The debate over same sex education has been going on for decades now, and there is research to both support and oppose it. Some people say that girls are more likely to succeed in STEM fields in a classroom without boys and that it’s easier to cater to boys and girls separately due to their brains being fundamentally different. Others criticize the psychological research that says men and women have different brains, saying it has been invented to support socially constructed stereotypes. There are many facets of this debate that require more attention, but I want to focus on how same sex schooling reinforces the gender binary.
What does that mean?
The general public is getting closer and closer to seeing gender less like this:
and more like this:
In the past, we have talked about gender as being very one dimensional. Girls are female and they act this way, and boys are male and act another way. However, we now know that this isn’t the case. Gender identity is SO much more complicated than that, and binary descriptors don’t fit everyone. This is why I think “all girls schools” and “all boys schools” fail to meet the needs of many young Americans and end up reinforcing the gender binary by their very existence.
So… what’s the big deal?
It can be easy for cisgender Americans to overlook genderqueer people when thinking about same sex schooling. The LGBT community still goes unrecognized in some parts of the country as having valid identities. The discrimination has kept many LGBT people in the closet, making it extremely difficult to know just how large the community is. Luckily, due to growing acceptance, more and more people are feeling comfortable with coming out.
The numbers specific to those identifying as transgender and gender fluid are always changing, and it’s difficult to find a concrete answer of how many Americans identify with something other than their assigned gender at birth. However, we do know that the population, however small or large it may be, cannot be ignored when weighing the costs and benefits of same sex education.
I looked in my own community to understand more about same sex education. The two schools I looked at were my school, Columbus Academy (a previously all boys school that became coed in 1991) and Columbus School for Girls.
History on the Schools
Columbus School for Girls:
The Columbus School for Girls, or CSG as it is more commonly known, was established in 1898 as a traditional finishing school and college preparatory for young girls. The school focused primarily on English, mathematics, and foreign languages, but also stressed the importance of the performing and fine arts.
Columbus Academy was established in 1911 as an all boys companion to CSG. There were no all boys schools that weren’t boarding schools at the time, so Mr. J. L. Hamill founded a college preparatory school that focused on rigorous academics and athletics. In 1991, Academy became coed, and started allowing girls to attend.
CSG and Questions About Gender:
To get some insight about the conversations CSG is having about gender, I spoke with Ms. Janetta Davis. She spearheaded CSG’s Gay Straight Alliance sixteen years ago, and continues to oversee the group today. The group is entirely student lead, and attendance varies depending on the passion behind the leaders. She also helped establish Columbus Academy’s GSA.
- Do you talk about the gender aspect of the LGBTQ community?
- Talking about gender is not limited to our GSA, especially because of the unique role it plays in our student body.
- The club was actually born from a conversation about diversity within the faculty and a transgender student’s desire for the group.
- This past year was the first time a student was permitted to graduate in a pantsuit instead of a dress, and it was extremely well received.
- Have you seen a lot of change over past 16 years?
- There has been DRAMATIC change and growing acceptance, especially within the student body.
- In the beginning, we had to be so careful to keep those who attended the meetings secret.
- Is there any conflict you see in your all girls school when it comes to addressing gender fluidity?
- The biggest conflict we have is that our mission statement has the language “all girls” in it.
- However, people in the community have been very open to students who have preferred to change their pronouns, and those pronouns have been embraced by the faculty as well as the students.
- We talk about gender fluidity a lot within meetings of The Idea Committee (a diversity committee).
- There was a student last year who chose to leave the school because of their discomfort with the way CSG supports gender fluidity and expression, but no one has ever been asked to leave due to their gender identity.
- However, we have never had someone apply to the school who is a trans female, and that will have to be a discussion with administration and admissions.
Do you see your language about being an all girls school changing?
“I think it has to for us to stay relevant, I think it really has to.”
Columbus Academy and Questions About Gender:
After speaking with Ms. Davis about CSG’s relationship with gender, I interviewed Mr. John Exline. He is a graduate and longtime member
of the faculty at Columbus Academy. He attended the school when it was an all boys institution, and continued to teach there as the school
Talking to Ms. Davis and Mr. Exline helped me think about the issue of same sex education in a much more nuanced way. I don’t think we have enough reliable research yet to say whether enough same sex education is really effective for some people, and I also think we need to learn more about the true differences between the male and female brain. My goal wasn’t to find answers so much as just learn and start conversations, so I would appreciate it if you would participate in my poll!
Leet, Julia, and Janetta Davis. “CSG Gender Interview.” 3 Apr. 2018.
Leet, Julia, and John Exline. “CA Gender Interview.” 12 Apr. 2018.
Jamieson, Sophie. “Transgender Teenager Becomes First Boy at Top All-Girls School.” The Telegraph, 11 Feb. 2016.
Lecocq, Felix. “This Is How I Survived an All-Girls High School as a Trans Guy.” Teen Vogue, TeenVogue.com, 25 May 2017, www.teenvogue.com/story/transgender-male-teen-experience-at-all-girls-high-school.
Nagengast, Benjamin, et al. “Effects of Single-Sex Schooling in the Final Years of High School: A Comparison of Analysis of Covariance and Propensity Score Matching.” Sex Roles, May 2013.
Schultz, Louis A. “Academy Founder.” Columbus Academy; Summer 2011, digital.watkinsprinting.com/article/Academy+Founder/814345/0/article.html.