Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Polite" Girls and Rowdy Boys

I recently came across an article in the Washington Post on single-sex education. In general, I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of single-sex education. In fact, I'd say that if I had been given the chance to attend an all-girls' school back when I was a kid, I would have shared the outlook of one of the featured 8-year-old girls: "'It's paradise!' to be with only girls."

Okay, but seriously, what would have troubled me about attending an all-girls' school is that I'm pretty sure an all-boys' school would have been more fun.

Observe some differences in boys versus girls classrooms from the article:

- In the girls' class, the students sat in a "tidy" circle reading poetry they had composed, after which the other students clapped "politely."

-In the boys' class the students read poems aloud from "desks facing every direction.... One classmate did a backbend over his chair as he read. Another crawled on the floor."

First off, I find it troubling that the author editorialized the article by describing the girls' circle as "tidy" and their applause as "polite." I think Kris from the Title IX Blog puts it well (direct link to article not available):

"Why do the girls sit 'politely'?--because that's what girls have been taught to do. Why do boys do backbends over their chairs?--because that's what they're allowed to do--because they're boys with allegedly uncontrollable desires to be moving all the time. I liked doing backbends over furniture when I was little too--except I did it at home. If it was acceptable school behavior, I would have done it there too."

See, I'm not convinced either that the "boy" desire to "fidget" is completely biological. I think, in fact, that it's pretty conceivable that because boys in all-male environment are given the freedom to "fidget" and do backbends over their chairs that they do those things. Whereas because such behavior is not deemed acceptable for girls in an all-female environment to exhibit, they are not given the freedom to be as wild. And therefore, they don't do backbends over their chairs. And further, if boys in general are more fidgety than girls, it doesn't mean that all boys are more fidgety than all girls. I suspect that just as I would have preferred to be in a classroom where I wasn't restricted to sitting in a "tidy" circle "politely" applauding to pukey poetry about birds, I'm sure that some boys would prefer to be.

Using single-sex classrooms to address issues like sex favoritism and higher male representation in special education is fine. But single-sex classrooms run the risk of becoming little boxes telling kids what is and is not "acceptable" behavior for their sex/gender. Teachers should not tell kids what a girl is or a boy is. They should just let kids be who they are and respect that.

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