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The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling Reflections

chelseam's picture

I was glad to see that Anne had posted the Pseudoscience of Same-Sex Schooling study published in Science magazine. ( Though I am not a Bryn Mawr student, I did go to an all girl's middle school, and while reading "The He Hormone" I found myself reflecting on the experience. I think that there is a value in same-sex education that Pseudoscience overlooks. The study begins its argument by pointing out that the test scores of girls in a SS environment were much less impressive when one took into account their elevated performance prior to entering the school. While this may seem like a mildly interesting statistic, I felt that it missed the point of Same Sex education. I think that a lot of what SS institutions strive to address is less tangible (and perhaps less statistically testable) than test scores. Though I do remember middle school as feeling academically challenging, I think the real value of the experience came from being in an academic environment during those awkward and tumultuous middle-school years that allowed me to behave as a student without being concerned with the gender dynamics at play. I think McAuliffe alludes to this when she quotes the Bryn Mawr grad who said that "I could concentrate on learning instead of being the representative of a gender. Gender became irrelevant instead of being something that defined me." I have no way of knowing how I would be different as a student or a person had I not gone to an all girls middle school. However, in comparing experiences with friends who attended co-ed middle schools, I have often felt that I got to skip a lot of preoccupation with the way I should be behaving in a class room - the way my actions would be perceived - and instead got to focus on enjoying learning and just being. 

However, I do think the study's point about the lack of evidence in different learning styles is a valid one. I think it is important that single sex institutions use the environment as an opportunity to truly challenge their students, a focus that I don't doubt these schools have, rather than going easy on the girls as the study suggests they might. It would be interesting to see more studies on the ways that teachers treat boys and girls in co-ed institutions, because it seems to me that it is unlikely differential treatment would occur more in single sex institutions than in co-ed ones. 

I found the study interesting, but I think it is worth considering the idea that single-sex institutions could also play a role in breaking down gender roles rather than enforcing them, in part because they are more consciously aware of them and are often actively involved in trying to fight perceived gender roles in academic settings.