Single-Sex or Coeducational Classes

  • Peter W. CooksonJr.
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE, volume 21)

Until the mid-nineteenth century, it was generally assumed by educators, parents and philosophers that girls and boys should be educated separately and differently. In patriarchal societies it seemed “natural” that girls should be educated primarily for domestic life and boys should be educated for business and public life. This division of emotional, economic and social labor, however, began to become unraveled with the spread of public education, the growth of the suffragette movement and the introduction of women into the labor force. In the public school sector these trends prompted a movement toward coeducation in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. Most of private education, which at that time was heavily represented by religious orders, remained committed to single sex education. Even within the public sector, however, some segregation of the sexes remained through tracking (girls were often directed into nonacademic programs), schools emphasized boys' sports and there was, in general, a lack of support for girls to excel academically, particularly in math and science. There was a public acceptance of coeducation because it was seen as providing equality of opportunity, even though the data concerning the gap between female and male achievement belied such comfortable assumptions.

In the 1960s, however, a reconstituted feminism began to influence public policy; women advocates argued for equality of opportunity for girls and young women and in 1972 Title IX of the Federal Educational Amendments were passed requiring equal funding and equal opportunities for female public school students. Had equality of opportunity been achieved in the 1970s, the story might have ended, but it didn7#x0027;t. Several unexpected events reenlivened the debate concerning single-sex and coeducation. First, the achievement of girls in the latter part of the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty-first century became evident on a number of different measures including grades, graduation rates from high school and college attendance rates; second, there was a relative academic decline for boys during the same period; and third, there developed a new area of research — the human brain. These trends have caused some educators and public policy advocates to repudiate coeducation in total or in part and there has been a great deal of discussion about the merits of single-sex education in the scholarly and popular literatures (Brutscest & Van Houtte, 2000; Haag, 1998; Harker, 2000; Gurian, 2001; Lee, Marks, & Byrd, 1994; Mael, 1998; Smithers & Robinson, 2006).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter W. CooksonJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Lewis & Clark CollegeGraduate School of Education & CounselingPortland

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