Should boys and girls be taught separately?

A feature on the New York Times website which caught my eye today makes fascinating reading. It starts by introducing Leonard Sax, an American doctor who is abandoning his career to become a full-time advocate of single-sex education.

Sax thinks hard-wired gender differences make it damaging for boy and girls to sit in class together, and argues that that single-sex schooling can help children who are low achievers in a co-ed context. Similar ideas are already catching on in the American public education system, with ballooning numbers of single-sex classrooms and even schools.

Do you think boys and girls need to be treated differently by their teachers? Or does gender segregation simply reinforce unhelpful stereotypes? What are your experiences of single-sex or mixed education?

24 Responses to “Should boys and girls be taught separately?”

  1. 1 Katharina in Ghent
    March 4, 2008 at 14:39

    I think it depends on why a child would be a low achiever in a co-ed classroom. Is there an atmosphere of “all the girls are teachers pets, I don’t want to be like them”, or the opposite “she’s just a girl, what does she know” in the class? I think that as long as there is a more or less equal number of boys and girls in a classroom (as there is in real life), then both genders can profit of co-ed. It’s more difficult when there are i.e. a lot more boys in the class (as I experienced), because then it can be very hard to stand up to them. I imagine also the opposite not to be too much fun for boys, with their needs to being represented enough. In the end, I don’t support single-ed because we’re learning for life, and not for school, and it’s too simple (and cheap) to blame your childs learning problem on the fact that the class was mixed.

  2. 2 Brett
    March 4, 2008 at 14:41

    Wasn’t this already discussed a month or so ago? (Not that I am against discussing it again).

    The point of education is to prepare you for life. Not cram as many facts down your throat as possible.

    How well prepared for life will you be if you are separated from the opposite sex for the years which are the most crucial in social development? School is arguably the most social point in a childs life. Why take this away and reduce their experience to single-sex schooling?
    Yes, evidence shows you may be able to learn a few more facts, or answer a standardized test slightly better. But if we want the real world to be equal and not segregated by sex, then why teach the children that is the way life is?

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  3. 3 steve
    March 4, 2008 at 14:41

    You’re equal or you are not. It’s time to come to a final conclusion on this matter. I thought people in the in 1960s fought hard against segregation, now we are considering gender segregation? As the discussion yesterday said, we truly are stupid.

  4. March 4, 2008 at 15:51

    Right from infancy we co-exist under the same roof, boys and girls together, with our parents. We never get segregated in our homes by way of gender. We sit at table together, study together and in some cases do some physical exercises together.

    When we grow up, we work together, male and female, or man and woman in a common office notwithstanding our biological differences.

    So why should children be separated through single-sex schooling such that they will lose gaining experience of real social life?

  5. 5 Mohammed Ali
    March 4, 2008 at 16:08

    There is no roomfor gender segregation. The proponents of this arguments should find another work to do.

  6. 6 Laura
    March 4, 2008 at 16:16

    I’ve seen both sides of single sex education at the collegiate level, and I’m almost tempted to say that it helps women more than it helps men. But that’s my gut level opinion. That could be an institutional thing-at the all women’s institution there was a real focus on community engagement, and the environment is just different at the all men’s school. I personally never thought about speaking up/not speaking up in class as a gender issues-some people just hogged the attention!

  7. 7 Nate, Portland OR
    March 4, 2008 at 17:30

    If you segregate them it should not be complete. There should me many opportunities for boys and girls to interact, and not just in quasi-romantic school dance situations. In fact, there should be little or none of that until well into (or beyond) adolescence. They should be at least seperate wings of the same school, with seperation in only in some classes that studies show benefit from gender seperation.

  8. 8 Will Rhodes
    March 4, 2008 at 18:02

    Ah back to the 50’s we go.

    I wonder of Mr Sax is all for the abstinence angle as well. If you don’t have boys and girls in the same classroom they can’t make babies!

    • 9 melissa
      August 19, 2009 at 07:23

      don’t be stupid Will !!! if you go to a single sex school you can still have a social life outside of school and you don’t need to be in the same classroom to make babies

  9. 10 steve
    March 4, 2008 at 18:04

    Interesting how separate can never be equal unless it’s about gender. There is no way to justify this. Even if it does benefit females, perhaps it harms males, as it may impact their social skills? But we don’t care about males, right?

  10. 11 steve
    March 4, 2008 at 18:36

    This is such a bad thing. Really, such a slippery slope. If one can argue that gender differences can be damagine to children, then you could make the same argument for different races together. Let’s not go down this path and just mark it as a stupid suggestion that nobody hopefully will take seriously.

  11. March 4, 2008 at 21:35

    That is one of the problems with the world, someone is always trying to separate humanity from humanity. Governments want us to behave as little idiot children so that they can think for us, instead of allowing us to think for ourself.

  12. 13 George USA
    March 4, 2008 at 22:45

    We did discuss this.

    It does not matter if together or separate, teach the courses.

