Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Opportuity and Single-Gender Schooling

I was struck this week by the following headline from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review: "Westinghouse's Single-Gender Academies to Bolster Opportunity." I found myself wondering "What kind of opportunity?" Perhaps, in light of the traditional gender stereotypes that have been used by many advocates to support the call for single-gender education since President G.W. Bush endorsed it earlier this decade, this means the opportunity for boys to explore the world using their rambunctious natures without the distraction of pretty girls, and for girls to more actively assert themselves without being trumped by the pesky shouts of exuberant boys. Perhaps, as is the case with the proposed all-male, all-African-American proposed charter school in Madison, Wisconsin, this means the opportunity to overcome persistent educational struggles by targeting the needs and strengths of one particular population.

I read further into the article to discover that the single-gender schools are thought to provide the "opportunity to show promise." Is promise something that is squelched or overlooked in mixed-gender settings? Can one only show promise in light of or because of one's gender when the other gender is kept at bay? Can one's talents only shine through when the radiating glow of the other gender is shielded? With perhaps a few rare exceptions, I find these unlikely to be the case.

What about the opportunity to learn from and interact with children different from themselves? What about the opportunity to break down gender stereotypes of the opposite gender by seeing counterexamples firsthand? What about the opportunity to prepare for the real world where genders work side-by-side daily in most fields? What about the opportunity to learn about how persistent systems of sexism trickle all the way down to influence the inter-gender relationships of children? What about the opportunity to expand our understanding of gender as two discretely defined categories? Those seem like the types of educational opportunities I would like to see.

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