and surprise! They run the gamut from sucky to awesome just like coed schools do. It’s not “something fucking terrible”.

  85. La Lubu
    La Lubu September 12, 2011 at 11:35 am |

    Sorry, I wasn’t aware it was your job to promote specious arguments based on your own anecdata (which is itself based in class privilege and possibly race privilege that the majority of the population *doesn’t have*).

    Carry on. Far be it from me to butt into rich-girl illusions.

  86. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm |

    La Labu, none of the posts I was responding to had any better support, or much support at all. I have trouble swallowing arguments when they’re presented along side such bullshit as “they won’t learn to socialize with the opposite gender!” (and the idea that somehow coed schools are inherently better, despite the fact that clearly gender issues don’t evaporate there). You are focusing on a specific, recent trend in single-sex education. It’s an awful trend, but single-

    I have many other things to do with my life besides research others’ arguments about what is ultimately a side issue in American education (it doesn’t matter what the gender makeup of a classroom is if it’s insufficiently funded, or when the major pushes for education reform all seem to be coming from people who never educators), if we want to talk about privileged assumptions. But sure, go ahead with the ad hominem attacks. That really helps your argument.

    (I didn’t think the fact that I was on massive financial aid and had to switch schools because ultimately the maximum amount the school could offer wasn’t enough was even fucking relevant. Privileged? Sure, I was lucky to have parents that genuinely cared about my education and to get the education I got. When your family is made up of working class immigrants who are utterly determined to get the better life they were told this country would offer, that can happen. Sorry to butt into your assumptions about people who disagree with you or dare to ask for further information.)

  87. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm |

    Ack, something got cut off. The trend La Labu is talking about is thoroughly awful, but isn’t the be-all and end-all of single-sex education.

  88. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub September 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |

    It’s not a trend, it’s been the status quo, and La Lubu’s links point to a troubling tendency of single-sex education to buy into that status quo.

  89. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig September 12, 2011 at 6:44 pm |

    I wonder who thought it was a good idea to turn up the heat that high in the girls’s classroom? I overheat for a week every month, so that sounds really uncomfortable.
    Groggette: Are you sure about that? Parochial school cracks down really hard on the female students, so it sounds like they’d be getting a hefty dose of gender conditioning- along with a whole lot of preemptive slut shaming.

  90. groggette
    groggette September 13, 2011 at 11:02 am |

    @politicalguineapig
    Have you gone to the schools in question? Some of the girls loved them, some of the girls hated them. Some of the schools provided excellent education, some of the schools provided crappy education. Some of the schools heavily engaged in slut shaming, some of the schools actively fought against that. Why, it’s almost like there’s a range of experiences just like any other type of school!

  91. groggette
    groggette September 13, 2011 at 11:03 am |

    Politicalguineapig: Are you sure about that?

    Also, yes. I do in fact know my own fucking experience.

  92. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig September 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm |

    Groggette: I have to admit, I didn’t read your blog before I posted that. My bad. That said, I thought parochial schools were a bit more standardized- and most of my ideas of parochial school are taken from the media, as I didn’t know anyone who went to a Catholic school, and I thought they were very strict and not very progressive as a whole.

  93. Rebecca A
    Rebecca A September 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm |

    Sexually segregated schools, like many here have stated, won’t fix the problem.

    When I was younger, I loved playing house but sometimes I wanted to tackle someone in an aggressive game of cops and bad guys. I had many guy friends with some girl friends. I never hated mud and dresses were for picture day. Baby dolls were awesome and If you messed with my hair, you’re were going to get hurt. what do we do with kids like that who enjoy both?

    Little kids are little kids.What schools should be trying to do is reinforce gender abnormalities like guys playing with dolls and girls building with blocks. We need to foster a nonsexist attitude with younger kids so they will grow up feeling like equals.

  94. groggette
    groggette September 14, 2011 at 9:48 am |

    @politicalguineapig, you made me have to go back and look at my own blog since while I know I mentioned being a former catholic I don’t think I had ever mentioned it in regards to schooling! My point here is that there’s going to be a range from good to bad in any type of school, whether coed or single-sex, public or private/parochial, what have you. And different types of schools will work better for different children. Unfortunately adults (parents or teachers) don’t always know what’s best for kids or listen to the kids when they themselves know, or at least know what doesn’t work for them, so it still ends up being a crapshoot. So yeah basically I am for sex-segregated schools as one option of many because it does work for some kids, boys and girls.

    OT but as for my own experience with catholic schooling, my grade school was mostly awesome with great teachers and was fairly progressive (I think we actually got accurate sex ed although the emphasis was still on abstinence). I did but heads with a few sexist teachers, but I would have gottern that anywhere. My (coed) high school absolutely sucked, but less because of catholicism and more for a shitty administration that cared more about lining their own pockets than actually teaching and caring for students. My brother went to an all-boys hs (and I dated a couple guys from that school) and they received an excellent education. I had some girl friends who went to either of the 2 all-girls hs and one school had a reputation for being excellent and one for just being mediocre.

  95. Plop
    Plop September 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm |

    My grandma couldn’t go the the polytechnical school i’m going today because she was in a girl-only class and their level was “too low” for the university.
    I get her point about separation being a really bad idea !

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