“Learning to Be a Man”: Deodorant, Debating, and Same-Sex Classrooms

“Learning to Be a Man”: Deodorant, Debating, and Same-Sex Classrooms March 10, 2009

boysI found this NYT article by Jennifer Medina, “Schools Try Separating Boys from Girls”, interesting.  The following are some of the highlights from this article on same-sex education:

Different Approaches to the Sexes:

“Michael Napolitano speaks to his fifth-grade class in the Morrisania section of the Bronx like a basketball coach. “You — let me see you trying!” he insisted the other day during a math lesson. “Come on, faster!”

Across the hall, Larita Hudson’s scolding is more like a therapist’s. “This is so sloppy, honey,” she prodded as she reviewed problems in a workbook. “Remember what I spoke to you about? About being the bright shining star that you are?”

Number of same-sex classrooms nationwide:

“The single-sex classes at Public School 140, which started as an experiment last year to address sagging test scores and behavioral problems, are among at least 445 such classrooms nationwide, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Most sprouted since a 2004 federal regulatory change that gave public schools freedom to separate girls and boys.

 In general, struggling students are steered toward the single-sex classes (anyone who objects can opt out). While test scores might not show it, Mr. Cannon and his teachers said there have been fewer fights and discipline issues, and more participation in class and after-school activities, since the girls and boys were split up.”

Benefits of same-sex classrooms according to teachers and students:

“There’s an aspect of male bonding, a closeness that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” he said. “I feel more like I am teaching them about right from wrong than I might have normally.”

And he said he can “be a little more stern” with his students now. “If I get in the face of a girl, she would just cry,” he said. “The boys respond to it, they know it’s part of being a young man.”

Indeed, when asked the best part of being in an all-boys class, Jorge Jimenez, 11, responded confidently, “I am learning how to be a man.” Asked to explain himself, he announced, “To learn how to put on deodorant.” (A few days earlier Mr. Napolitano had handed out small bags of soap and deodorant samples as part of a brief lesson in body odor.)”


The overall jury seems to be out on same-sex education in terms of quantitative studies.  That’s fine.  Sometimes things don’t need to be quantified.  The last comment from a boy tells volumes about the potential of this form of instruction.  One size does not necessarily fit all when it comes to learning, but there are significant benefits, it seems, to this particular model.

The real key with education, of course, is the teacher.  If one has a talented, engaging teacher who knows how to handle both sexes, great.  But many schools have very few of this type of teacher, and most boys are taught predominantly by women.  I don’t care what the NYT or any other cultural authority says, common sense tells us that such a setting will have an impact on a boy.  It’s a great thing for boys to have at least some time around older men and peers of the same sex. 

Boys learn different skills under a man and with boys than they do in a female-dominated classroom.  They learn not to apologize for their sex, they’re able to be, well, boys, and they are likely far better understood and handled than they are in other settings.  Of course, male culture does have some negative aspects of its own, and boys need teachers who will instruct them to be understanding, kind, civil, and nice.  Boys often don’t get these lessons like they need to from male coaches and authority figures, and that is a major problem.  Male culture alone is not ideal.

Here’s hoping for more parents who will think hard about their children’s education and training and who will not buy the cultural myth that boys and girls are generally the same and can be treated as such.  Boys and girls each need adult role models who can instruct them in sex-specific ways.  Otherwise, who else will help pre-teen boys get the hint about the necessity of deodorant?

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  • I would add to this in saying that most of the kids coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds have a high chance of no father-figure present in their lives at home, thus it is compounded further in having no strong male guidance in life. This may be another clue into the sex, drugs, and violence that gets to be so prevalent.

  • owenstrachan

    Absolutely. Great point. Many kids today grow up without any kind of male presence in their lives. All the more reason for Christians to view urban teaching as a mission field, not a mere vocation.

  • Stephanie

    I really think this is brilliant. I remember thinking just earlier today, ‘the school system is really screwed up in a lot of ways, but boys seem to have it far worse, and it isn’t fair to them’. I mean, energetic, aggressive little boys who are itching to slay dragons and conquer kingdoms just don’t belong in environments that require them to sit around all day, delicately shepherded by a woman who may not understand males. (For that matter, I don’t think the way the system is set up is ideal for anyone; but it probably is slightly less hard on girls.) I’m glad to see that some people are recognizing that boys and girls need a different teaching style, and that these kids are finally starting to get the more appropriate guidance they deserve. Granted, each gender also needs guidance from the opposite sex, as noted in the article; but I think same-sex interaction is even more important.