Insightful talks about single sex education

Posted on May 13th, 2013

In May, St George’s School for Girls, Kilgraston (also girls) and Merchiston (boys) were delighted to welcome Dr Leonard Sax, a highly acclaimed American psychologist, family doctor and writer to give talks to both pupils and parents.

The best-selling author of Why Gender Matters, Girls on the Edge and Boys Adrift is a leading expert on the role that gender plays in child development and education and he passionately believes that boys and girls should be taught separately at school.

Much of Dr Sax’s work focuses on how parents can best navigate the ever-changing challenges faced by today’s children – not least social media and the tremendous peer pressure it brings – and he gave clear guidance to parents who are “parenting without precedent”.

Topics covered in talks for parents included:

  • Managing Stress: how do boys and girls handle stress and anxiety?
  • Building Resilience: strategies and coping mechanisms
  • Learning humility without being humiliated

Single-Sex Education – debate and research

In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of school boards abandoned single-sex education for economic reasons. Baby boomers flooded the school system and new schools needed to be built.  For many, it did not make strategic sense to support multiple single-sex schools. At the same time, a shift in family dynamics and the drive for gender equality seemed to suggest that coeducation would provide a fairer system for everyone and that single-sex education had served to perpetuate stereotypes.

If we look to the twenty-first century, there is renewed interest in single-sex education. This time, the swing of the pendulum is driven by brain research including the work of Dr Leonard Sax, who was recently profiled on the front of TIME magazine. His book, Why Gender Matters succinctly summarizes the key arguments in favour of single-sex schools.

Sax contends that the brain develops differently in girls and boys. In girls, language areas of the brain evolve before areas used for spatial relations and geometry. The opposite is true for boys. Generalizations about boys being better at Mathematics and girls being better at languages are common but here we see them grounded in scientific fact.

Sax further argues that brains in boys and girls are wired differently. In girls, expressions of emotion are processed in the same area of the brain processing language. Girls are therefore able to express emotions more readily. In boys, emotion is processed in a separate area of the brain, making it more difficult for them to express how they feel.

Sax believes that schools able to focus or specialize on a specific gender and recognize its unique developmental issues can be more effective at achieving success. Girls typically do better at Mathematics and Science in an all-girls’ environment and, correspondingly, boys do better in languages and the arts in an all-boys’ school.

In an all-boys’ environment, boys appear more team-oriented and less preoccupied with competing for the attention of the opposite sex.  Instead they strive for excellence in whatever they choose to do and that effort should be celebrated and congratulated by all.

The single-sex debate will continue but those who witness the effect of single-sex education on boys and girls on a daily basis can attest to its positive influence.

You can visit Leonard Sax’s website here.