Does Single-Sex Education Perpetuate Gender and Sex Stereotyping? Even Science Can’t Tell, Yet

By: Yanie Yuan

Does Single-Sex Education Perpetuate Gender and Sex Stereotyping? Even Science Can’t Tell, Yet.

In the United States, single-sex education has seen its highs and lows throughout history, as its constitutional legality and pedagogical value are under constant, fierce debate. In recent years, as the discussion around LGBTQ issues gains increasing attention, single-sex education, especially in the public sector, has again attracted scrutiny around the issue of gender and sex stereotyping.[1]

While the political and legislative debate is on-going, everyone has looked to science for support, or even a definitive answer, to no avail. Due to the varied ways of theorisation and research, both proponents and opponents of single-sex education proclaim to have the answer to whether the pedagogical method perpetuates gender and sex stereotyping. However, so far, no one side is truly winning yet.

While some research completely denies any “empirical evidence that their success stems from their single-sex organization,”[2] some has gone as far as to dub single-sex education a “pseudoscience” and that it makes pupils “more prone to sexism.”[3] For example, in one study recently done by Dr. Diane Halpern, the data shows that when presented with only their own respective sexes, boys tend to become more aggressive, whereas girls become increasingly sex-typed.[4] In conclusion, the study found that a single-sex education divides and confines men and women to their respective sexual and gender constructs.[5]

However, the naysayers were not the only ones relying on science. In fact, studies done to similar age groups show have resulted in completely different conclusions. In earlier conducted research, when school-aged girls were put to play dodgeball with another team of boys, they displayed an evident lack of voluntariness and energy when they were with another team of girls previously.[6] The girls were found more engaging and livelier as they interacted with their own sex. In sum, this study purports to find that a single-sex setting allows young girls to have a safer and more relaxing environment to develop their sexual identities.[7]

In addition to conflicting views in empirical researches, a lack of up-to-date comprehensive studies on the issue has also contributed to the impasse. A lot of the studies cited are almost 10 years old. Most are skewed by a narrow interest in examining academic performance, without looking at social and cultural contexts.[8]

As the scientific debate continues to broil, single-sex education continues to grow and even thrive in certain states. Despite its many controversies, it still serves as a valuable alternative to traditional public coeducation to mostly impoverished and disadvantaged students. While it remains arguable whether single-sex education perpetuates sex and gender stereotypes, it is expected that parents and students shall continue benefit from choice and diversity, which is what fundamentally matters for us all.

 

[1]See Julia Airey, District’s New Single-Sex Schools Draw Fire, Wash. Times (Aug. 21, 2018), https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/aug/21/districts-new-single-sex-schools-draw-fire/; See also Grace Chen, Does Your Public School Ban LGBT Websites? Sue With the ACLU, Pub. Sch. Rev. (May 01, 2018), https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/does-your-public-school-ban-lgbt-websites-sue-with-the-aclu.

[2] Michael Alison Chandler, Study: Single-Sex Education May Do More Harm Than Good, Wash. Post (Sept. 22, 2011), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/study-single-sex-education-may-do-more-harm-than-good/2011/09/22/gIQABAQOoK_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a90b3997c096.

[3] Nick Collins, Children at Single-Sex Schools ‘More Likely to Be Sexist’, The Telegraph (Sept. 22, 2011), https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8781907/Children-at-single-sex-schools-more-likely-to-be-sexist.html.

[4] Diane F. Halpern et al., The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling, 133 Science 1707 (2011), https://www.feminist.org/education/pdfs/pseudoscienceofsinglesexschooling.pdf.

[5] See generally supra note 4.

[6] Leonard Sax, Are Single-Sex Schools Actually Dangerous?, Psychol. Today (Sept. 26, 2011), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sax-sex/201109/are-single-sex-schools-actually-dangerous.

[7] Id.

[8] Supra note 1.

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