Ever since I’ve moved to London, I have encountered a very interesting phenomenon that I’ve never really thought about before: girls-only and boys-only schools. They may exist in the countries I’ve lived before, but are so rare that it’s not at all astonishing to believe that this phenomenon had died out in the fifties. Well, not in the UK apparently, where it seems perfectly normal to send your children to schools that segregate the sexes.
I don’t know if that’s just my foreigner bias talking, but I am veeery sceptical of this model. In my opinion there are only two main reasons why parents would want to send their children to this kind of school, both of which I find highly problematic:
1. The essentialist approach: They want their children to be educated specifically in relation to their gender. We all know where that would lead: boys will have more sports lessons, build models, have IT classes; girls get to paint and sing and write stories, because that’s what they like to do/are better at, because SCIENCE! I don’t know if this is in fact being done in those schools – I certainly hope not – but I wouldn’t be surprised…
2. The evolutionary approach: Parents may think their children will concentrate and learn better, if they’re not constantly surrounded by the opposite sex. That idea implies that kids are always and exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, and that perfectly normal and healthy desires are somehow problematic in general.
Don’t get me wrong. Boys can be distracting at school, in the good and the bad way; I know what I’m talking about. But the thing is, they never stop being distracting, so you might as well learn what that feels like from like the beginning. Most of us, fortunately, don’t live in a bubble where we will never ever encounter people of the opposite sex in our daily lives, on the street, at work, in our free time. So why bother shielding kids from that?
And I’m not just talking about possible flirtation, crushes, unrequited (or requited) feelings. I’m talking about every form of daily interaction, which includes politeness, respect, generosity, but also rudeness, arrogance and ignorance. I think children can only be properly socialized if they get to experience all kinds of behaviour from all genders, and learn to appreciate or to deal with it. And it is the role of parents and teachers to make sure they don’t get discouraged along the way, but not to shield them from it.
A school environment is what will eventually prepare young people for a work or university environment, and I could imagine that it would be very hard to be confronted with the other sex for the first time way past puberty in that type of setting – a setting where they will have to respect each other opinions, listen and learn from each other, and become a team.
Segregated schools are robbing children of that fundamental and influential experience.