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Single Sex Classrooms -- Dividing the Instruction and Education That Girls and Boys Receive

Updated on September 22, 2015
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C. E. Clark homeschooled her child from kindergarten through high school. Public and private education is high in importance to Ms. Clark.

For a while, more and more public schools were including single sex classrooms. USA Today reports in their July 9, 2012 issue that today there are more than 500 public schools across the nation that offer some single sex classes.

The New York Times in their September 22, 2011 issue concurs, stating that there are more than 500 schools in 40 different states that offer at least some single sex classes.

Under pressure from the ACLU, several public schools have stopped offering single sex classes. The ACLU has sent cease and desist letters to several schools around the country that have either implemented single sex classrooms, or that plan to do it in the near future.

As a result of the ACLU win in Missouri’s Adrian R-III School District, there is a strong likelihood that other school districts might find themselves in a costly court action that would, in the end, force them to change their educational methods back to coeducational.

Rather than take the chance of having to spend already limited funds on a no-win lawsuit, some school districts are simply going back to their coeducation classes, or scrapping plans to start implementing single sex classes.

The reason the ACLU objects to single sex classrooms is that there is no solid evidence that single sex classrooms are beneficial, and as Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri says, [there is] “. . . plenty of evidence they [single sex classrooms] actually enhance gender stereotypes and lead to sexism.

Single sex classrooms

All boy's class
All boy's class | Source
All girl's class
All girl's class | Source

Supporters of Single Sex Classrooms Believe Children Have Weaknesses and Strengths Depending On What Sex They Happen To Be

The proponents of single sex classrooms claim that having both boys and girls in the same classroom is distracting for all of the students. For now, it is mostly high school students who are affected, although there are some elementary and middle schools that have implemented single sex classrooms as well.

Emuna Braverman, writing for believes that girls and boys have unique gender based strengths and weaknesses and that single sex classrooms can address these differences where coeducational classrooms cannot.

Braverman says she thinks it is shocking that single sex classrooms are considered revolutionary by a lot of people. To some extent she is correct because separating girls and boys in schools is not new and was the norm for many decades, first in England, and then here in the U.S. In fact many schools refused to admit girls and women completely, and that did not change in some cases until just a few years ago.

It was not until 1972 that legislation was enacted to make it unlawful to discriminate against children and adults in education, because of the sex they happened to be.

In the not so distant past women have suffered serious discrimination because of imagined weaknesses believed to be gender related. Those weaknesses were the excuses given for refusing women enrollment in certain schools and consideration for certain jobs. Indeed, serious sexism continues to this day presumably based on the same criteria, and it seems as if this attitude about teaching to gender weaknesses and strengths only feeds that sexism.


Girls and Boys Need to Learn How to Work Together

While some proponents of single sex classrooms believe boys and girls do better in classrooms where their classmates are more like themselves, one commenter on Braverman’s article responded by saying, “. . . girls and boys need to learn to work together, as people. How can you separate them in classrooms their whole lives, and then thrust them into a world where they must work together and treat each other with respect and intelligence?” Good point.

Dr. Diane F. Halpern, a Professor of Psychology who has won many awards for her teaching and research in the areas of critical thinking, and sex differences in cognitive abilities says there is no support for the idea that single sex classrooms are beneficial. She further says that a lot of problems are created when people are segregated into groups. Segregation encourages and increases stereotyping for one thing. History has proven that.

Dividing classrooms and schools will likely have the effect of setting women’s progress and opportunities back many decades. It will give employers and universities more opportunities to reject female applicants once again, because they graduated from girls’ and women’s schools that will be characterized as inferior as all women’s activities and education have been in the past and continues to be in the minds of some people yet today.

Women haven’t completely put the bad old days behind them, and now those days of severe discrimination are threatening to return to the education system again, with many women seemingly oblivious that they are helping to lead the way.

Dr. Leonard Sax Says Children Need to Be Taught Womanhood and Manhood So They Will Grow Up Knowing Their Societal Roles

Dr. Leonard Sax, founder of the Pennsylvania-based National Association for Single Sex Public Education, believes one reason schools should go to single sex classrooms is because it makes it easier for the teacher.

Sax says that girls like nouns and boys like verbs. In a coed classroom that would require the teacher to write 2 different lesson plans, one for the boys with emphasis on verbs, and one for girls with emphasis on nouns.

Are we no longer teaching nouns to boys or verbs to girls? Are we letting our children off the hook, not requiring them to learn things they do not like? No wonder so many high school graduates can’t read! No wonder so many high school graduates can’t do simple math!!

Since when has educating our children revolved around what is easy for the teacher?

On his own website, in the process of promoting one of his books, Sax states that parents do not teach their children the meaning of womanhood and manhood the way they should so that their children will be less confused about exactly what their role in society is when they become adults.

I thought young adults determined what they wanted their roles in society to be for themselves, but Sax thinks it should be programmed into them.

It seems to me that Sax is trying to institute a program into our schools that will put women back in what he deems to be “their place,” It would also seem that Sax believes with proper training, children will not grow up to be gay or lesbian. Those are the messages I got from his point about teaching children about manhood and womanhood and roles they are expected to live in society.

If that is the case, as it seems to be, Sax is trying to limit what women can do and to turn back the clock to when men had more power over women. He would also seem to be trying to put gays back into the closet.

History already speaks loudly for what happens when people are segregated for any reason even before considering that Sax appears to be advocating against women and gays.

Sax also says that people, even as babies already show a preference for stereotypical subjects and toys. Even as infants, he says, girls prefer people while boys prefer movement. As young children, boys prefer action and girls prefer dolls.

Girls like trucks and cars for toys too!

My daughter playing with her Tonka dump truck full of stuffed toys on the left,  and giving Barbie a ride in the bucket of her front end loader.  I preferred these kinds of toys as a child and daughter did too, except for books being her #1 favorite.
My daughter playing with her Tonka dump truck full of stuffed toys on the left, and giving Barbie a ride in the bucket of her front end loader. I preferred these kinds of toys as a child and daughter did too, except for books being her #1 favorite. | Source

Sax Discourages Having Toys Available to Children That Are Not Gender Stereotypical

Sax Believes That Non-Stereotypical toys Only Serve to Confuse Children. Confuse children about what, I’m wondering?

From my personal experience as a young child, I loved cars and trucks and bulldozers. I wanted an erector set but it was too expensive. I wanted Lego blocks, but again they were too expensive. Dolls were boring. I loved building roads and driving my cars down them. I wanted to build a suspension bridge as described in a television commercial for an erector set.

All manner of toys were provided for my daughter and no one attempted to influence her choices. Her favorite thing was books and remains so to this day, although music is also a big part of her life. She had even less use for dolls than I did, if that is possible, although she did used to enjoy giving her Barbie a ride in the bucket of her front end loader from time to time. Now 23, she seems as opinionated and unconfused as her mother.

While I do not usually take sides, in this case I believe that by making all public schools single sex, or even most classrooms single sex, we will be handicapping our children, especially our daughters.

Our daughters will have fewer opportunities to learn and experiment with the same things as boys, and will be directed towards activities considered feminine if Sax gets his way, our sons will again be taught that females are the weaker sex, and not as smart or as capable as themselves by virtue of their plumbing.

After fighting so hard for equal rights, educational opportunities and career opportunities for all women, it seems incongruous that women would even consider segregating their daughters the way girls and young women were in the days of women’s servitude.

Women have not yet achieved anything close to equality, yet it seems like some of those women who had more choices because of the courageous women who came before them are now willing to throw it all away away and sacrifice the few hard won benefits that should belong to our daughters and granddaughters.


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