Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Highschool Coeducation

To hear many religious people talk, one would think God created the torso, head, legs and arms, but the devil slapped on the genitals. ~Don Schrader

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry. ~H.L. Mencken


More and more Orthodox schools seem to be becoming single-sex. I'd like to examine what the effects are, both positive and negative, of separating boys from girls until they're old enough to marry.

The Good

There's no question that keeping boys and girls separate from one another will prevent some pretty bad situations. Girls being pressured or forced into sex, accidental teen pregancy, distraction from studies, emotional problems, sexual harrassment, etc. Teenaged boys can be selfish and vicious and girls aren't always up to defending themselves emotionally or physically. Teenagers of both genders aren't always capable of making the soundest decisions and it's awfully easy for people to end up hurt, pregnant, or with an STD.

The Bad

On the other hand, teenagers really miss out by being in a single-sex only environment. The biggest problem is probably that they may never learn how to interact with women in a healthy manner. Exposure only to sisters and mothers may be insufficient for learning how to view women as friends and equals as well as as potential mates. Also, girls often have inferior schooling when separated from boys, at least in Orthodox circles. As the decision in Brown v. Board of Education read in the famous case about racial segregation, "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Perhaps most importantly, people who grow up in single-sex schools often don't get to have practice relationships before they get married. Combined with the very limited dating allowed in many Orthodox communities prior to marriage, people may be ill-equipped to make what may likely be the most important decision of their lives. Not having any experience with the opposite sex, they may not know what they're looking for. (Perhaps this is why we see people matching up based primarily on what kind of kippah he wears or which seminary she attended.) Starved for sex, they may marry too quickly. (I believe this is the reason Orthodox people get married so much younger than others.) Without having had sex, they may marry someone with whom they are sexually incompatible, leading to an unhappy marriage. For example, perhaps gay people deceive themselves more easily into thinking they can lead straight lives when they don't have sex before marriage. While it is true that the divorce rate is lower among Orthodox Jews than in the general population, it may be that this is for other reasons, like lifestyle, education, wealth, number of children, exposure to other members of the opposite sex, less inclination to divorce, and a lack of financial independence for many women.

The Alternative

When I have children, I will probably send them to a coed school. (Obviously, I won't be sending them to an Orthodox school anyway, but there are of course secular single-sex schools as well.) I will emphasise sex ed, teaching them how to prevent pregnancy and STDs, but I will also guide them in not getting themselves into situations which they are not prepared for emotionally. Different children mature at different rates, and sex in high school is not for everybody. By college-age or shortly afterwards, I think most people should probably be having sex. With care and education, safe sex can play an important and enjoyable role in a young (not too young, of course) person's life. When someone gets married, it should be because they're making an informed decision, not because they're horny or don't know what they should be looking for.

17 comments:

CyberKitten said...

An important part of schooling is teaching kids about the culture they're growing up in. How exactly is this possible in a single-sex environment?

Definitely co-ed is the way to go.

Nephtuli said...

Just one quibble. In Brown they ruled it was inherently unequal not because the facilities were generally unequal, but because segregation created a feeling of inferiority. Very few legal observers apply that concept to gender-segregated schools because it's not rooted in superiority.

respondingtojblogs said...

Several quibbles-

In the "Good" section you make no mention of the educational benefits of single-sex education. It's not all about sex.

Then in the last paragraph you start talking about "practice relationships." High school is not a good place for that. College is (as you note), so what does that have to do with coed high schools? I that goes for your "Bad" analysis too. Single-sex high schools leads to sex starved young adults?

To quote a great man:
"There is a time and place for everything, and it's callef college."

elf said...

When I have children, I will probably send them to a coed school. (Obviously, I won't be sending them to an Orthodox school anyway, but there are of course secular single-sex schools as well.)

Your kids will be charedim ;-)

Jewish Atheist said...

CK:

An important part of schooling is teaching kids about the culture they're growing up in. How exactly is this possible in a single-sex environment?

A lot of Orthodox Jews are terrified by the surrounding culture and want nothing to do with it. For them, this would go in the "bad" column. ;-)


Nephtuli:

In Brown they ruled it was inherently unequal not because the facilities were generally unequal, but because segregation created a feeling of inferiority. Very few legal observers apply that concept to gender-segregated schools because it's not rooted in superiority.

Are you so sure? Isn't the idea that women don't have the heads for Talmud pervasive? I know about all the "more spiritual" apologetics, but there's an easy argument to be made that Orthoodx gender-segregated schools are in fact rooted in superiority.


respondingtojblogs:

In the "Good" section you make no mention of the educational benefits of single-sex education. It's not all about sex.

I think I took care of that under the "Bad" section, where I admitted that coeducation often leads to distraction. I know there are studies that show girls do better academically (not necessarily socially) in (non-Orthodox) single-sex schools, although if I recall correctly, boys do worse.

Then in the last paragraph you start talking about "practice relationships." High school is not a good place for that. College is (as you note), so what does that have to do with coed high schools?

