What are the Benefits of Single Sex Education?
In this day and age, it is impossible to get anywhere without a decent education. As the world becomes more competitive, so do our schools. Everyone is working to see that their children get the best education possible. One trend is surprising some with its positive results; a return to single-sex education. Since the late 1980's, schools all over the country have been experimenting with single-sex classes and, eventually, single-sex schools. This practice has shown success in countries such as Jamaica, England, and Australia, where single-sex educational institutions have been in place for quite some time, and now similar successes are showing here in our schools.
As with any great change, however, there are challengers. Many people do not view this change as a good thing, and fear that it could have negative social development on children, as well as hinder the education of one sex over the other. I will set out to disprove these theories and show why single-sex education is beneficial to all students, especially at the high school level.
The Biological Differences
Even though they are part of the same species, men and women are incredibly different from each other. This is evident from the moment of birth until the moment of death. But it turns out that the differences between the sexes go deeper than most people think. Many opponents to the same-sex education movement argue that there is no reason boys and girls can't learn well together, but that has been proven false. The two genders learn differently because their brains operate differently. Scientists from various field and studies have discovered more than 100 structural variations between the male and female brains. A study performed by Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz of Yale University showed that while reading, young men and young women's brains behaved differently. In men, the left inferior frontal part of their brains were activated, whereas in women, it was both sides of the frontal lobe that were activated. Even though they were performing the same task, their brains physically encountered it in very different ways (Gurian 25).
Another study conducted in November 2001 by Dr Joseph Lurito, a neuroradiologist, concluded that a majority of men use the left side of their brains while listening, and women use both sides of the brain to process what they are hearing. These two studies alone provide good reasoning to separate the sex's academic environments as it shows that biologically both learn differently. Another area in the brain that differs in the frontal cortex, which matures earlier in women than it does in men. The frontal cortex, or the CEO of the brain, makes young women less likely to engage in reckless behavior, while causing men to be more impulsive. There are also structural differences in the corpus collosum, a bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. The nerves are smaller and less dense in males than they are in females. The greater connectivity causes women to be better at multi-tasking and making connections, where as men may have a harder time while listening, comprehending, and taking notes in class and may require a slower pace (Gurian 27).
In addition to these structural differences, there are also processing and chemical differences in the brains of men and women. For example, the spatial processing areas are more easily activated in men, which is why they typically succeed in mathematics and science. However, women have multiple languages processing areas in both hemispheres, which is why English and foreign language classes come more easily to them (Gurain 29.) A 2006 article published by one of the biggest opponents of the single-sex movement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claims that the theories that are presented in support of the movement are nothing more but radically inaccurate gender stereotypes, but these arguments alone prove that this is not the case. It is simply the way we have been wired; it is hard to argue with natural science.
A majority of the studies that have been conducted in the single-sex vs. co-ed battle has been in the area of academic achievement. This is where it matters- which way makes our kids smarter? How do they learn best? Joe Cook, Executive Director of the Louisiana ACLU, says "Equal educational opportunity under the law does not mean girls count flower petals, while boys learn about heroic behavior and what it means to be a man." I came across several comments like this in my research and found the ignorance of the parties to be somewhat insulting as they did little research, if any at all. In all of the counter-argument articles I read, no outside sources could be found as references or citations. While this was the case long ago in our histories past, it has not been this way for years.
The curriculums are all more or less identical, the only reason for differences is that no two schools have the exact same scheduled curriculum. Co-ed high school students, boys in all boys' schools and girls in an all-girl environment will all learn algebra, literature, biology, writing, etc. Contrary to the beliefs of organizations like the ACLU and the National Organization for Women (NOW), none of the women I interviewed who attended an all-female institution had to take classes like sewing, cooking, cleaning, or any of the dainty classes that they claim are being forced on young women. Many of these are no longer options at many high schools, much less a requirement of their young women. There is so much more to the educational aspect than that. It is not only what is taught, but also how it is taught and, most importantly, how students react to the change in atmosphere.
Many people a variety of fields have been interested in studying the effects of single-sex vs. co-ed schooling. One of the first to study this was James Coleman in his 1961 book The Adolescent Society, in which he questions the effectiveness of co-educational practices. His studies show that older students, male and female alike, are distracted by the opposite sex. They are constantly worried about their physical appearance and face other distractions, such as flirting or being in class with a current or ex partner. They are more concerned with material possessions and how others perceive them than they are with academic achievements. This leads to the presence of a culture that contradicts the goals of academic achievement set by an institution of learning. These distractions lead to a negative affect on formal academic goals. So what is the best and most logical way to deal with this problem? Eliminate the distractions.
Since the late 1970's, the studies have been overwhelmingly positive. A 1982 study by Trickett and Trickett, Castro and Schaffner found that single-sex schools provide atmospheres that are more conducive to learning then a co-ed environment. This can easily be attributed to a lack of the aforementioned distractions. Other studies point to specific areas of academic achievements, and show where single-sex institutions excel far beyond their co-ed peers. One study conducted in 1985 found that overall, boys and girls who were educated in a single-sex environment benefited more from the experience then their peers enrolled in a co-educational institution, and that single-sex educated female excelled far beyond the rest. A 1986 study showed that boys in an all male environment were more successful in reading, writing, and math, and were also more likely to take more science and math courses.
