If George Bush, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy all agree on something, it’s probably too good to be true. That’s my initial take on the administration’s recent proposal, backed by key Democrats in Congress, to encourage single-sex public schools.
Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison summed up the rationale in a form designed to please everyone from conservative Christians to militant feminists:
“Many boys do better in a single-sex atmosphere without the extraneous distractions of girls,” she said. “Similarly, many girls do better, especially in terms of speaking up and being assertive, without the extraneous distractions of boys.”
The website of the National Association for the Advancement of Single Sex Public Education (NAASSPE) offers evidence for this and other claims on behalf of his-and-hers education. No doubt they’ve got a strong case, for those who put stock in social science.
But as a survivor of six years of all-boys schooling, I’m not ready to lend my endorsement. I’m grateful for the good teaching I received and the friends I made, but I can’t see why the presence of girls should have interfered with either of those.
What makes people think they can keep the opposite sex off adolescent minds merely by keeping it out of sight? I’ll bet my classmates and I thought more about girls than we would have done had there been any nearby.
Or rather, we fantasized about the female images offered us through the media, starting with the likes of Olivia Newton-John and Farrah Fawcett-Majors, and quickly descending to the featured models (names long forgotten) in Hustler and Club.
It’s hard to imagine even the geekiest eighth-grader bringing such hard-core fare to school (as half a dozen of us regularly did) when there’s the danger of being humiliated in front of female classmates.
Teenage libido is a fact, and sign, of life. As long as your son or daughter is going to have lustful thoughts, wouldn’t you prefer some of those thoughts to be about flesh-and-blood peers — whose hearts and minds he or she might actually get to know and respect?
This is not an endorsement of underage sex, which has more to do with cars and lack of curfews than with co-ed algebra classes. On the other hand, as long as boys and girls meet at parties and other after-school activities — and nobody outside the Taliban seems to be calling for a ban on those — there will be opportunities for mischief.
Indeed, if the two groups never get together except at dances, how are they supposed to think of each other in any way but romantically?
Not that such occasions are necessarily swing fests. In my experience (admittedly a bit out of date), the result is less often passion than humiliation.
I remember one dance at which the chaperones, mothers who’d obviously forgotten their girlhoods, insisted on pairing everyone off using numbers picked out of a hat. Naturally several of us, after learning whom we’d drawn, found ourselves needing to visit the men’s room. (Our sports teams were called the Cavaliers, but chivalry was as common as actual horseback riding.)
You may object that, in co-ed schools, such rejection goes on five days a week instead of the occasional Friday night. But a single smile or kind word makes up for lots of rebuffs and bungled overtures. Surely high school isn’t too early for boys and girls to start learning the real differences between them, as well as their common humanity.
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