In a “what’s old is new again” type of teaching thrust, some schools are going old school and dividing kids by gender in the classroom. Here’s an article from the L.A. Times about an academy in our city that seems to be happy with the results of separating kids in this manner.
Me, I am not really sure how I feel about this.
Now first, let me say that I was able to teach an all-girls English class and and all-boys English class two years ago in an attempt to see if breaking kids into this type gender-based class alignment actually offered any benefits. (NOTE: we had a teacher that had been doing it for almost 30 years — a woman I greatly respected; an educator who swore by it — and she was retiring so I decided to take over the idea for just two of my sections.)
For me, it worked out really well… for the girls. That class blazed. Really, the girls were just on fire that year. It was amazing! I mean I never had so many kids do homework… so consistently.
And do the reading. WOW! We blazed through so many books it was remarkable. We did projects, had debates, almost NEVER had classroom management problems… the girls just tore it up.
The boys… not so much.
Now I am of the opinion that, in general, today’s girls are very often kicking the butt of today’s boys in school. I see it with my own eyes every day. More boys drop out. More girls go to college. More girls are at the top of the class whereby more boys seem to be barely scraping by. Of course, these are generalizations but if you’ll allow me to speak in generalizations, I’d say it’s pretty clear that the efforts of the women’s rights movement, feminism, birth control, call it what you want… have not only brought a healthier degree of equity to the role of gender in education, but the scales have actually been tipped in favor of the young ladies.
Girls today are leading the charge in our schools and personally, I have no problem with this. (BTW, this phenomenon is also part of the subplot of my book The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez. Having a proactive, strong female protagonist who valued her own schooling and was determined not to become “dependent” on a man plays a solid role in the novel and hits, I believe, a very true note with today’s teenage, girl readers.)
Yet, I didn’t teach all boys/girls classes again the next year. And why? I think it’s because I discovered that the boys needed the girls… much more so than the girls needed the boys. I mean we are definitely having “issues” with boys in our schools today — especially in Title 1 schools like mine — so for all the benefits I found the girls were getting, well… a part of it felt like they were coming at the expense of the boys. The boys found a pecking order. There were leaders, there were followers and there were wallflowers… and for sure there was a bit of the Lord of the Flies aspect to their interactions. But most troubling was that boys, once they found their pecking order, didn’t seem to feel any drive to break out of their roles once they had settled into them. It was as if once they all became socialized to a certain means of operating, they stayed within those confines no matter what I did to shake it up.
The girls perpetually pushed one another… and they supported one another (for the most part) as well. But the boys… well, like I said. The class was kind of like a kite that never really took off and flew the way I had hoped and the reason why – at least to me it seemed, the reason why was, in part, due to an absence of girls in the class.
Maybe it makes sense to divide kids up by gender? Maybe there is a bunch more I need to learn about teaching in a single-sex class? Either way, it’ll be interesting to see if this type of gender-based classroom assignment will catch on more in the future, that’s for sure.