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Child Behavior: Same-sex education: pass or fail?



There are two sides to this story

In our increasingly competitive society, professionals as well as parents are always looking for the educational environment that best allows children to perform to their maximum potential. A controversial issue in this quest for the optimal environment is finding the ideal setting for every child. One of the often discussed and debated options in this quest is the consideration of single gender education.

Some considerations for same gender educational practices include, the setting itself in contrast to a coeducational setting, the potential social benefits of this setting, and the potential enhancement of learning outcomes. It is also important to take into account that boys and girls learn differently. There is evidence that their brains are also structurally different as well. However, these differences between boys and girls are one of degree and not of kind.

This column discusses the prevailing arguments with regard to same gender education. Parents can evaluate what the research suggests and weigh that against how their child responds to various aspects of the educational environment.

Misconceptions

Historically, it was believed that same gender education supported the prevailing gender stereotypes; that men should study courses that prepared them for careers in medicine and engineering, and that girls should prepare for the fields of nursing or teaching. Professionals at that time believed that coeducational schooling would change these stereotypes. Coeducation appears to not only have not changed these behaviors and stereotypes, but has rather reinforced them. Girls in coed settings tend to avoid math and science so as not to be seen as masculine, and boys shy away from the arts to avoid being seen in any way feminine.

The following is an outline of the “facts” about same sex education. There is a real shortage of hard research evidence or facts either way. The facts presented by most research studies are more like generalizations about the genders. If you are thinking about placing your child in a single sex education environment, first and foremost you should predicate your decision on whether your child will be happy in that setting, and then consider the research and how placement might impact your child.

Pros of same sex school

  • There seems to be less social pressure based on gender in same sex settings. Girls are more competitive, compete in sports more and appear to be more outspoken and less shy when boys are not around. They also participate in traditionally male dominated subjects when boys are not there to potentially evaluate them.
  • Boys also seem to feel the relaxed social pressure to be seen as masculine, and become less competitive and more cooperative. They may participate more in what are usually seen as feminine subjects like art and drama. Since boys mature later than girls, it may be an added benefit for them.
  • Researchers suggest that this freedom from, what is perceived as evaluation from the other gender, allows kids to concentrate on their studies and become more well rounded learners.
  • Teachers can plan and adapt their lessons to the particular learning styles that the children have, as well as planning events that don’t need to include activities for both genders.
  • Without the constant bombardment of social pressure throughout the school day found in a typical mixed-sex setting, advocates feel single gender schooling is a more relaxed learning environment.

Simply stated, single sex proponents believe single sex settings encourage kids to break out of stereotypical roles and just be themselves. It is believed in a single sex setting that kids might explore areas of strength they possess, that might not have explored in a coeducational setting.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.

What are the cons of a same sex education?