Monday, October 1, 2007

On single-gender classrooms

In an article The Tampa Tribune gleaned from the AP, Seanna Adcox reported same-gender classrooms are flourishing in South Carolina.

The students in these classrooms are middle schoolers, plagued with raging hormones and insecurities. When I first glanced at the headline, thoughts of all-girl and all-boy boarding schools popped into my mind, with competitive young children fencing and practicing falconry while studying intense subjects like chemistry and physics all while being protected from the distractions of posturing and worrying about kids of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, the climate Adcox describes is nothing like this and seems to disservice both genders in some instances.

David Chadwell, the coordinator of the classes, says research indicates boys don’t hear as well, so teachers are equipped with microphones to get their attention. A ball is also thrown to boys chosen to answer questions to help with focus.

At the same time, teachers in the girls’ classrooms speak softly, so feelings won’t get hurt.

Either way, how is this helping children deal in the real world? If boys really do have problems hearing, their future college professors and potential bosses aren’t necessarily going to care. In most situations, they’re going to be expected to pay attention whether they have a little extra help or not. Also, as the girls get older, people are going to raise their voices around them, even if it does bruise their emotions.

When Adcox describes the actual classes, she describes boys sprawled out, using skateboard parts to help put math into perspective. What do the girls have to work with? Personal interviews they conducted with classmates to figure out “who is shy and who has dogs into fractions, decimals and percentages.”

School should be about investigating the outside world and giving children options, not reinforcing the world views that girls and boys are separate creatures divided by axle grease and lipstick. I was a middle schooler a little over 10 years ago, and I can attest to this: when I was in school, the girlie assignment described would have frustrated me; I hate wasting time, and to me finding out how many girls in my class had dogs would have been seen as a waste. The macho skateboard assignment would have engaged me to no end. My middle school science teacher, Mr. Brown, often assigned us similar tasks. He made science fun as we built structures out of paper and tubing and peered into the tanks of a menagerie of snakes, lizards, rats, and hedgehogs. Even the girls had fun figuring out how the world around us worked, even though we weren't looking up the chemical compounds in our favorite blush.

Adcox manages to make a balanced story by including the opinion of Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.

'There are ways to appeal to interests and learning styles and abilities without lumping people based on gender, which is not a good measure of anything,' Gandy said. 'At what point is it OK to make judgments of entire groups of human beings based on race or sex?'

Unfortunately, the AP story, at least in The Tampa Tribune, left too many questions unanswered to assess how the classes really work. Questions like whether or not the girls in the class come up with subjects that interest them and when are they pushed past their comfort zones and asked to excel are important to the story. Are these girls being pushed into a life of being fragile, protected flowers because that’s the way these classes are formed? If they are, the trend towards single-gender classes may prove to be a dangerous thing. If single-gendered classes are the way of the future, we need to teach them in a way that push both genders without taking away from either one or quashing the interests of the individual girls and boys who go against popular stereotypes.

1 comment:

Marie said...

I distrust sex-segregated classes and schools anyway - how are you supposed to learn to deal with the various types of weird shit the opposite sex deals out if you never see them? - but this is just insane. At least the single-sex schools I'm aware of don't pander to this nauseating sugar-and-spice idea.