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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
30 Rock


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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Boys Go To Jupiter, Girls Go To Mars

This week, as it came time to choose a renter, I couldn't help but keep in mind the holiday season. So when I saw a bid from a blog called A Work of Art: Raising Our Exceptional Son, I knew I had to accept it. This blog was created by the father of a child suffering from Pallister-Killian Syndrome (PKS) who now paints from home. He sells the artwork on his site, giving a portion of the proceeds to charities that support research of PKS. I had never heard of this syndrome before, so I took it upon myself to do a little research. You can read more about this syndrome here. Don't forget to go visit Ben and Bennie and say Janet sent you.

What I want to talk about today is sex education.

Now that I have your attention, you can get your minds out of the gutters. I'm actually talking about the education of the sexes. See how a quick turn of phrase can quickly make you sit up and take notice though?

I'm going to ask you to try and remember back to when you were in elementary school. For some of us this might be easier said and done than others. In all honesty, it doesn't really matter if you're 25 or 50. Whether you wore bell bottoms or acid wash, we all went through the same rites of passage.

For most of us, grades K-2 were exciting times to be in school. We still were very eager to learn new things and liked the praise we would receive for a job well done. We wanted to impress our parents and our teachers and believed them when they said only the good boys and girls got what they wanted in the end. This meant no lying, no staying up late and defintely finishing all of our homework.

And then we entered third grade. Since I teach children of this age I can tell you that third grade is quite a turning point in a young person's life. Many of the children are at a crossroads. Some of the kids still think it's cool to watch cartoons, kiss mom and dad goodbye and be the teacher's pet. Others though are already over that and have moved on to greener pastures like skipping class, talking back and crushing on the opposite sex. If these changes aren't in effect by the beginning of third there are most definitely signs of change by the end of the year.

So at a faculty meeting recently, my principal proposed a scenario for the next school year that surprised and intrigued all of us.

She's thinking about creating same sex classrooms.

Now in order to understand this option, you have to understand the makeup of our school. Our school is a K-4 elementary school. She's not thinking about doing this at all grade levels, just fourth grade, at least initially. This is because the fourth grade students are typically the moodiest, the most aloof and, most importantly, the most enchanted by members of the opposite sex.

The bad thing about third and fourth graders being interested in each other is that they are waayy too young to understand what to do about their newfound feelings. This manifests itself in grand gestures like fighting with another guy who "likes" "your" girl, or better yet, "dating" someone for a week or two before "breaking up". Note that I went wild on the quotation marks for this part of the post. This is because it's hard to talk about nine and ten year olds thinking about hooking up without even really knowing what hooking up means. It's like your dad wanting to get into golf suddenly after he retires because it seems like it would be a cool sport. Nevermind the fact that he's never played anything besides a rousing round or two of mini golf on family vacations.

So now my principal wants to try an experiment with two fourth grade classrooms. One class she would make all boys, the other all girls. The boys class would be taught be a male teacher while the girls class would be taught be a female teacher. The children that would be in each class would be chosen only after bringing up the possibility to all the fourth grade parents and it would be done strictly on a voluntary basis.

The reasons she wants to do this are simple. The older kids get, the less interested they become in school and the more interested they become in impressing members of the opposite sex. This has proven to be especially true of females. If you don't believe me, just think about the biggest flirt you ever knew in high school. Who knows? Maybe that flirt was even you. The point is that flirt always knew exactly what she was doing by dropping her books or needing extra tutoring. Most of the time the "dumb" girls are actually very smart and just playing dumb in an effort to make the big, strong jock they are trying to impress feel smarter. For many girls they reach a point where doing good in school is simply no longer a priority worth persuing.

I know what you're thinking. The days of girls playing with their hair and laughing hysterically at boys non-funny jokes are way over. While I wish that were true, it's not entirely so. Just because more girls are graduating and going to college, it doesn't mean that society still doesn't give the underlying message that a girl persuing higher education is all fine and good, but in the end, the underlying goal remains the same. While you're studying, make sure you find time to find a nice boy to date, settle down and have babies with.

And yes, before you even ask, it does start as young as eight years old, especially in a town like the one I teach in. That's because the reality is many of my students will not go to college. For many, the foundation and motivation simply is not there. For others it's a matter of money. Regardless of the reason, this abbreviated education often puts girls on the fast track to motherhood and minimum wage. Everything else ends up being accelerated as well. So in the town where I teach children are eight often going on thirteen. They have to help out with brothers and sisters and then fend for themselves because more often than not, their parents are just kids themselves.

Interestingly enough there is a slew of research out there that supports same sex groupings. Not only does it promote academic awareness, it helps with self esteem. No longer do girls have to feel embarrassed by how they look in front of that cute boy in math class. There are no distractions and more importantly, no excuses.

But what about the boys? It's no secret that for the most part, the behavior problems at least on an elementary level stem from boys, not girls. They are less mature at this age and while many of them are very smart, they simply do not apply themselves and spend too much time being preoccupied with all the wrong things. Getting them together in a room with a man teacher does nothing to seperate this element. If anything, it can only grow.

But for every positive, there is always a negative. If I can play devil's advocate for a second, part of me worries about this option and if it's going to have an even worse effect on our students. Just think about the classic "Catholic school girl" image. Good, innocent and most importantly, repressed. It is these girls that most guys find most irresistable and it is these girls who are often most eager to experiment. Case in point. There was a Phillipino family that lived in our neighborhooed while I was growing up. There were two girls and one boy, all older than me. I quickly befriended the two girls, the one like my peer, the other a few years older, most like the big sister I never had. All of the parents loved her and felt safe having her look out for their kids.

And then she became a teenager. Unfortunately these kids came from a very strict religious household. When this girl hit about 15 she busted out and went to another extreme behavior wise. This was a cycle that took many years to undo and even then, things were never the same again. Now am I saying that same sex classrooms are going to lead to sex crazed teenagers? Not necessarily. But when socialization is replaced by segregation, you do have to be very careful with your motives.

Then there is another factor that bothers me. It's called "the real world". No, not the lame show on MTV that does not represent reality nor the world. I'm talking about the actual real world. One day these kids will be in it. There will be boys. There will be girls. The will be working together, side by side. Sooner or later kids need to be exposed to that. I know it sounds crazy, but when and women think differently. If they've never worked together before they might not know how to respond to each other in a high pressure work environment. By segregating them soon we might be prolonging the inevitable, but is it really a recipe for success?

Finally there is the males teaching males vs. females teaching females factor. The fact of the matter is there is a higher ratio of female teachers on an elementary level. This is why when a guy applies to teach an elementary grade his application is treated as if someone found gold, very rare, valuable and one worthy of possession. And I do see that my students respond slightly differently to our big, scary gym teacher than little, blonde me, though not as much as you might think. But I don't think you can say unequivocaly that boys respond better to men and men to women. I think instead it works better to look at it on a case by case basis. Before you know it the lines will get blurred in terms of hiring staff, too. Suddenly we are no longer hiring the best candidate for the job, we are hiring the best male or female on an as needed basis.

As for what I truly feel about it, I haven't decided yet. Part of me wants it to work and I guess the only way to know that for sure is to continue reading the research and then trying it out and seeing if it works yourself. Of course we do realize the true irony is that if it does succeed at fourth grade, by fifth grade they go to a new school, a school that at this point has given no formal thought to segregating by sexes. So there could, in theory, be a year's worth of work undone by the following year, the years in which they need to be seperated the most.

Still, ya gotta have faith. And if faith doesn't work, a big piece of chalk to seperate your dance space from my dance space could work just fine, too.



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