I just read this interesting article from the New York Times Magazine: Teaching Boys and Girls Separately, about experiments with single-sex education in public schools in the U.S.
I reject the essentializing of gender, the idea that all males behave one way and all females behave another way. Studies about gender and sex differences are inherently flawed: since people are always raised in a society with differentiated sex roles, there is no control group for testing sex differences.
On the other hand, in my (admittedly limited) experience as a teacher in school classrooms, it’s pretty easy to generalize about boys’ and girls’ behavior. When I was teaching eight-year-olds in St. Petersburg, I felt bad for the girls, who were sitting there quietly having their time wasted by the boys’ misbehavior. And we can all draw on our own growing-up experiences, I’m sure.
The article provides a lot of anecdotes about the benefits of single-sex teaching, which are believable. In one, it describes two different classrooms in the same grade in the same school, the boys’ one, with its cooler temperature, cooler colors, and active learning style, and the warmer, calmer girls’ classroom.
We can accept that different people have different learning styles. There may even be a relationship between behavior and sex, if not from biology then from society. But we also know that there are people who don’t conform to the stereotypes of their sex. Why do all boys have to go to the cool classroom and all the girls to the warm one? What about the boisterous girls and the sensitive boys? Can we not have schools where different learning styles are accomodated, but the children are actually divided by their learning style rather than by sex?
It seems to me that this is a way to achieve the supposed benefits of single-sex classrooms without being sexist. Sure, it’s faster and easier just to separate by sex than to actually evaluate each child, but would it really be so hard for a teacher to make a recommendation about learning style at the end of the first year of school, and give kids the option to switch classrooms later if the evaluation was inaccurate or they experienced some kind of temperment shift?
I wanted to write a letter to the editor of the New York Times Magazine about this, but couldn’t figure out how to do it on the website, so you get this blog post instead. I’m looking forward to all the extra hits I get from using the word “sex” so much.