Single Sex vs. Co-ed Schools

Since we moved quite a bit as I was growing up, I experienced a little bit of everything when it came to school: private co-ed, public co-ed, and, finally, single-sex. And while I did get a good education in each school, I flourished in Hutchison's all-girl environment.

There are more than anatomical differences between boys and girls. There are proven emotional and academic distinctions between the two, and since we know that, shouldn't we teach them accordingly?

I won't bog you down with statistics, but findings from Harvard and American University researchers and the National Foundation for Education Research agree: Students are better prepared for the future when educated in single-sex classrooms. They found that students from single-sex classrooms had better leadership skills than their co-ed counterparts, and that half of graduating seniors from girls' schools pursued math, science, business, or engineering degrees.

Aside from credible sources saying as much, I know firsthand how different the educational experiences are. When I was in co-ed classrooms, no matter how interesting the subject matter, another subject matter a few desks away was equally — if not more — interesting. Simply put, when the student body is same sex, you're not likely to get distracted by student bodies. At Hutch, we didn't worry about looking silly in front of a crush if we got the wrong answer. We were expected to stand and deliver, and we did. The captain of every team, president of every organization, and yes, editor of every publication — a girl. We learned by example that we could be leaders, and that nothing was off-limits. Those are lessons that stay with you.

Those who argue that these schools leave students unprepared to interact with the opposite sex are unaware of today's single-sex structure. Girls' schools in Memphis, for example, have official and unofficial partnerships with "brother schools" for everything from academics to drama to sports. It's a student's choice whether to participate in the co-curricular settings.

The single-sex model isn't about keeping students apart. It's about preparing and educating both men and women to the best of our — and their — abilities. In doing so, we all win.

— Mary Helen Tibbs

The perfectly well-meaning advocates of single-sex education miss out on one incredibly important point. There's much more to education than school.

As participants in the TV series Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader demonstrate, many of the fundamental lessons of our childhood classrooms are useless to us in adulthood. So what remains of our education after the value of our knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem fades?

The point — or counterpoint in this case — is that we don't live in a single-sex world. In addition to learning the ins and outs of the Louisiana Purchase, osmosis, and polynomials, coed schooling prepares us to interact with others in a society where one's interpersonal skills are as crucial to determining success in life as a stellar academic record.

This isn't about developing the all-important wooing skills that come with extended exposure to the opposite sex. Besides, it's far from given that everyone will pick those things up. It also has nothing to do with a competitive battle of the sexes. Boys and girls need to learn how to get along, get used to not getting along, and most importantly, get used to sharing life achievements. It's no longer a man's world.

My school experience was richer for learning, really knowing, that girls out-achieved boys in plenty of subjects. What better way to nip chauvinism in the bud than to have gender equality reinforced repeatedly on a daily basis?

Don't just take my word for it, though. A systematic review of single-sex and coed schools conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found higher rates of eating disorders in students in single-sex schools. The same review determined, to the surprise of no one with a grain of common sense, that coed students reported a more rewarding social experience in school than single-sex students.

If you don't believe that social lessons trump schoolbook lessons, experiment with it a little in your own life. Try to wow your next date by reciting the Declaration of Independence, or dominate that job interview with your explanation of asexual reproduction. Good luck.

A complete education involves equally important lessons in the books, in the classroom, and between a variety of people learning how to get along in the world that we share.

— Preston Lauterbach

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