The Cootie Factor

Boy-GirlNewsweek reports on the reopening of the debate surrounding gender segregated education. But maybe the larger question is, what’s magic about gender?

The article gives a fairly balanced coverage of a lot of the arguments that have been going on for decades.  Most boil down to the question, are learning styles truly different, or are they merely reinforcing gender stereotypes?  One interesting point is that while mixed gender classrooms have historically been seen as a possible disadvantage to girls, there’s increasing thought they might really be detrimental to boys.

The article reaches no particular conclusion, and I also can’t say I have a strong personal opinion one way or the other.  But what troubles me is more that if we start thinking girls learn differently from boys, why would that be the only line to be drawn?  Sure, it brings up the obvious notion of going back to racially segregated schools.  But what about other delineations that are likely more pedagogically defensible?

How about if we use the elementary level IQ tests they give all the kids anyway to assign kids to middle and high schools based on IQ?  Could anyone reasonably argue that schools full of nothing but the best and brightest would have outstanding academic achievements?  Still, the public backlash against any such proposal would be swift and loud.

What if you could show that kids with musical ability learned differently than others?  Kids from troubled homes?  Fat kids?  The key point seems to be that as a society, we likely wouldn’t entertain dividing our public school students based on most all criteria.  Why would we reasonably entertain doing it for gender?

I think until we can answer the question of why gender should be so much more important than any other dividing line, this notion of gender segregation in schools is a non-starter.

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