I'm usually embarrassingly oblivious to the news, too caught up in my own mundane existence to expend energy keeping up with the outside world. Sometimes a headline on Yahoo news will capture my attention. This one certainly did: S.C. pioneers in single-gender classes.
My first thought, a typically academic one, was "I'll bet they mean sex." Well, actually, gender is quite accurate for what this school's doing. Oh, the children are separated by sex all right, boys separated from girls, to help avoid some of the trauma of middle school and help them learn better by tailoring curriculum to each sex's learning style. I've heard theories of the differences between boys and girls; there may be some validity to it, but I suspect a large portion of that is socialized, or attributable to gender.
This school truly is separated by gender, though. Boys are loud and need to move around, so teachers use microphones and incorporate movement into the daily routine. Girls "can take yelling more personally than boys," so their teachers lower their voices against a backdrop of classical music. I can say which classroom my middle school self would have preferred, and... it wasn't the carefully cushioned atmosphere allocated to girls. But I'll play devil's advocate for a moment; some girls may prefer that soothing, dare I say, nurturing atmosphere--then what? In the long run, will they be prepared for a world that doesn't slow or quiet down for anybody? I think not, unless they are being prepared for a world where their delicacy is held at a premium (nineteenth century separation of spheres, anyone?).
Minor details, though, really. Let's look at the content differences. Boys in math get to sprawl out on mats, "using skateboard parts and measuring tape to learn pre-algebra." Girls survey each other about shyness and puppies (the only things missing are rainbows and glitter) to learn about fractions and percentages. Oh, that's right, girls don't do well with math, and they've got that chatty thing going on, whereas boys are more about logic and being hands-on.
Then again, I'm a humanities person--math's never been a passion of mine (plus, I'm a girl, if you recall). So let's see about reading. Boys study novels with action because that's all they'll sit still for (see above). Otherwise reading's for girls. Girls, conversely, don't usually like science, so the way to make it more palatable is to let them study "what [they] like... allowing girls to evaluate cosmetics for science projects." That's right; the only way to get the sweet little gals to like big bad scary science is to make it relevant to their interests. By definition, then, girls must be interested in make-up. Well, if they weren't interested in make-up before, those lessons would certainly teach them that make-up should be something relevant to their lives. I've heard the theory that separating the sexes cuts down on distractions; this seems to take away the distraction but still reinforce the process of objectification for male appreciation. In other words, it teaches girls to embrace stereotypical femininity. Sounds like conditioning to me.
One man touts the success of the program with his daughter: "He believes that because she wasn't self-conscious about boys' opinions of her, his daughter felt comfortable speaking out in class and her confidence flourished. She was eager to go to school every day, he said." Now a freshman in high school, the girl is doing well. OK, one success story. There are bound to be a few kids whose learning styles mesh with their designated gendered classroom styles. But what about the ones who don't fit those molds? It seems to me the atmosphere would only exacerbate the trauma of early adolescence. They may no longer have to contend with their peers of the opposite sex; instead, they're left to contend with an entire school culture that says "this is what a boy is, and this is what a girl must like," finding themselves not matching up to what the adult authorities say they should be--how is this less scarring an experience? The quiet boy and the rambunctious girl alike would be alienated and made out as somehow out of touch with their own genders.
My grade: F.