Single Sex Schools: Separate but Equal?

November 15, 2011

Political Theory


When I was younger, I always wondered what it would’ve been like to attend an all girls school.  Looking back at it now, I’m sort of glad I went to a public, coed school.  From play-dates during recess to prom, some of the memorable times of my school career involve boys.  It wasn’t always like this though.

In the past, American women won the opportunity to be educated for the sake of family and society.  Why?  Because the nation needed educated mothers to produce intelligent, independent male citizens.  Back then, single-sex education was not exactly a choice, but a norm.  Sexual separation in school was considered to be only natural and right.  However, feminists hoped to eventually integrate men’s schools.  Soon, by turn of the century, more girls than boys were graduating from high school and coeducation was becoming “normal.”

Some may view coed schools to be detrimental to the self-esteem of girls because it can be seen as possibly discouraging rather than inspiring to a girls’ achievement.  In addition,
parents may want to protect their daughters from the attention and temptations of boys.  For the  gay and bisexual girls, single-sex schools can be overwhelming with sexual tension.  Is this a reasonable claim?  Anthony Appiah would argue otherwise.  In the reading, “But Would That Still Be Me?” Notes on Gender, “Race,” Ethnicity, as Sources of “Identity”, Appiah states, “This means that here we cannot make use of an analog of the systematic sex-gender distinction: the underlying biology does not deliver some- thing that we can use…”  How do you think Appiah would react to the topic of same sex education?

Furthermore, pursuant to federal law, single-sex education is a private prerogative.  However, separatism has been a topic of resurgence among some feminists and advocates of racial justice, who are questioning restrictions on segregated public classrooms.  The belief that segregation sends a message of inferiority, which is reflected in Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown V. Board of Education, has been reversed.  Segregated school are now being announced for raising self-esteem in disadvantaged groups.  In addition to those that make assumptions about female learning the relational styles, advocates of all-girls schools support the claim that segregation by sex also fosters achievement in girls, although there is no hard evidence that single-sex classrooms lead to higher achievement.  On the other hand, some critics argue that single-sex classes leave kids not prepared for a co-ed world.

Not affected by this debate, advocates for single-sex education established a public all-girls school in New York City, The Young Women’s Leadership School.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of

Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that the school appeared to violate federal law.  Two possible solutions were at hand:  integrate boys into the school or establish a separate but equal school for boys.  Not able to find a common ground, the battle continues between those who pursue equality through integration and those who pursue it though separate institutions for the supposed “disadvantaged.”

Do schools such as The Young Women’s Leadership School represent a step toward the goal of equality or a step away from it?  What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of coeducation?  Do you think single sex schools actually lead to higher achievement?  Ultimately, should schools be separated?

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7 Comments on “Single Sex Schools: Separate but Equal?”

  1. Matthew Vlasic Says:

    I think that the Young Women’s Leadership School represents a small step toward more equality because it gives women the chance to pursue an excellent education and basically insinuates that men can pursue this elsewhere. I think our society still has gender biases, but in my opinion, at this point in time, there is a strong sense of gender equality in our nation compared to the way things used to be. I rarely hear people inferring that women are inferior or at a disadvantage because now they are are seen as equals to men, which they are. Although, there is still a presence of social norms that determines who should stay home and who should be the bread winner of the family. It will be difficult to erase these social expectations so to say, but an advantage of this all girls school is that it lets girls focus on their work without distractions from boys and it empowers them because there is no parallel all boys school to it. This empowered state of mind that this school could provide these girls might help them overlook these social expectations more easily and just accomplish whatever it is that they aspire to, but I will argue that the separation of boys and girls in schools is not necessary and probably less effective.

    On the other hand, coeducation is advantageous because it is realistic. Men and women interact constantly and endlessly in the workplace, so building a base of skills to interact, impress, respect and learn from the opposite gender can only be found in schools that have both men and women or boys and girls. A disadvantage of it as I already stated is that it could be distracting for boys and girls to have the opposite sex in the same school as them, but then again, this should be a skill that is learned early on. Boys and girls should be able to overcome these distractions and get down to business with their school work instead of flirting with the cute girl that sits behind you in class all day and this is only done by integrating boys and girls and letting them learn by experience.

    Having gone to an all boys middle school, I don’t think that schools should be separated. I don’t think that there is any higher achievement associated with all girls or boys schools and if there is by any chance, it is not eye-catching or too noticeable. It is easier for kids to be more comfortable with the opposite sex by letting them interact for years upon years in every grade of school until they learn how to deal with people and collaborate with each other. Also, the separation of schools brings about unnecessary controversies and debates over what promotes equality, what is right and wrong and what not – just let boys and girls learn alongside each other and these endless debates will begin to dissolve. Our country has developed more and more gender-equality over the years and eventually (hopefully) these social expectations that subconsciously alter our decisions will be diminished (probably not fully eradicated from our minds) enough that we will all just be able to overlook all differences and attempt to reach our prized goals and dreams. In my opinion, to accomplish this, separated schools is not the right answer, although I do not find them to be harmful in any way.

