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November 08, 2007

Thinking about the ‘What if’s of Same-Sex Education

KcI often wonder how different it would be if I grew up going to all-girls schools instead of the regular public school system in my hometown. Would I have developed more outspokenness, more confidence, and more empowerment from an earlier age? Would I have discovered my voice years ago, instead of only coming into my own relatively recently?

I first started thinking about this issue in my role as an alumni interviewer for my alma mater. Before I moved to the DC area, I was almost exclusively assigned interviews for girls attending local private all-girls schools in Baltimore. These girls would routinely knock me for a loop. Almost uniformly, they were confident, self-directed, empowered leaders; I couldn’t believe some of them were high school students! I’d think about my own experience in co-ed classrooms, often feeling intimidated to voice my thoughts or opinions. I remember one class – World Culture or something- in particular where the teacher would call us all “cabbage heads” since no one would participate when he asked us questions. In truth, I really didn’t feel like standing out by singling myself as a nerd while the too-cool-for-school football jocks plotted pranks and half-joke-threatening the teacher that he’d be “riding home on rims”.

Some studies have shown that girls attending all-girls schools do develop more confidence in themselves as students and are more likely to continue on in fields like math and science. They seem to do better on standardized exams across the board, independent on baseline level of achievement and socioeconomic status. When observing co-ed classrooms, boys often dominate discussion while girls are at times victims of subtle sexism. While both boys and girls seem to do better academically in same-sex schools, this difference is greatest for girls.

It’s an issue I’ve been thinking about more and more having a daughter myself. When the time comes for her to start real school, will we want her to attend all-girls schools? Perhaps with a boy, it would matter less, but for a girl, would this make her truly blossom as a student, as a leader, as a person? To be honest, I’ve always thought my children would attend public schools up until this far. I’ve held a rather prejudiced view that private school breeds entitlement and snobbery and I didn’t want that for my children.  But, perhaps that’s less a product of private school than class and parental influence, and highly dependent on the specific school and the values it fosters.

I don’t know. I’m torn. I want to support public school education but I also want to support my daughter in becoming a strong, capable woman who is never intimidated into being silent. The question is whether those things are mutually exclusive.

When not here, KC tries hard not to be a “cabbage head” at Where’s My Cape?

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