What Would Single-Sex School Do for Toddlers?

Andrew Dalton

While I picked apart the shortcomings of Hogwarts earlier in the week, I will say this for the House that Dumbledore Built: He's progressive in his gender mixing. Whoever heard of an English boarding school where boys and girls mix? I certainly haven't in my vast experience of a few books and a few movies. It's like college, with magic instead of sex.

There are a million studies and a million opinions on segregating the sexes at school. Yes, students can focus on more important things when the boy-girl interactions are gone, but then they get out of high school without understanding how to deal with the opposite sex in a work environment. (Unlike all the perfectly adjusted teens we send out now.)

But what happens if you split them up younger? Much younger?

In the November/December edition of the academic journal Child Development (the holiday issue! No recipes though, I checked), they tried separating preschool kids by genders for a stretch.

They went to two preschools with similar social demographics, took about 60 kids, and divided them into two separate schools. One school just behaved as they normally did, with no boy-girl distinctions. At the other, the teachers were told to line up boys and girls separately, post their work on separate bulletin boards, and split them up a bunch of other different ways. Two weeks is hardly enough to judge the academic differences, but Emily Bazelon at Slate sums up the one set of interesting results:

At the end of the two weeks, the kids in the classrooms with the new injection of gender difference were more likely to say that only girls should play with dolls and only boys could be firefighters. These kids were also significantly less likely to play with children of the other sex ... More evidence that kids can learn -- or not learn -- to think in stereotypes and to self-segregate.

Which is to say that your thoughts on the value of segregating boys and girls is based entirely on how much you care about the fireman-doll distinction -- whether you'd like to embrace it or blow it up. So, just a whole new set of questions, a whole new set of arguments. Science moves slow like that. And sometimes even backwards.

What do you think of same-sex schools for the younger kids?


Image via kirakirahoshi/Flickr

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