Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Single-sex education and science

I usually stay out of the single-sex education blogging we do here because it is not really my area of expertise. I am, of course, opposed to single-sex classrooms in public schools and find the reasoning behind them highly suspect. Much of the rhetoric inspires great fear in me, actually.

But I also happen to live practically down the street from one of the most venerable women-only colleges in the country. And as more and more formerly women-only colleges become co-educational, I feel somewhat of a loss.

With the recent surge in the discussion over women in science and my own concerns and internal debates about the right to choose one's own learning environment, I found this editorial at Inside Higher Ed laid out some of the pros and cons. There is a lot in there but I will just highlight some of the issue raised.

The author, a chemistry professor at a women's-only college, writes about the benefits her female students have being in a single-sex environment and how that environment has facilitated their learning of the subject. She presents the possibility that such productive learning, for some students, would not have taken place in a mixed gender environment.

Unfortunately the confidence many of these young women gain in their undergraduate years just is not enough to help them deal with the highly sexist and misogynist environments they encounter in graduate school and in the work place. Would they have been better prepared for such opposition if they had had to deal with it in the classroom?

It is, of course, impossible to say. Individuals react differently to confrontations, discrimination, and stresses. But I think the raising of the issues, especially as they exist in slightly different versions than those that come up when we are talking about the K-12 system, are important to keep alive in the discussion.