    Comic book textbooks, and “I’m ok, you’re ok” focus do not help the students, or the nation.

  13. 14 SJ
    March 5, 2008 at 18:22

    What if someone is intersex (1 in 2000 children are born with ambiguous genes & morphology)? Which classroom do they go in?

  14. 15 mixonitup
    March 6, 2008 at 01:38

    Interesting how the vast majority of the replies are anti-segregation. I went to a standard public school and feel I came out fine. I worked at an all-boys summer camp for 4 years and can only speak from my experience. In an environment without females around, the boys were freed up to act as boys. If you don’t know what that means, spend time around little boys. They don’t sit still. They run everywhere they go. They have different interests than girls and they attack problems differently. I’m not sure that a traditional classroom is necessarily the best way for young boys to learn. I think that we should at least consider that boys are wired differently and thus should be treated and teached differently. I have no numbers on this, but I’d think that a large number of boys labeled as ADHD would do a lot better in an alternatively-structured classroom.I haven’t done any thinking on what that might look like, but I think it’s worth considering. I’m all in favor of ‘integrating’ education, but maybe later than sooner?

  15. 16 George USA
    March 6, 2008 at 17:55


    Probably the “stand or sit” rule would apply.

    If they stand going to the restroom, male classes.

    If they sit, female.

  16. 17 mixonitup
    March 6, 2008 at 18:04

    Sorry George USA, I fail to see how that makes any sense whatsoever.

  17. 18 Ingé Eveleigh
    March 12, 2008 at 22:01

    Segregation of any kind is a distortion of any child’s development. I had a very segregated childhood, not out of choice. My father was a widower & had to travel constantly, so from infancy to being an 18 yr. old I met not a single male in my life. From convent, to starting my nursing career all my human contacts were female. That has affected my life deeply. I had an odd attitude to males, for many yrs. but geared my activities to male pursuits. I wonder why?. I was a real outdoors girl, loved climbing trees, & later mtns. I married twice & had 3 sons, but i know my treatment of them was not what it should have been. I had noone to teach me, no g’parents, absent father. How was I to know. Now rtd. I am still amazed @ how men behave!. My grown up sons have taught me, unwittingly, how I should have behaved. But I can see where the ‘missing links’ have left their effects, particularly since their own marriages, & birth of their own children. We are good friends, & supportive, but they will never know the shadows I see in their up-bringing. Ingé. UK.

  18. 19 Calvin (Memphis Teacher)
    March 22, 2008 at 07:06

    I am a all male six grade teacher. It is my opinion that gender seperation is good and bad depending on the situation. First, I want to make clear that many of our inner city students are socially unprepared to deal with the opposite sex issues and focus on instruction and curricular at the certain stages of the education process, middle and high school to be more specific.

    Secondly, many students from low social economic status demographics are ill equipped to deal with issues other than academic at this stage of their lives, middle and high school. These students in particlar need less detraction as possible. If there was girls in the class I currently teach I would spend a large of amount of time correcting behaviors, which would take away from academic achievement.

    Lastly, I think that policy should be set which would evaluate who would benefit from gender separated classroom and place student that are distruptive in a coed environment. Students not be seperated by any means; however it is crucial that we make the every possible attempt to place students in the environments which would be more appropriate to their maxium potential to achieve both socially and academically.

    Calvin, MCS Teacher.

  19. 20 asia
    April 2, 2008 at 17:27

    it depends. having segregated schools could help students learn better with out distractions of boys and girls. also they dont have to worry about what there friends think or what they have to wear.

  20. 21 Elisson
    April 2, 2008 at 17:38

    I think segragating schools by gender wouldn’t help the students. In the real world there are girls and boys together, not seperated. By segregated schools it wouldn’t prepare them for the real world. Then again, if we segregated schools the students could focus more on their school work and less of what the opposite gender thinks. There are ups and downs of segregating schools.


  21. 22 Ben Vanhees
    December 3, 2008 at 19:24

    Hi there
    I’m masculin, went to a mixed sex school and I’m really in favor of this system because of two reasons

    1) I think growing up in a mixed way is a part of a normal education. Both boys and girls have to learn to concentrate on their class work even if the other sex is around. Otherwise, why not also propose single sex work environments etc ? Keeping the class concentrated is part of the task of teachers and also of the kids themselves

    2)I would have hated it to so to a single sex boys school, it would indeed be rougher. The presence of girls indeed has a calming effect, they often interfered whenever there were clashes between boys, keeping a more objective view of things and helping to separating boys with a too high testosteron level !

    Ben Vanhees Belgium

  22. February 19, 2009 at 02:27

    i think that we should n’t separte them because its affcet ing womens rights to learn in a class room or work with the oppsite sex. Plus think about how women were not aloud to vote or even have a male type job. If we had girls and boys separted it would be sexiest and that is wrong! Boys and girls ,men and women should be treated equaly and be together to work and learn side by side.

  23. April 22, 2009 at 22:18

    i think they should not because what if they have brothers or sisters they will have 2 ask them an important questions

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