  2. ajnovo Says:

    I went to a co-ed public high school, and one of my best friends is now going to Smith, an all girl private liberal arts school, and I honestly think that Smith is the school for her. In your article you talk about single sex high schools which I don’t agree with. I think being able to interact with the opposite gender is necessary to do well in life, and separating genders just doesn’t make sense for high schoolers. As the author mentioned, so many memories relate back to interactions with the opposite sex which either would not exist or would not be the same in a single sex school. It is important to learn how to talk to someone of the opposite sex which I do not think students learn how to do well if they go to a single sex high school.

    However, an all female college I think is fine. Students are old enough to decide where they would like to go, and my friend made a really good decision because she is happy. She fits in well at Smith, not because it is all girls, but because it is a liberal arts college that offers tons of really cool classes and attracts a lot of interesting people. I’ll be visiting her during spring break which we’re both super excited about – it’ll be my first time being on an all female campus, and we haven’t seen each other in several months. Obviously there are a lot of differences between Michigan and Smith just due to size, athletics, and diversity, but I’m not sure how much being single sex matters. My friend was telling me that there are three co ed colleges nearby, and she does see guys from other schools so it is no like she’s isolated and surrounded by girls for months on end.

    Do I think all male schools will exist/become popular? No. Is it fair? That I’m not sure about because I have never met a guy who has ever wished he went to an all male college. My friend who went to an all male private high school spend most of his time hanging out with his public school friends, and never really liked high school.

    We’ll see if my opinion changes after spring break.

  3. godzillagti Says:

    I feel that if I had gone to an all boys school my grades certainly would’ve been higher, but my social skills in life would be much worse. Without the opposite sex to distract one from academics, it is much easier to excel in academics, but they aren’t everything. There are things that a coed school teaches students besides what is in the curriculum. A coed school allows boys and girls to intermingle and understand how to behave in front of the opposite sex. If not for this experience, people would go off to a higher facility of learning such as college and would not have the same amount of experience with the opposite sex as others. They would more than likely appear to be awkward. I feel that boys and girls should be educated together if we want to say that everyone is truly equal. Men and women are meant to coexist on this planet so why would we separate them? Its possible that grades in single sex schools are higher than those of a coed school, but it is all about how determined the students are. If there aren’t boys distracting girls at school then there are boys distracting them after school in their neighborhoods or on the Internet. As for the lesbian issue, the whole distraction through attraction problem is still there. These girls are going to be distracted by other girls much like how some girls are distracted from boys. The separation is flawed. There will always be distraction so I believe that the schools should be coed.

  4. Connor Baharozian Says:

    There were many private schools in the area where I attended school which were all boys. In fact, many of my good friends attended these schools. The prep school I attended was coed and thus a completely different experience. The number of boys in the all boys schools and the number of boys in the coed schools in the same area were comparable in size. However, the athletic achievements were much greater in the all boys private schools. I always found it interesting as to why this is the case. Maybe the congregation of solely males led to greater athletic achievement due to fewer distractions. Maybe the guys in these schools competed on the sports fields instead of for members of the opposite sex.
    There was another trend that I found or maybe just perceived in regards to the coed schools versus the all boys schools. The coed schools did better when it came to college admission. The males in the coed schools seemed to go on to attend better colleges. Again, it was very hard to tell if this was due to differences in student body interactions/composition or the way in which the admissions departments at these high schools accepted students.
    I believe, from my experience visiting or being part of these different types of schools, that there were different attitudes at each. These attitudes, in my opinion, were in large part due to the makeup of the student bodies, in terms of sex. The schools with only males had a greater emphasis on sports while the coed school took a more educational approach.

  5. benhenri Says:

    Before reading this post, I did think that we, as a society, were completely equal, regarding gender. However, now, I realize that there are still some gender biases existent today. Yes, I mean that females are still being separated and, therefore, discriminated against in their education simply because of their sex. But, from this specific post, I think that The Young Women’s Leadership School represents a step away from equality, but of a different sort of equality. In other words, when the writer talks of The Young Women’s Leadership School in New York City, I found that the males were actually being discriminated against. Women were given a private school for their own gender, but men were not given this opportunity. How ironic! Has a new turn come about in gender bias where males are now being discriminated against and females are being more valued?
    I want to make another point. I think that it actually puts private school students at an unfair advantage. Private school students may tend to earn higher grades, but they are in an environment less like society in general than a public school where females and males do interact constantly. So, in the real world, when these private school students interview for jobs or have to interact with male co-workers of theirs, or even worse, male superiors, they will be less experienced than those who went to public schools or universities and, therefore, seem less capable.
    I also want to bring up another idea that is somewhat connected, but somewhat off topic. Ajnovo says that, when one reaches the time to choose a college for themselves, they should be allowed to make their own decisions and select a same-sex university if they wish to. And, I agree. However, what about for high school, middle school, and even elementary school students? I do not believe they are experienced enough to make their own choices concerning their education. This brings up another sort of bias. Parents must choose for these children. But, is that fair? What if the child does not want to attend a same-sex school or what if they are hiding something very significant from their parents that would change a decision like this, such as that they are homosexual?

