Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Single sex schools: Why are they becoming popular?

Single sex schools and classes are not new, but in recent times there has been a trend towards more of them in the USA.  In an interesting piece in the New York Times Elizabeth Weil describes the recent growth in this phenomenon and offers some background on the schools and their purposes.  One of the most interesting observations is that boys and girls in these classes seem to enjoy them and benefit from them, and that such classes take on a character of their own that in many ways reflect the differences that some researchers have suggested exist between boys and girls.

The schools in question have been influenced by the work of two writers.  The first is Leonard Sax and his book, "Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences." New York: Doubleday, 2005.  The second is Michael Gurian's book “Boys and Girls Learn Differently!” Jossey-Bass ( 2002).

In a review of Sax's book Stephanie Trudeaux suggests that Dr. Leonard Sax, challenges the assertion that characteristics associated with each gender have been socially constructed. Using a scientific approach, along with research from the past two decades, Sax argues that gender differences are biologically programmed. Sax asserts "that for the past three decades, the influence of social and cognitive factors on gender traits has been systematically over estimated while innate factors have been neglected” (p. 253). The author further suggests that ignoring these hardwired gender differences, and opting for a gender-neutral child-rearing philosophy, “has done substantial harm over the past thirty years” (p. 7). As an example, he calls to attention the increased number of boys being given behavior-modifying drugs, and the increased number of girls being given antidepressants.

Sax stresses that although it is important to chip away at gender stereotypes, we should also recognize variances in how girls and boys develop. By understanding the unique qualities of each gender, we can better accommodate the different needs of boys and girls, with regard to the way they are raised, disciplined and educated. Sax suggests that single-sex education may help accommodate these gender differences. However, he does not believe that single-sex education is the only solution. He states that, “For at least some children in some circumstances, single sex activities offer unique opportunities and may even serve to ‘inoculate’ girls and boys against some of the societal ailments that now threaten children and teenagers” (p. 9). He writes, “Coed schools tend to reinforce gender stereotypes, where as single-sex schools can break down gender stereotypes” (p. 243).

This book is worth the consideration of parents and teachers.

1 comment:

David McKay said...

During a six year period conducting music exams in schools, I couldn't help noticing that in single sex schools, students were mroe adventurous musically.

In girls schools there were some terrific percussionists and in boys schools there were some great singers.

But in co-ed schools, girls are often reluctant drummers, partly because they can't get the boys to give them a go, and partly because they know drumming is the boys' job.

And the reverse is frequently the case with singing.

But don't count me as a champion of single sex schools, yet.