Girls in an all female atmosphere did better then their co-ed friends in science and reading, and held higher post-secondary aspirations and less rigid gender stereotypes. A follow up to this study in 1990 states that graduates from a single-sex institution were more likely to attend a more prestigious college and pursue graduate school. I interviewed several people who attended single-sex schools, and whether they were male or female, they all agreed that they felt that they were not only more prepared to seek out a college degree, but that they were encouraged to do so more so than their co-ed counterparts were. Says Mallory McDonald, a graduate of St Teresa's Academy, It was never really an option. We were expected to go on to college.
STA was a college prep academy, and has been forever. They always encouraged us to continue our education to attain any goal we ever set for ourselves. Not because women were better or lesser than men, but because we were brilliant minds. Various other studies have shown that overall, women educated among other women have an easier time in math and science classes- not because they are taught a different or easier class then their male counterparts, but because there were no males present, who usually dominate in these classes. It is for the same reason men do better without women in arts and language classes. They are able to learn without the competition from the sex that naturally excels in that field (Streitmatter 36-38).
But perhaps the most important was when the US Department of Education decided to settle the matter with its own experts. After a lengthy study evaluating Co-Ed (CE) and Single-sex (SS) education, they had this to say in their 2005 report- A few trends are apparent across all outcomes. The preponderance of studies in areas such as academic accomplishment (both concurrent and long term) and adaptation or socioemotional development (both concurrent and long term) yields results lending support to SS schooling. A limited number of studies throughout the review provide evidence favoring CE schooling.
It is more common to come across studies that report no differences between SS and CE schooling than to find outcomes with support for the superiority of CE. In terms of outcomes that may be of most interest to the primary stakeholders (students and their parents), such as academic achievement test scores, self-concept, and long-term indicators of success, there is a degree of support for SS schooling. This is from the education authority of our nation. They have found that single sex schooling is, more times than not, the best option.
A big argument that is repeated from the NOW and ACLU is that the world is not separated by sex, so our classrooms shouldn't either because it creates a false worldview. While this is true, it hardly creates a problem within single-sex classes. When individuals from single-sex backgrounds are thrust into the real world, they do not freeze or panic. They know how to act, and they have a sense of courage that allows them to excel because of their background. When asked how his transition from an all-boys high school to a co-ed college, Spencer Rusch said It wasn't a big deal. It's not like I forgot how to interact with girls. I didn't really notice a difference.
Teachers in single-sex schools and classrooms have many positive things about the program. Ms Mary was a math teacher at Eastside High School, and was assigned to teach an experimental girls-only math class. She was highly skeptical at first, but had a completely different attitude by the end of the third year. The girls bring out more in me while I try to bring out more in them it's not as if their behavior is any better than the boys and girls in my other classes. They're really chattier than the other groups. But I know that I don't have to spend the energy ignoring some of the really immature behavior of some of the boys. And I don't have to work so hard drawing out the girls. In the girls-only class, they draw themselves out (Streitmatter 70).
Another teacher noted that his girls-only physics class attained the highest grades he had ever seen, even though the curriculum was exactly the same. Another math teacher who experimented with all-girls classrooms, Ms Boswell, noticed a big change in her students as well. They feel free to make mistakes, and they feel free not to make mistakes. A lot of times girls don't want to look too smart Boys in another experimental group at the same school also changed. Their teacher, Mr Lofton, noticed a significant decrease in disciplinary problems (Gurian 14). Many other studies have mirrored these results, showing a sharp decrease in trips to the office, suspensions, and expulsions. The evidence here is irrefutable, there is a definite benefit academically if you separate the sexes.
Finally, let us explore how these students behave differently outside of academia. Not much research has been dedicated to this particular topic, but some have noted it in their studies. Some opponents will state that attending an all-girls high school would discourage young women from participating in athletics, and would reinforce the stereotype of being delicate flowers, encouraging them to stay indoors and focus on things like sewing and being a mother. This could not be farther from the truth.
In my high school experience, we as young women were encouraged to pursue whatever made us happy, be it soccer, acting, playing the flute, lacrosse, or whatever. Many studies agree that the absence of the opposite sex gives men and women the courage to pursue any interest they want without worrying about what others will think. In fact, several people have come to the conclusion that members of both genders are more likely to try new things in the absence of the other sex (Guarian 38).
In an interview, Kaitlin Klose, who attended all-girl Visitation Academy in St Louis, Missouri, said the absence of boys gave her more confidence to pursue athletics in school. A talented volleyball player, racquetball player, and swimmer, Klose says that her fellow classmates encouraged her to go out and try something new if she wanted to, never worrying about what others would think. This is not a luxury that our peers in a co-ed environment get to enjoy; they are forced into a stereotype or face judgment from the others they go to school with. They are at the mercy of the opinions of others, not encouraged to do whatever makes them happy.
I think the evidence is clear. Despite those who doubt the research, the testimonials, and everything else that make a clear case in favor of same-sex education. Now let me be clear, I am not advocating that we should only have single-sex education in our society, but I believe that all people ought to have the choice for themselves or their children. It does not work for everyone, but anyone who wants it should have the opportunity.
We see organizations like the NOW and the ACLU who warn that this change will only damage our girls and young women, but despite their reputation they speak without knowing all the facts. They choose to rely on what single-sex education used to be instead of what it can and will be for our future. By fostering individualism and a strong self-esteem in our young people, they will grow to be strong adults who can take the bull by the horns and face any problem with ease. That is not only good for the individuals involved, but for the future of our nation and our world. And with this change to single-sex education growing in popularity, it is a bright looking future indeed.
Written by: Chinesa Rose Rusch, United States.
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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )