Historical Look at Coed and Single-sex Education


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Despite those who argue that in today’s society men and women are treated equally, gender inequalities still exist. When it comes to the subject of education, some are convinced that it should not be divided in terms of sex; meanwhile, others believe that both sexes should attend separate schools. This topic has been controversial for decades, particularly since women were not admitted to American public schools until 1837 (Lewis, J.J., 2019). Ultimately, what’s at stake here is whether student performance is more beneficial in coed or single-sex schools. To truly understand whether segregating genders allows students to perform better, one has to look at it according to the results of education in America over the last 200 years.

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Originally, schools were established for white men with the purpose of succeeding in a higher career or field in a job. According to Margaret L. Signorella, with a Ph.D. and a professor of Penn State Brandywine that studies psychology, women, gender, and sexuality, Thomas Jefferson viewed girls education as only excelling in either the household or the arts other than that white men who wanted a position in the government or higher jobs would usually attend schools. Additionally, most of what was taught to girls was informal and generated at home. Up till 1837, as stated before by Johnson Lewis, women became full-time participants in schools though, very limited graduates. Since education was typically for men, schools then were separated between both sexes and slowly they started to integrate. Another major reason for separation in genders amongst schools during this time period was majorly influenced by religion. The parents of girls, for example, would prefer to send them to an all-girls school so that they can avoid problems such as sexual harassment caused by boys or sexual encounters between both genders. Today, a major factor for single-sex schooling as said by Ra’anna Malik is feminism which presumes girls should attend an all-girls school (2013). It wasn’t till 1972 when the United States passed the Educational Amendments that stated schools that were federally-funded should not discriminate against genders, leading schools to further integrate becoming coed. Fast-forwarding a bit, single-sex schools became completely extinct in the late 1980’s and made a reappearance in the 1990’s (Jenkins, K.J., 2006). The cause for the reappearance was due to the fact people wanted to establish equity between the genders. Essentially, the No Child Left Behind educational act caused a big rise in single-sex schools across the country again. Specifically, between the years 2005-2006 as stated by Nicholas Benham, Maya Desai, Madeleine Freeman, Tori Kutzner and Karuna Srivastav with the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law, which focuses their publication on exploring the impact of gender and sexuality both in theory and the law. Unlike the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, or EEOA, which essentially never really addressed gender portions in education (Benham, N., et al., 2019), the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was pursued for different reasons. Furthermore, the original authors hoped it [the act] would discuss the legalization of single-sex classrooms in public schools which formerly was considered discrimination against sexes in education by the Title IX act.

In recent discussions about the topic of education, some argue that all schools should be coed schools because they are better at creating an equal learning environment and because they create diversity. From this perspective, many believe that they give students a better environment of learning because it teaches them skills such as getting to know how to work with the other gender (Malik R., 2013). On the other hand, however, others argue that single-sex schooling provides students with the advantage of being more outgoing and better at academic performance (Jenkins K., 2006). In the words of Ra’anna Malik, one of these views main proponents say that within single-sex schools the academic environment suffers no distractions resulting in better academic performances. According to this view, school culture is established and educational achievements are raised. Emily Keener and her colleagues suggest a similar opinion as they say one-sex schools have no gender roles (Keener, E., Mehta, C. & Strough, J., 2013). Their claim that gender roles do not exist in single-sex schools rests upon the questionable assumption that the aim of education would be to get students to the same place within the same time have the schools be single-sex or not. In sum then the issue today is whether putting genders in separate schools would be the better option for students or not. This issue is similar to the one we were experiencing before, it just became more complex.

Many problems have arisen on this topic, significantly nowadays since more than our standard two genders exist in America. Now, many of the problems we would have to worry about are other genders trying to get into single-gendered schools and being denied admission. So far what has been said about single-sex and coed schools discusses the problems between boys and girls. As cited by Benham and his colleagues from the Court in Hogan, “neither Congress nor a state can validate a law that denies the rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment” (2019). Other future challenges could potentially be a lot of lawsuits against the school board due to the many denials that are going to be filed against the opposite gender of a single-sex school. These lawsuits can eventually destroy the school board. If many lawsuits were to be filed at a time, it can lead to a lot of debt of a country and total destruction.

My conclusion, then, is that all schools should be unisex and that there should be no separation of genders. Though I do acknowledge that students as individuals tend to perform better according to minor research done over the past two centuries. I still maintain that we need diversity in education if we all want to be truly equal. Besides, all of the research presented here eventually leads to being inconclusive and spotty as said by Malik, who addresses various different points based on the coed and single-sex education situation. But come to think about it, students who attend gender-separated schools miss out on opportunities to interact with the opposite gender. The world was made as one, not divided into two where one side is for the girls and the other side is for boys. Development in a child starts at a very young age, by separating them and surrounding them by kids who are the same as them they will likely grow up missing out on the skills of how to interact with one another on a gender basis.

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