  6. danielpienkowski Says:

    I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, and many of the private high schools in my area were in fact single – sex schools, so this concept was nothing out of the ordinary for many people in my neighborhood. I myself attended an all-boys school, and I’ve noticed that there are many stereotypes and misconceptions that just don’t hold true for this type of education. Of course, single-sex education has its pros and cons, but I also believe that it should be an available option and shouldn’t be viewed as harmful to equality between men and women.

    One common theme that I’ve seen throughout the comments is the belief that same-sex schools cause an unnatural environment for students to learn and grow in, and thus are detrimental to social skills and don’t properly prepare students for the real world. From my experience and observations, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In my high school, we weren’t completely segregated from girls, and we had many events that we held together with our sister schools. We still had prom, formal, and school dances. From sports events to community service activities, there were always girls present. We weren’t awkwardly cut-off from the opposite sex; we all hung out with girls after school, on weekends, and at parties. Granted, we didn’t socialize with girls during school hours in classrooms or lunch break, but I hardly think this was detrimental to any of our social skills.

    Trust me, coming into high school freshman year, no one liked the fact that there were no girls at our school, as this seemed like a cruel punishment to all of us. However, the whole purpose of this single sex aspect of our school really only clicked for many of us during our junior and senior years. Having no girls helped us focus on academics and sports, but these were only byproducts of my school’s main goal. Our school’s motto was “men for each other,” which is something we really started to take to heart as we got older. Over the four years of high school we grew and bonded as brothers, looking out for and supporting each other. We played pranks on one another, had our ups and downs, but we all respected each other, and at the end of the day we knew that we were basically family. We all built this great bond with each other that I don’t think could’ve happened anywhere else. One girl told me that my school sounded “kind of like a frat,” which was a pretty interesting observation. No doubt, we all had an unconventional high school experience going to a single-sex school, but at end of the day we understood the merits of it.

    In conclusion, I’m not saying that single-sex schooling is better than coed or vice versa, as from what I observed they both worked well in their own respect. I’m just saying that I believe that single-sex schools have benefits as well, as there is more to these schools than just the “single-sex” parameter of it, and they’re not as taboo or harmful to equality as many may think. I haven’t had any trouble at all adjusting back to a coed system at Michigan, and I believe my school prepared me extremely well for my future, which I am thankful for. Going back to the post, however, I agree in that I don’t think that public schools should have the right to segregate schools in this fashion as I doubt it is in their reasonable jurisdiction to do so if they are funded primarily by government funds. Altogether, single-sex schools should be an option in the private sector for those who chose it, as it may be a beneficial option for some.

  7. jrsmyth177 Says:

    I feel like this is a very tough topic to decide which is right and which is wrong. Coed school kids are going to biased towards their system just as single-sexed school kids will be for their system. Being a private school kid, I am going to tell you why I think private schools are better. Yeah sure when you first go to a private it sucks knowing that you will spend the next four years will boys, but going to an all boys school was probably the best decisions of my life. I made friends that I know one day will be standing up at my wedding. I know someone from my all boys high school will be my best man. The connections I made with those guys would have been very tough to make at a coed school. At a coed school, girls and boys are distracted by the opposite sex. Everyone wants to leave a good impression on the opposite sex. Going to a coed school forces the students to worry about what they look like. At my school nobody really cared if you did your hair in the morning. We could care less if someone showered or not. I can’t say that this made a single sex school a better environment because I am not sure what the environment at coed school is like. I do think that attending an all boys school did help me focus more on school, but I would say that each system has its pros and cons.

    The numbers of students in a single sex school are usually less than a coed school’s student population. Smaller classrooms always bring contributions to a student. For instance in one of my freshman classes I had 8 people in the class. Having less people in the room allowed me to interact with my fellow classmates better. One of the kids that sat next to me became my best friend throughout high school. The chance of this happening would have been smaller if I had a class of 40 like most public schools. Also the teacher knew my name the first week. I feel like having those smaller classes allowed me to have better relationships with my teacher.

    Also, to say that we are not as prepared as coed students for the coed world is wrong. We had 4 different sister schools in the area. Those girls would come to our sporting events and dances. Also, having sister schools allowed me to go to more than one prom. I just think some of these assumptions about single sex schools are wrong.

    In response to the post, I think that The Young Women’s Leadership School is taking a step away from equality. Since it is a public school girls and boys should have the right to attend the school. Appiah would support this too. He would say that since there is a possibility that we could have been born as either sex, it is wrong to make distinctions of male or female. Appiah would be in full support of coed schools because biologically males and females are equal, therefore we cannot make distinctions between them. To answer the last question I think it is good that schools are separated. Each system has its benefits. Lastly, I think that is good to let kids decide where they want to go.

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