Pop quiz: Gender-segregated schools
So, in my debut at School of doubt, I asked a pretty focused question for teachers. Perhaps it was too narrow, because I got no comments on it.
Then Jennifer showed me the way. To get comments, you need to write about something more basic.
This topic however, is not one I have much expertise on. You see, I don’t have one and I teach at a women’s college. Most of the faculty here are women too. Penises are pretty rare around here.
So if I can’t talk about penises, I suppose I could talk about a women’s college and the lack thereof. When I was an undergraduate, I couldn’t afford to go anywhere but a large state university, so I never even thought about why someone would choose a women’s college or university, much less going to one. Now that I teach at one, I’m struck by what’s different about the environment, but also by what’s the same.
The differences are probably not surprising. The main perception by our students is that this school is “safe” for them. The school has a reputation for being “nurturing” and understanding of the struggles many young women have in balancing work (almost all of our students have jobs), family (many are already mothers), and school. There is a day care on campus. There are many night classes available.
Otherwise it’s not really that different, especially in the classroom itself. I run into all the usual issues of students not doing the reading and students struggling with the pace, etc. Some students soak up the material like sponges and others work their hardest to do well. Some are slackers; some are bored, etc. Many of our students participate in the same kinds of activities found on any coed campus, including sports, clubs, charity drives, etc. Indeed, that may be a way for them to learn leadership skills they wouldn’t get otherwise.
The few occasions when a man was present in the classroom, I DID feel the dynamics change, but it wasn’t that the women were distracted or intimidated; it was that they deferred. And I did too! I called on him first, I asked him the most questions, and when I realized I was doing it and tried to stop, it was really, really hard! It was also very hard for the women to speak up; my admittedly subjective measure of their response time in women-only situations vs. this one was more than 10 seconds longer. Interestingly, there is no solid evidence that gender segregation changes performance for either gender (assuming a binary is commonplace; as far as I can find there’s nothing out there in the pedagogical research about non-binary genders), though this survey study indicated women like women-only environments and engage more in them. There is evidence that it improves motivation and self esteem in girls (pdf), but other studies suggest segregated classrooms may actually make gender stereotyping more profound (pdf).
So, while woefully lacking in penises, here’s my question to you: what do you think about gender-segregated schools – an opportunity for growth or a relic of the past?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).