The subject of single-sex schools have been hitting the headlines of media recently.
One headline hit a nerve with Tauranga man Max Christoffersen. He shares his thoughts below.
"What’s wrong with single-sex schools?’ screamed the headline in the Los Angeles Times.
The question hit a nerve. A few years back, the same topic was raised by an old school friend. We were catching up on our life stories and the conversation turned to the old schoolyard.
Our chat ranged across teachers and former classmates. We talked sport and who was doing what, who had married whom and who had died, divorced, or, perhaps, had even become famous in the years between.
It was a free-ranging conversation that started out light but was about to turn ugly. My old school friend wanted to talk about those things that old boys of single-sex schools seldom speak about. My friend had been brutally scarred by his time at school and he wanted to talk.
The discussion that followed was a compilation of issues that would have emphatically answered the question posed by the LA Times story with a solemn, "everything".
It wasn’t pretty listening. It made for some intimate and emotionally charged conversation about our education and the damage done along the way.
Our chat ranged from the incompetence of some of our teachers to the daily fear of being caned to the male-myopic nature of our general education.
The forced exclusion of girls from our day-to-day experience and world view was a recipe for long-term relationship dysfunction. The daily absence of female students in our young formative lives had long term consequences.
We agreed, single sex education was social sexual discrimination with no sound academic reasoning behind it.
It was a colonial hangover that few challenged with any success. There was an underlying narrative from educators that sexual discrimination education was good for us. They were wrong.
Single-sex education is a form of separate development. Today there is a growing body of academic research and opinions damning the culture as needlessly discriminatory.
The forced schooling separation from girls had inflicted lasting wounds on my mate that had taken much of his adult life to work through. The male-centric nature of the school environment had a profound impact on all relationships that followed.
For those students who didn’t fit the school’s sporting school culture, there was nowhere to turn. Today, in my mid-50s, I am thankful I had soccer; it probably saved me. If I hadn’t been sporting, I would have been hopelessly lost, as were many others. And there were other issues.
At the time, in the seventh form common room, mock juries were held by leaders of the first XV. If the defendant was found guilty of these mock crimes, he would be mercilessly "grundied". What was then juvenile horseplay would today be considered sexual assault and those responsible for it would be facing charges.
The trials revealed much about the old school single-sex male culture.
Academically, as our chat continued, we acknowledged we were both taught by men and occasionally women who should never have been allowed to teach in a classroom. They were woefully under prepared for the culture shifts to come and were reliant on things being done the same old way.
It’s probably likely this was a common experience across countless other state schools in the same era. What I do know is a single-sex education and the way it was delivered was counterproductive to the development of well-rounded young men.
Single-sex education is a fundamentally compromised environment that has no equal in any other area of learning.
The single sex education apologists will come out in numbers to defend the old culture of single-sex education. But the old school platitudes that will be spoken are an ongoing act of denial of the experience of young men and women who were damaged by their time in single-sex education.
Many are still working through it. Some are owed apologies for the physical abuse and conduct of the time and the appalling academic and sexually retarded social learning experience the single sex schools across the country provided in the 1970s.
Single sex schools are an anachronistic, sexist, academic wasteland. They belong to a different cultural landscape, a different country and a different time.
The sooner young men and women learn together side-by-side without forced gender segregation, the better.
Education is about finding out who you are as young men and women and you can’t do that fully without day to day engagement with each other.
Let’s start over with a conjoint academic learning and social experience in partnership with the young female students across the country and in the Bay of Plenty.
It is past time single-sex schools were closed for good. Consign them to history. Single sex education is academic apartheid.
Let’s free ourselves from the damage it does.