Vetting Single-Sex Education

It may not be for everyone, but there is a place for single-sex education in today’s classrooms.

Photo by Jared CastaldiIn 1984, I had the strange luck of being a part of the first coed class to graduate from Episcopal Academy. We were an exceptionally close bunch, and we knew we were special. Administrators told us so—quite often, in fact.

Still, my socialization was a bit unusual—even somewhat delayed. Unlike the relatively even ratios found at Episcopal today, our class was mostly male. And the culture and traditions that carried EA through its first 200 years as an all-boys school weren’t easily erased.

The girls in our class were relentlessly doted on, routinely misunderstood and occasionally feared. A few dated upperclassmen; one even took up with the son of the headmaster. Another found a serious boyfriend in the grade below. Others chose not to get mixed up in the out-of-whack gender dynamic at EA and turned to other schools. I joined most of the guys in my class and did the same, socializing regularly with a fun bunch of Notre Dame girls.

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Back in fourth grade, I spent a day at the Haverford School (my dad’s alma mater) and decided it wasn’t for me. But I do wonder sometimes how I would’ve turned out if I’d given single-sex education a shot.

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In “Let Boys Be Boys”, MLT contributor Michael Bradley makes a strong case for the relevance of boys’ schools in today’s world, even while acknowledging certain implicit traits that can sometimes undermine their effectiveness. From kindergarten on, Bradley attended all-boys schools—first Waldron Mercy Academy, then Haverford. “I found them to be the perfect environment for me to try whatever I wanted to do,” he says. “In a sixth-grade talent show, I recited Hamlet’s soliloquy. I acted in plays and performed skits. I wrote for everything the school had to offer, participated in every athletic forum I could, and even studied once in a while. The absence of a need to impress girls every day allowed me to be myself at all times.”

Still, Bradley acknowledges that he wasn’t at all privy to the support and counseling services available now. Today, he says, boys are more at risk than they’ve been at any time in recent history. “It’s imperative that schools recognize this and attempt to teach them according to methods proven to reach male students,” says Bradley. “That can happen at coed schools, but it does happen at boys schools.”

But the last thing Bradley wants is for readers to view his piece as a shot at girls or coed education. Boys’ schools aren’t perfect. But, as one expert says in Bradley’s story, “When they work, they work beautifully.”

Wouldn’t it be great if the same could be said about every school.

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