Single-sex schools are hot these days. A few years ago, separating the sexes was supposed to help girls preserve their confidence; now the concern is focusing on boys’ needs. AP quotes Leonard Sax, director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, who says the number of public schools offering single-sex classes has risen from four in 1998 to 223 today. New federal regulations due this summer should make it easier to offer single-sex programs.
I’m very nervous about some of the ideas behind single-sex education. It’s one thing to try to shield middle schoolers from raging hormones. It’s quite another to treat boys and girls as different species.
Backers of single-sex classes say that in elementary school, girls’ vision and thought processes have developed to respond better to color and detail, while boys’ brains are more apt at processing motion and direction.
“If you don’t understand those differences and you teach boys and girls as if they were the same, the end result is a kindergarten classroom where the boys tell you drawing is for girls and a middle school classroom where girls tell you computers are for boys,” Sax said.
Under the proposed federal rules, it would be possible to create a single-sex schools for boys, for example, without creating a comparable school for girls.
When I was in Philadelphia plugging my book, I met David Hardy, who’s trying to start a rigorous college-prep charter school for boys, focusing on improving the dismal academic performance of black males. The web site says:
Teachers in an all boys’ school can teach effectively in ways which reach boys and appeal to their learning style. This allows a young man more ease in developing his full potential.
The charter proposal was rejected in January, even though Philadelphia has two all-girls public charter schools.
I think it makes sense to focus a charter school on students who share specific needs or interests. But I worry about many of the theories of gender difference that are out there. Would directing more teaching to active, assertive, competitive students be so bad for girls? I have a feeling girls and boys would benefit from a rethinking of the elementary curriculum. What about Lisa Simpson?