Separating the genders

Single-sex classes are proving popular in some schools, reports the Palm Beach Post, which writes about a local middle school that separates the sexes for academics.

All of the seventh-grade girls in the program last year said they accomplished more when they were surrounded by other girls. Ninety-four percent of all girls said they felt more comfortable participating when they were in girls-only classes.

Although boys were less enthusiastic about the separation, about three-fourths said their grades were better.

Girls seem to do better without the boys, but boys are even rowdier without the girls. I’m not sure boys benefit, especially if they’re taught by teachers using the same old techniques.

About Joanne


  1. All valid points. Single-sex classes have been tried on an experimental basis in several different regions of the country. I am very intrigued by the concept, so I think that I’ll look at some of the reports.

    I asked my thirteen year-old daughter what she thought about single-sex classes earlier this year, and she made it clear in no uncertain terms that she DID NOT like the idea of single-sex classrooms.

    When I asked her about going to a women-only college, she said, “No way!” So, I guess I can forget about buying those Mt. Holyoke coffee mugs…

  2. Having done the math/physics thing in college (and similar type concentration in high school), I can say I probably would have been annoyed by an all-girls class. It kinda comes about from being in the tail of the knowledge/interest distribution when it comes to math and math-based science… I doubt I would have had many other girls in my classes. And three-person classes, which I’ve been in before, do tend to get boring.

    Oh, and having one or two girls in a class does not seem to affect the behavior of the boys, I’ve noticed. (And that went for college, too).

  3. dfriedman says:

    I don’t understand the idea behind single sex classes. People claim it makes women (girls) feel more comfortable because then they don’t have to compete with agressive men (boys). But what happens when these people get into the real world? They will still have to deal with aggressive men in the workplace.

    I’ve noticed a tendency at different jobs: when a bunch of people are in a meeting together, it very often is the men who lead the discussion and participate in the debate, while the women hold back. I never understood why this was the case, because if you want to impress upon your boss the idea that you are a valuable contributor, don’t you need the gumption to speak up in a meeting?

    I don’t understand how single-gender classes teaches women to be confident in their opinions and speak about them with authority. It only seems to be an artificial environment in which women don’t have to compete for attention.

  4. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    In response to “Oh, and having one or two girls in a class does not seem to affect the behavior of the boys, I’ve noticed. (And that went for college, too). ” Tongue in cheek I have to ask how do you know that the your presence did not affect the behavior of the boys when you have never observed an all male class taught in your absence?

    In response to your comment that “I don’t understand how single-gender classes teaches women to be confident in their opinions and speak about them with authority. It only seems to be an artificial environment in which women don’t have to compete for attention.” I would like to point out that according to the self reports it is improving learning results. I am slightly bothered by the absence of any quantitative data indicating objective performance gains though. I could be that the gains are only in the students perceptions of how much they are learning. Unfortunately, the author of the article did not think to address this issue.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I recall a long ago study on workplace lighting, where productivity improved with each increase in level. One time, a mistake reduced the light level below the original and productivity still increased. The workers said they were glad that attention was being paid to them.

  6. Mr. Davis says:
  7. It’s easy to understand how sex-segregated classes benefit girls – and produce self-confident adult women.

    When girls and boys are together, the girls take a back seat because they don’t want to be unpopular with the guys – and that often means avoiding competing with or showing up a boy.

    In an all-girl class, this repressive influence is removed, and girls feel freer to participate and excel. Girls who spend their formative years in this environment will naturally value their own opinions and acheivements in adulthood – by which time they will be less subject to negative peer pressure (we hope – reality check: visited any singles bars/clubs lately?).

    My sister was in one of the last all-girl classes at Hunter College High School – one of the high schools for gifted children in the NY City public school system. It was “sister” school to all-boy Stuyvesant. First Stuyvesant was made coed, then Hunter – despite the protests of my sister, her friends, and parents.

    Several years later, researchers returned to Hunter – and found that girls led just a handful of student clubs, and were under-represented in advanced classes (including math and science classes that previously were filled with girls). This in a student population selected for excellence by a screening test.

    I also attended a sex-seperate school – an Orthodox Jewish high school. I agree with Joanne’s comment about teaching styles: we had a high proportion of male teachers, whose teaching style accommodated our “energy level”, perhaps intuitively. Even though “boys are stupid and have short attention spans” we made it through long school days combining both sacred and secular studies. I have read about boys being drugged/disciplined into passivity in modern schools, and it angers me terribly.

  8. Ross:

    Well, I =suppose= they could have been whipping out appendages to compare size if I weren’t there, or actually having riots.

    There =were= math and physics classes that were more evenly balanced, sex-wise. The guys weren’t as likely to be obscene in their conversation in these classes. Even though I went to a large university, I knew all the physics majors (and most of the math majors) during my years – we all took classes together.

    I found it interesting how lewd the Statistical Mechanics crowd was (I was the only female in a class of almost 20) vs. the decorum of the Astrophysics class (about 5 females out of 20)… and many of the same guys were in both classes. Some of the difference may have been that none of these guys were trying to date me, while some of these other women were considered attractive. It sure wasn’t because I was joining in with the lewdness.

    In general:

    I am not going to extend my own experience to all women. In many ways, it was easier for me to speak up and to excel because I was better than almost everybody else in my classes. But it’s much more difficult for a person who finds herself in the middle.

  9. Well, I went to an all boys Jesuit High School and it worked great for me. I found girls to very distracting when I was in the 7th and 8th grade, ( I just wanted to look at them all day long). When that was eliminated I excelled at school and learned great study habits. These habits came in very handy at college when girls were back and I was able to study and date because of the habits I learned in high school.

  10. Mike in Texas says:


    Was that in New Orleans?

  11. dfriedman says:

    Shuali–thanks for your comments. They are informative.

  12. mike from oregon says:

    I went to an all-boys high school and it was great, in my last two years I switched to a public high school and skated on what I had learned the previous two years, the standards had been much higher. Plus, this is at a time when hormones are messing with the kids, TV tells them to get into things that they truly aren’t ready for. Removing one sex from the school just takes that distraction away.

    I almost got my daughter into an all-girls school. As the teachers and students pointed out, one advantage is that the girls care about school instead of ‘Do I look pretty?’ – ‘Do you think Jimmy noticed me?’ – etc. Many of the ones who came from traditional schools stated that suddenly what they wore, if their makeup was on right and who was flirting with who wasn’t there any more. Thus, they were better able to concentrate on studies. Unfortunately my daughter’s grades weren’t good enough, but that is another story.


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