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Single Sex Education: A Return to Segregation?

David Sadker and Karen Zittleman

width=266There is a lot of talk about single sex schools these days, but we already have more sex segregation than most of us realize:

  • Watch children at recess in a playground – do you see the boys play on the field as girls congregate by the swings?

• When recess is over, do you see how the teacher prepares students to enter the school building, creating one line for boys and another for girls?

• Once inside, each sex stakes out their terrain, in the hallways and the classrooms.

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• Glance into a high school lunch room and you will see unofficial male and female tables.

• Listen as the principal on the public address system: “Good morning boys and girls.”

• Visit the middle school band room as girls play flutes and violins and boys dominate the percussion section.

• Take note as a teacher organizes a spelling bee with the “boys against the girls.”

How long would a Jewish versus Christian spelling bee be tolerated, or a public announcement that greeted students this way: “Good morning blacks and whites”?

While gender segregation today is often subtle, it is becoming official school policy in some places.

Making Sex Segregation Legal

Today, many parents and teachers are being invited to climb aboard the single sex education bandwagon. Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools, was recently changed to allow for single sex public schools and classes that are voluntary and comparable to coeducation. And a growing number of public schools are buying in.

Some argue that boys and girls have different brains, and that boys are active learners while girls prefer a sedentary environment. Others believe single sex classes avoid gender social distractions. Some struggling schools are drawn to single sex education as a possible remedy for poor test scores or persistently high drop-out rates.

But is single sex education the answer?

Making Co-education Work

We think not.
History has taught us that separate can never be equal. Yet here we go again, this time segregating by sex. America’s classrooms are already fragmented by race, class and ethnic group. One can only question how we are ever going to become a well-functioning, egalitarian society if integrated, democratic classrooms are beyond our reach. We have much to teach each other, but not if we educate our children in sex-segregated schools.

Research has also taught us that you need not sacrifice democracy to achieve excellent schools. Rather than divert resources to divide girls and boys, we should improve our schools through smaller class size, more teacher training, an inclusive curriculum, and funds to promote parent-teacher partnerships. To make public coeducation work for all our students, we need to make schools more effective, not more divided.

Do you think single sex education is a good idea? Share your opinion in the comments section!