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    Catholic Catholic Document Transcript

    • The rationale for educating the sexesseparately was originally based onpreparing children for their respectivefutures, noted Dr. Leonard Sax, authorof Why Gender Matters, in theconcluding portion of his presentationsponsored by the two remaining singlegender Catholic high schools in SanAntonio — Central Catholic andProvidence. In the past, girls were brought up tobe mothers and homemakers, hepointed out, while boys were raised tohave careers. Today, he observed, that is no longer the case and women areexpected to have productive careers no less than men. As the oldrational began to crumble in the 1960s, so did single sex schools. Theonly other argument for their existence had been that having boys andgirls together in classes distracted them from their studies. It was not until the 1980s, said Sax, that people began tounderstand that girls and boys develop differently. “They heardifferently, they see differently, their sense of smell is different,” hesaid. “And they learn differently.” (Scientific studies on this weredetailed in the first-two installments of Dr. Sax’s presentation in theFeb. 17 and March 3 issues of Today’s Catholic.) These 1980s studies began to show as well that the math ability ofgirls in all-girl schools did not drop at puberty, refuting the old“estrogen poisons the brain” theory. Girls in single sex schools also didnot “lose their voice.” “Girls in coed schools,” said Sax, “stop raisingtheir hands; they stop interrupting in particular.” Boys in boys’ schools, he noted, are twice as likely to take subjectslike art, music, drama and foreign languages, as compared to boys incoed schools. Such schools make an effort to see that extracurricularactivities in sports and the arts are not competing time-wise. “In awell-run boys’ school,” said Sax, “you don’t have to choose betweenbeing a jock or a geek.” Likewise, girls in single sex schools are much more likely to beinvolved in competitive sports. (They are also much less likely tobecome pregnant than girls in coed schools.)
    • Sax told of a Catholic school in Canada that switched from coed tobecoming a dual academy in 2002, with boys and girls taking separateclasses in separate wings. This included band, where previously onlyboys had played the trumpet and only girls the flute. With the change,girls were asked to volunteer for the trumpet and some discoveredthey were far better on this instrument than they had been on theflute. It was the same for boys who began taking up flute, with one boyturning out to be an exceptional flutist of professional caliber. “If the school had been coed,” said Sax, “he would never haveplayed the flute.” He added, “School should be about more than gradesand test scores. School should be about finding out who you are, whatis your passion, what do you really want to do with your life.” He noted one of the biggest changes in society over the past 50years, and impacting education, is the transfer of authority from parentto child. “Fifty years ago,” said Sax, “if a mother and father said, ‘Son,this fall you’re going to Central Catholic,’ he was going. His consentwas not required!” Today he sees parents as being uncertain andinsecure about asserting authority. This also surfaces in the increase ofobese children today, with Sax recalling a mother who brought in achild with a strange rash. It turned out to be the result of a B-12deficiency, with the girl refusing to eat anything but pizza, pancakesand French fries and the mother going along with this. Noting that single sex education broadens horizons for both boysand girls, Sax referred to a study in Belfast, Ireland, on girl students’self-esteem. Belfast has a unique educational system with both singlesex and coed public schools, to which students are randomly assignedif no parental preference is made. Girls here were queried on their grades, school activities, how theyperceived their looks, and parental affluence. For girls in coed schools,the only factor bestowing high self-esteem was whether or not theyconsidered themselves “pretty,” because looks determine the peckingorder in coed schools While some may say that single sex schools don’t accurately preparefor the real world, Sax believes it is far more accurate than coedschooling, pointing out that in the real world it is not how you look, butwho you are that counts, with the important criteria being such thingsas showing up for work on time, keeping promises and making the
    • right decisions rather than how “cute” you are. “At a girls’ school, a girlcan be overweight and with pimples and still be the most popular girl,”said Sax. “That’s never true at coed schools.” He further noted that a large coed public high school that became adual academy six years ago saw a dramatic drop in teen pregnancies,going from 20 to 25 a year down to zero to two per year. “It’s notbecause girls don’t see boys,” said Sax, who pointed out students insingle sex schools are more likely to date than in coed schools, wherethe norm is now “hooking up.” What “hooking up” means, said Sax, isgoing out as a group, with the most popular girl expected to bephysically intimate with the most popular boy. “Who you’re intimate with depends on your rank order inpopularity,” he said. “The next most popular girl is intimate with thenext most popular boy.” There is an explicit understanding that norelationship is involved and that the following week you could “hookup” with somebody else. This “hooking up” phenomenon means that agirl feels more pressured to give in to a boy’s sexual advances,because she has to interact with him at school and as part of hergroup. A girl in a single sex school has more autonomy in her decision-making in this respect and is also more likely to be involved in a datingrelationship, rather than a “hook up.” Sax noted dating is much healthier because “in this country, themost common form of sexual activity among teenagers is now oral sex— the girl on her knees servicing the boy.” This is not good for either,he said, as it sends the message that sex is something girls provide forboys. He added that not only do girls in single sex schools make bettergrades and test scores, “they are 10 times less likely to get pregnant,and that is just as important.” They are also less likely to use drugs. “Adolescent culture is going the wrong way,” said Sax, “and parentshave to assert their authority to keep their daughters from followingthe herd. The best possible thing you can do to help your daughter isto get her into a girls’ school.” Cultures that endure, he related, are those that have men, as acommunity, teaching boys what it means to be a man and acommunity of women teaching girls what it means to be a woman. Oursociety seems to have abandoned this, leaving boys with theimpression, said Sax, that being “a real man means playing a videogame with a hyper-feminine cartoon image with big breasts and long
    • legs who does not talk back, or having big muscles, or driving a car100 miles-per-hour on a city street, or getting drunk or making a girlpregnant.” Girls today are similarly floundering as to the true meaning of beinga woman. Girls’ diaries from the 1890s showed them makingresolutions to be more charitable, patient and generous. The diaries ofteen girls today show their resolutions revolving around looks, withthere being a notable increase in eating disorders and addictive cuttingbehaviors. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” said Sax, “in the 1890s, many,many of their schools were single sex high schools.” Today he sees a need to celebrate and recognize the differencesbetween boys and girls, helping every child be who they were meant tobe, “so that we can have more men who are kindergarten counselorsor psychotherapists ... and more women who are neurosurgeons orengineers or whatever they’re meant to be, what their passion is.” For the past 30 years, he noted, people have believed the best wayto erase the gender gap was to pretend it did not exist and teach boysand girls together the same subjects in the same sequence. This is notworking, he said, and a change is called for. Boys need to be taught that becoming a man means “using yourstrength in the service of others,” said Sax, and girls need to learn thatbecoming a woman means “caring about the needs of others.” Single sex schools are geared to deliver this. “What I think we havelearned and what all this research demonstrates,” he said, “is the wayto get there, the way to get men who are nurturing and caring andwomen who are strong and assertive is, first of all, to help girls tobecome women and boys to become men