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Separating the Sexes in the Classroom

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He pulls her pigtails; she stares back and giggles. She passes a note about him; he shows off at lunch for her. The social pressures and distractions of being around the opposite sex can be excruciating, and some educators are starting to believe this hinders learning and attention.  According to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about Pittsburgh Public Schools, the desire to turn around low-performing schools means that all options are being considered – even same-sex classes or schools. 

Derrick Lopez, assistant superintendent for the city’s secondary schools, says that numerous private schools have successfully followed a model where students are separated by sex. This separation is used to “eliminate social pressures that can affect academic performance.” Could an all-boys school mean less goofing around and more attention paid up front? Or would you end up with stuttering, stammering, socially awkward guys when it’s time for college?

The other side argues that school isn’t just there for academics, but to educate students socially for the real world, where yes, men and women share the same office space and can even (gasp!) live together. According to the article, single-gender schools may cultivate stereotypes and sexist attitudes when it comes to how each gender learns, as well as the possibility of stunting kids’ social maturity.

And the biggest blow to gender-segregated learning – there is no evidence that it improves academics.  “The truth is we still don’t know that single-gender necessarily creates better schools,” says Wendy Kaminer, a former national board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Leonard Sax, founder of the Pennsylvania based National Association for Single Sex Public Education, agrees and says that even if these models work for private schools, it doesn’t mean they’ll be the end-all solution for struggling public schools.

Do your children attend a gender-segregated school or classroom? Tell us how you think it has helped (or hindered) their academics, as well as their social skills. 

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