What does a school community say about its values when it organizes around a single sex or co-ed structure? What assumptions are made about the essence of girls and boys? And what lessons do these assumptions teach students? The decision to segregate or integrate by gender is profoundly important. The Town School has been committed to co-education since its founding in 1913, and we believe that a school for girls and boys teaches a number of important lessons and assumptions about gender that will have a positive impact on learning and the development of children.
The lessons taught in a co-ed school are essential: that school is a place to encounter, understand, and work with the other gender; that the genders are, fundamentally, compatible; that girls and boys can – and should – learn from each other; that differences, when they do exist, can be understood. These are powerful assumptions and can have a significant impact on student learning.
Co-educational schools teach important skills that will be called on for success in later schooling and life.
In a co-ed school girls and boys can also know that when they succeed they are doing so with the other gender present – as it is and will be in the real world – and this can only have a positive impact on future achievement and self-esteem. And this issue of the world as it is remains an important reason to support co-education. The world is comprised of men and women, boys and girls, and if a school’s mission is to prepare students for life in the world, then co-educational schools have an advantage and teach important skills that will be called on for success in later schooling and life.
There is also the issue of diversity. A diverse school experience – featuring contact with people from different backgrounds, cultures, belief systems, and, yes, genders – is a positive. A co-educational school does, then, offer an experience that is more real and powerful.
Does this mean that gender differences are of no concern? Of course not – gender does matter - as do a large number of other variables. One must be aware, though, that much of the “research” that has been done on the subject of gender and learning is anecdotal, inconclusive, and ill conceived. It is very difficult to isolate the impact that gender has on learning when many other factors – including school structure, socioeconomic backgrounds, and the quality of the teachers and teaching – are such important contributing variables.
Girls and boys can – and should – learn from each other.
The assumptions about gender that are made by single sex and co-ed schools are important ones. They point to beliefs and values about how, in essence, boys and girls and women and men do, and should, interact. They make judgments about how to prepare students for their place in the world. They may reinforce – or usurp – societal conventions about the nature, behavior, and potential of girls and boys. The Town School mission is built on the belief that co-educational nursery, elementary, and middle school teaching and learning is the most appropriate and powerful model.