Last week I read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” which I was excited about in a previous post. It was a fascinating read, fairly short but with lots of thought-provoking information. I highly recommend it for anyone raising a daughter or anyone who has sighed in disgust over Pepto Bismol-pink toy aisles.
One chapter in the book discusses education. The author, Peggy Orenstein, visits the Sanford Harmony Program at Arizona State University, whose “goal, over time, is to improve how boys and girls think of and treat the other sex in the classroom, on the playground, and beyond: to keep their small behavioral and cognitive differences from turning into unbreachable gaps.” The research initiative, aimed at young children, tries to get boys and girls to interact with each other at every opportunity. The reason for this:
Single-sex peer groups reinforce kids’ biases, and over time, as neuroscientist Lise Eliot pointed out, that changes their brains, potentially defining both their abilities and possibilities.
… Years of same-sex play leave kids less able to relate to the other sex — and can set the stage for hostile attitudes and interactions in adolescence and adulthood. “This is public health issue,” Richard Fabes proclaimed. “It becomes detrimental to relationships, to psychological health and well-being, when boys and girls don’t learn how to talk to one another. That divergence of behavior and communication skills in childhood becomes the building blocks for later issues. Part of the reason we have the divorce rates we do, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking behaviors, sexual harassment, is lack of ability to communicate between men and women.”
I’ve never had strong feelings one way or another about single-sex education, but this is certainly food for thought. Even if you could avoid boys throughout your school career by going to girls-only institutions, out in the real world, it’s impossible not to interact with them. If we think of this as a skill we need to teach our kids early on, all of us would be better off in the long run.