Boys who will be gentlemen

One of the great educational theories of the past 30 years is being turned on its head. It seems boys perform better academically, and become more sensitive men, if they attend all-male schools.
West, Andrew. "Boys who will be gentlemen." Sydney Morning Herald. 6 July 2003.

One of the great educational theories of the past 30 years is being turned on its head. It seems boys perform better academically, and become more sensitive men, if they attend all-male schools.

Findings to be presented at a major conference on boys' education, beginning in Sydney today, show that boys educated without the company of girls have greater self-esteem.

They are also more likely to pursue subjects such as art, drama and music, to get involved in debating and school leadership and enjoy reading.

Principal of The Southport School on the Gold Coast Bruce Cook said the conventional wisdom of the past three decades – that girls have a civilizing impact on boys – is old-fashioned.

"That relates to the concepts of teaching and learning, in vogue from the 1950s to the 1980s, that learning was only good if people sat still, shut up and read their books," Dr Cook said. "But boys don't learn that way.

"They learn by being active, by competing, by moving around. In boys' schools we can construct different ways of learning that concentrate on their learning style."

Even more compelling is Dr Cook's conclusion that boys educated separately end up being more confident around girls.

"In co-ed, boys tend to adopt a quasi-masculine attitude because girls are there," he said. "They feel they have to demonstrate their emerging masculinity by gross macho over-reaction.

"Boys in single-sex schools don't have the constant presence of girls reminding them of how they look. You know, 'Am I looking OK for the girls?' "

In co-educational environments, he said, he found boys were more reluctant to become involved in what their male classmates might dismiss as "feminine" activities, such as choirs, orchestras and debating.

They even feared their classmates would question their sexuality.

"In boys' schools, they can participate in anything irrespective of any perceived gender bias," Dr Cook said, "whereas in co-ed schools you get boys who don't even try moving into those areas, the choir or debating, because they're fearful of being labeled gay or a sissy."

The conference of the International Boys' Schools Coalition, to be held at the Shore School in North Sydney, will also hear from leading US educator George Lewis, who teaches at the elite Fairfield Country Day School in Connecticut.

Mr. Lewis said it was important the curriculum in all-boys schools included material that explored women's experiences.

He said anecdotal evidence suggested boys from single-sex schools were also more polite. While almost all state US schools are co-educational, more single-sex schools are opening in the private sector.
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