Mention separating genders in the classroom and many can’t help but bristle. Segregating the sexes seems an antiquated, pre-women’s rights idea that brings forth images of elite male schools and ivy-league colleges that did not admit women. The feminist movement in mid 20th century pushed for women’s equal rights in education as well as the work-force… wouldn’t instituting gender-separated classrooms be a step backward?
Many would argue that it would not, and that it would in fact greatly behoove both girls and boys to learn in separate environments.
Studies in the nineties showed that boys and girls both actually did better when in separate classrooms. Why? First, they were not distracted by the members of the opposite sex. There was no need to feel embarrassed about being stereotyped as “too smart” or “too dumb” or to worry about saying the wrong thing.
Perhaps the more important reason boys and girls flourish when separated is simply that the different sexes tend to have different learning styles that can be best explored in separate classrooms. Proponents of gender-separated classrooms acknowledge that throwing girls in one room and boys in another doesn’t mean everyone’s grades will automatically improve. The key is to understand core differences in learning styles, and to implement lesson plans that cater to the individual sexes.
Opponents insist that segregating the sexes reinforces gender stereotypes. Scientist Rosalind Barnett
calls the idea conservative and traditional, and makes the claim that there is limited evidence that boys learn differently than girls do.
However, schools that receive training about how to successfully teach to gender-separated classrooms report that their students are performing better and achieving higher grades than when they were in co-educational classes. The benefit seems greatest for boys, who are, statistically, the main cause of disciplinary problems in schools and who generally score lower grades than their female counterparts. Why should all-boys classes work so well? Studies indicate that boys have high levels of stress
when they feel they have to perform in order to impress girls, and that schools tend to be very girl-centric and do not cater to the learning styles of boys.
Michael Gurian, author of 25 books (many detailing the differences between boys and girls) helps run the Gurian Institute
, which trains educators and parents about how to effectively increase boys’ and girls’ student achievements. The institute provides training to schools who desire to execute a gender-separated learning environment.
Most often curriculum doesn’t have to change – the change required is for teachers to learn, develop and implement effective, gender-friendly strategies so that performance is
improved for both boys and girls, disciplinary referrals are decreased and children become more engaged and excited about learning!
Gurian’s methods can me implemented even within same-sex classrooms. Teachers have found that gender-specific lesson planning has made a huge difference in their students participation, behavior, and overall achievement. Michelle Farag, whose father is certified by the Gurian Institute, began employing gender-specific tasks
in her fourth grade classroom. She was floored by the positive results. Her students fought less, were able to focus better, and enjoyed their gender-specific activities more than the co-ed activities she had previously planned.
Schools who have received training from the Gurian Institute have seen their students’ grades and conduct improve immensely.
More and more school districts are discovering the benefits of gender-separated classrooms. However, as this becomes a trend, there are more and more people against the idea. Some say that the science behind gender-different learning styles is too young to be taken seriously. Others say that by separating the sexes, it sends a message that boys and girls needed to be treated differently, and are therefore unequal. Others say that separating genders does not prepare them for the real world where men and women are expected to work together.
If schools provide both the boys and the girls with equal resources, does that make it separate but equal? Is there such a thing as separate but equal? How does one measure the importance of gender-specific learning styles?
Perhaps it is simply a trend that will blow over. However, aren’t the success stories a reason to give it a good, hard try? What do you think?