First, the majority of Orthodox kids who attend segregated high schools do not go to coed colleges. Second, although college is indeed a good time for "practice" relationships, many kids are ready earlier.


elf:

Your kids will be charedim ;-)

Bite your tongue! ;-)

David said...

I think many of the problems that stem from single-sex education are manageable. Coed youth groups are the best examples. In the Israeli dati le'umi community, it's not uncommon for kids to attend single-sex high schools and also socialize in coed settings. Why that's not the norm in American Orthodoxy, I'm not sure. But I think it's possible to have the best of both worlds.

asher said...

Actually, although it is still legal in this country to have an all girls college, it is descriminatory to have an all boys college. This was demonstrated recently when the Citadel had to admit a female cadet (she flunked out after about 3 months). I believe Hillary Clinton and Leslie Stahl both attended all female universities and look how well they managed.

The reason Orthodox marry so young is so that the men, once reaching sexual maturity, won't stray from the straight path in having sex only with their wives. In addition, if they start out young they can start producing the next generation earlier.

Laura said...

"Teenaged boys can be selfish and vicious" Ummm.. Did you know any teenaged girls? Believe me, they're just as vicious. Maybe not physicically agressive, but still...

I agree with many of your points. I think there are positives and negatives, just as you said.

As far as the Brown issue of equality, girls are assumed by many to not have the capabilities for certain types of math, science, or sports. Teachers hold these views just as much as society - so even in a single sex environment you would have teachers not giving girls as rigorous an education as they might if there were boys in the room.

Asher: In regards to all-female colleges - those exist because there are still inherent inequalities in the educational system. Boys aren't in need of all men's colleges because the college system is, for the most part, still run by and for men. Granted, this is changing and now there are more women in college than men. But women (especially women of color) still experience discouragement by traditional faculty who dissuade them from certain fields because they're "not appropriate". bell hooks (a black woman) has a great piece of writing about her graduate school experiences of discrimination in the field of English. Old white professors telling her she can't cut it in a PhD program and she should try something else... So, in a nutshell - that's why girls schools still exist.

Some Guy said...

Good post. I think that high-school aged boys would in general benefit from having more social interaction with girls. (I, for one, didn't have a conversation with a girl for the first 18 years of my life, and I think this had serious negative repercussions.) I don't know whether all classes need to mixed, or only some, but I think it would be a huge positive for boys to interact with girls in a real-world environment (i.e., not just in their fantasies). I don't think high-school boys need all the pressures and competition of romantic involvement, though, so I think that dating between students should probably be discouraged. Otherwise, you have a huge social competition that can interfere with learning (which is what happens in a lot of public schools).

Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

"Also, girls often have inferior schooling when separated from boys, at least in Orthodox circles."

Hah!

You really don't belive that, do you.

While the girls don't learn Gemarah, they get a much better education in both religous and secular studies.

Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

Asher- men's only college are still quite legal, Citadel notwithstanding.

asher said...

to classmate,

could you give some examples?

Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

* Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota

* Deep Springs College, Deep Springs, California

* Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, Virginia

* Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia

* Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana

Ezzie said...

What CWY said about girls' education...

It's interesting to note that many secular schools are switching to single-sex, finding that students are far less distracted. The big knock on them is how the kids do socially - perhaps we'll see that become less of an issue in environments that are not like UO ones, where they can actually spend time together outside of the classrooms.

Chana said...

One thing you may not have considered is the difference in learning. I find that I learn much better in a coed environment. Another important thing is that I have male teachers (actually, the majority of my teachers are male.) At my former school, male teachers were discouraged (and for good reasons, because if there was a young man teaching the girls, many of the girls who really were, sad to say, repressed, would instantaneously develop a crush on him.) What can I say? I'll miss my North Shore education. :)

Chana said...

I should explain that, when I say "and for good reasons" I don't really mean that. I mean good from the administrators' hashkafic point of view.

Shlomo said...

I support the separation of the sexes k-12. As a public school teacher, having the social/romantic nonsense removed from the classroom means there is one less distraction from learning. I cannot begin to tell you how much time is lost from study and instruction due to overactive libidos and/or adolescent curiosity.

Lasty, those who believe that boys and girls who receive single sex education are somehow socially arrested haven't ever dated Catholic girls. Secondly, in all girl facilities, the grades tend to be better and the women more assertive and successful, not having to compete with boys for attention.

Boys and girls don't have to learn about relationships from school, though they undoubtedly will by virute of attending co-ed institutions. Parents unconsciously teach children those skills via osmosis. School just becomes the place where the opposite sex is available and the waters can be tested. There are other venues, too.

The other issue relates to just how much sex teenagers are having these days. I could not believe it when i heard it. The younger members of my crew (21-30 year olds) told me that jr. high and high school were sexual free-for-alls. Do we really want to cast our sons and daughters into such an environment considering the consequences?

Schools should be treated like places of employment, where the kids are there to do a job; that job being to learn and study, NOT socialize. There is plenty of time for that AFTER class. I don't mess around at the office and they shouldn't be either.