September 10, 1996 · Cavalier Daily

Single-sex Scrutiny

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that VMI's all-male policy was unconstitutional, this opinion article responds to the opening of an all-female junior high school in East Harlem. The writer responds to opinions that the opening of an all-female school discriminates against boys, by acknowledging that preferential treatment towards boys may intimidate girls in school, but that separating the sexes is not the solution. Instead, she argues that teachers and administrators must make an effort to equalize the classroom.


1996-09-10 Cavalier Daily Single-sex Scrutiny.pdf
Julia Miller
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Single-sex Scrutiny
Julia Miller
Associate Editor
LAST WEEK, the New York City public school system opened an all-female junior high school in East Harlem. The New York City school board created the school to address concerns that teachers supposedly were giving boys preferential treatment. The New York chapter of the National Organization of Women and the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned the legality. The motives and practicality of the decision also are worthy of consideration.
In the wake of the Virginia Military Institute case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that public schools cannot discriminate by gender, one might think creating an exclusively female public junior high school would be blatantly unconstitutional. That is not the case, however because the VMI decision did not set guidelines to govern the issue of gender exclusiveness in elementary and secondary schools.
Not surprisingly, the New York branches of NOW and the ACLU have filed suit against the New York City school board, charging that the development of a female Junior high school discriminates against boys. Obviously, the New York case will try to answer the question of whether the VMI decision is applicable to elementary schools. It seems the schools constitutionally cannot easily be defended. While that case is battled in the courts, fundamental questions about gender equality and education must not go unanswered.
First, does the assertion that teachers discriminate against girls in the classroom justify the creation of a public all-girls school?
Following the release of studies that reported girls were called on less often than boys, and generally received less attention, parents and education groups called for the implementation of new programs designed to raise girls’ self-esteem and make them more confident in school settings. Many advocated removing boys from the girls' learning environment.
It is hard for me to believe that such a harsh measure can benefit the nation's children. If girls feel intimidated by boys and as a result do poorly in school, isolating the sexes will not fix the problem. When schools place a barrier between males and females, don't they simply reinforce the idea that girls and boys need to be treated differently, a misconception we have been trying to discard for years?
Let's consider the possible causes of poor grades and why girls may be timid in the classroom. Some say girls are distracted by boys and would benefit if such a distraction were removed. That seems to be fairly large jump in logic, for don't girls provide an equal distraction for boys? Yet we do not find a similar slip in test scores, nor do we hear a cry for boys to have an isolated learning environment. So. we move on to the idea that girls feel shy and intimidated in school.
Advocates of single-gender schools believe girls are less likely to speak up in class, ask questions and actively participate in the subject matter if boys are present. If we consider the studies which say boys are called on more often than girls to answer questions, especially in math and science, is it any wonder little girls feel less than welcome to raise their hand or shout out an answer? Boys in their math class, however, does not create the problem — teachers do.
Whether the teacher purposely favors males. administrators and school b6ards must make a concerted effort to educate our teachers to consciously equalize the classroom attention boys and girls receive.
Simply blaming co-educational classes misses the point. If our schools and society still are sending the message to young girls that they simply can't cut it in a classroom full of boys, educators need to address the content of the message, not just the place where it’s being delivered. If we put girls in separate schools because they are intimidated, we are effectively telling girls it is okay that teachers do not call on them regularly. That scenario would not teach them to stand up for themselves and make their voices heard. We need our daughters to be strong, independent women, not people who still are intimidated by men and feel that only among women can they succeed.
In practical terms, separating the sexes can only hurt both sides. In the real world, far away from the realm of chalkboards and playgrounds, men and women are forced to deal with each other daily. Women and men will have bosses, co-workers and friends of the opposite sex with whom they must work and communicate. If we do not teach our children to work, learn and play together, where will that leave them when they confront the realities of life?
There clearly is a problem with gender bias in some of our schools, and traditional programs and our teaching methods are not solving the problem. A separation of school children, however, is not the answer.
Schools do not need to adopt sweeping changes. Instead, reform must come from within. Implementing programs that address students' self-esteem, as well as raising teachers' awareness of their instruction methods, is preferable to separating Susie and Johnny. If we can teach all our children to be confident and assertive, we will enable them to welcome the world with open arms.
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Date Added June 11, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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