Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gender Intensification

Do we really want to make the differences between boys/girls even more wider than they already are? If we divide education along gender lines, will the divide create less ability for men and women to coexist? Will it increase an already high divorce rate?

In addition, will girls stop playing with trucks and cars completely, and boys with dolls? How much more difficult will it make for girls to enter traditionally male-dominated fields without feeling ostracized from their own friends and life?

-- Jill

Pretty powerful questions, eh? Because we live in a co-ed society, the idea of single-sex education seems a little odd -- and frankly un-American to some people. Most of us agree that gender stereotypes have trapped both men and women for far too long, and few of us want to bind our children with what we hoped were antiquated notions. We want to stretch our children's horizens, not reinforce their limitations.

Interestingly, though, the research shows that children in single-sex classrooms actually experience more freedom. Ironically, children in mixed-gender classrooms often experience what's called gender intensification, meaning an exaggerated preference for all things "boy" or "girl." In co-ed company, a boy who might play dress-up alone may instead play with trucks in an attempt to identify with his group, the boys. Similarly, a girl who is brilliant at math may downplay her abilities because 1) boys don't like smart girls and 2) the other girls aren't into math. In other words, students in mixed-gender classrooms may actually gravitate toward the stereotypes.

In a single-sex classroom, with no need to prove their identity, boys (and girls) often feel more free to explore the gamut of experiences. Instead of reinforcing gender stereotypes, single-sex classrooms allow students to explore the range of "male" and "female." In other words, girls in a single-sex preschool may actually be more likely to play with trucks; boys, more likely to pick up a doll.

Single-sex education isn't as simple as marshalling all the boys in one classroom and the girls in another. To be truly effective, the teachers of single-sex classrooms must have a thorough understanding of typical male (or female) development, and their teaching must reflect that knowledge. The best single-sex teachers create environments that nurture and facilitate the development of their students. Teaching boys isn't about trucks and dinosaurs; it's about letting boys move (because their brains enter a state of rest unless they're physically engaged).

As for boys and girls learning to co-exist, we live in a co-ed world, remember? Students in single-sex classrooms continue to have many opportunities to interact with the other sex in their churches, clubs, communities and families.

1 comment:

  1. That was, as usual, Jennifer, a thought-provoking read.
    Sociology has always interested me, so I know the studies show that "no matter how we try not to socialize according to gender, girls will have some tendencies and boys others when it comes to play." I decided long ago to provide a free environment and let them be who they were going to be.
    What I've had to learn is how to adapt to homeschooling each, taking into account the different ways of learning that have as much to do with personality as with gender.

    I am in France right now, where in every village you can see the remnants of history; there is a town hall in the middle and on either side; "Girl's School" and "Boy's School" as they were separated long ago. I wonder if things were better then?

    All the best, keep the great posts coming!

    Angela, mother of 2 girls and 3 boys