Growing up, I did not speak up often in class, especially my science or math classes. I knew I did not feel comfortable with the material, so I did not want to embarrass myself if I spoke up and got something wrong. I remember struggling with math and science, and thinking it was normal for most girls to not be at the top of their class in those subjects. I always felt positively reinforced in English class learning to analyze literature and understanding grammar. Now looking back, I wonder if I would have felt more comfortable if I were in a learning environment that only had other girls. Would I have been more or less likely to speak up? Would other girls have the same problems in school as me that were also scared to speak up? Were there girls who were good at math and science who could help me?
So, what is single-sex education?
In her book, Gendered Lives, Julia T. Wood explains single-sex educational programs as a campus or classroom where female and male students are separated to be taught more specifically to learning styles and development. The idea behind single-sex education is intriguing, as supporters believe this tactic can help stamp out the inequities in education. Female students may be able to more closely focus on STEM fields and get the teaching techniques and encouragement they need to succeed in those fields. Male students would, on the other hand, be given a chance to pursue HEAL fields, and teachers may be able to help young boys, who generally are behind in reading compared to young girls, develop their reading skills. However, Dr. Janet Hyde, professor of psychology and women’s studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, states that there is no real scientific evidence to support these claims. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union has been investigating these programs and believe that they promote gender stereotypes (Taylor, 2014).
Gender Norms and Stereotypes
Many critics disagree with single-sex education stating that eventually males and females will have to interact, and it is important to know how to do so before entering the real world. The separate-but-equal standpoint has historically not been the best way to achieve the greatest outcomes. Most critics believe that in order to truly stamp out the inequities in the education system, we must focus on giving both males and
females, of all races, religions, and other demographics the same opportunities and support within the same school.
Motoko Rich wrote an article for the NY Times, describing a single-sex education program in Florida, beginning his article by describing the classroom.
In one third-grade classroom, the walls are bordered by cheetah and zebra prints, bright pink caddies hold pencils and glue sticks, and a poster at the front lists rules, including “Act pretty at all times!”
Next door, cutouts of racecars and pictures of football players line the walls, and a banner behind the teacher’s desk reads “Coaches Corner.”
The students in the first class: girls. Next door: boys.
Rich goes on to describe the teaching styles for both classrooms, saying the teacher incorporates competition for the boys and ensures there are extra sweaters in the class for the girls, in case they get cold and are distracted by it. One male student (8 years old) even says he would rather learn in a girl-free environment, because girls are “bossy.”
These are only a few of the negative stereotypes being reinforced by this particular single-sex education program, and I am sure they are being reinforced at others.
The video below discusses how studies done by the ACLU, the US Department for Education, and the American Psychological Association shows that single-sex educational programs does not necessarily help students learn better and it actually reinforces sexism and gender stereotypes. Watch for yourself!
Source: Youtube user DNews
Title IX extends beyond equal opportunities for women’s athletics. It is a law that requires all federally funded schools to provide equal opportunities in every type of educational program. Athletics is only one of ten key areas Title IX addresses. These areas are: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology. For example, if a student is sexually harassed, they may report it to the Title IX office at their university, which would work diligently to address that harassment and to prevent it from happening again or to others.
In 2002, Mary Beth Marklein, from USA Today, asked 3 female college presidents about the impacts of Title IX after 30 years of the law’s presence. Judith Rodin, President of University of Pennsylvania, states, “American society is inexorably moving toward more gender balance, to the mutual benefit of both sexes. The growing presence of women in the professions, and the ascent of women into positions of influence, is transforming our society in ways subtle and dramatic.” Judith was the first female to serve as president of the university, starting in 1994.
Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, expresses just how far we have come since Title IX was first enacted. She believes that in order to truly fight for equality in education, we as a society should keep progressing through Title IX. She says,
The answer is to build on the successes of Title IX by creating affirmative opportunity — that is, programs and policies that will encourage women and minorities to pursue advanced degrees in mathematics, science, engineering, and technology. At Rensselaer, we offer interactive and hands-on learning in our studio courses that spark the interest and nurture the enthusiasm of all our students, particularly women. Our retention rates for women in engineering and the sciences are above the national average.
Title IX continues to expand horizons for women. But we must persist in encouraging women and underrepresented minorities in these fields if we are to ensure our nation’s competitive edge in the global marketplace.
To see all three president’s statements in full, click here.
One step forward, two steps back.
Up until the late 19th century, schools were segregated by sex. Are we sure that turning about 100 years of progress around back to single-sex education as the predominant form or equal form of education is the best idea? Or can the existing gender stereotyping and sexism be what pushes Title IX to the next level to attempt to make another positive change in our society?
After researching this type of education, I began to wonder what it would have been like for me to attend a school like that. It sounded interesting at first and there may be some advantages to a single-sex classroom. However, I believe moving forward is always best.