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August 30, 2006

Gender Equality in the Classroom

Martha Burk wrote a diatribe in Ms. Magazine, lamenting the fact that only history buffs and feminists celebrate Women's Equality Day. She also blasts Albany, NY for setting up charter schools that separate kids by gender - a boys' elementary school and a girls' elementary school. She thinks this is a clear sign that girls aren't being taken seriously.

As a woman who went to co-ed public schools throughout my youth and attended a private women's college, I take extreme issue with her accusations. First of all, I oppose charter schools on simple grounds: they take money away from real public schools and they force teachers and other school employees to work without unions. And while it is a shame that only the boys school got a new building, since I don't know the town - maybe the girls' building wasn't in need of improvement. Further, single gender education can be extremely helpful to both boys and girls.

Trust me, it's not to take away sexual distractions. Hetero kids will always find a way to commingle and queer kids will create enough drama in a single gender environment to make you forget it isn't co-ed. Not that I expect this to be an issue in elementary schools, but I did want to clear the air for everyone re high school and college settings.

The fact is that males and females generally respond better to different forms of teaching. This isn't always true; but just look at how many parents hold their sons back from kindergarten because he's immature and small for his age - they figure by starting a year later, he'll have a leg up on the competition. And they justify this by saying that boys take longer to mature than girls. If parents recognize fundamental differences between their kids, why can't schools accommodate for those differences?

I am a staunch feminist and believe that feminism is the radical idea that women and men are equal. That does not make us the same. I had a high school English teacher who favored the male students in my class. It was partially to avoid such bias that I ultimately chose Wellesley as my college of choice. And while I had many bumps in my educational road, I do not regret giving up the company of men in my classrooms. After all, I saw plenty of them in my off hours.

Posted by cj at August 30, 2006 5:32 PM


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