Department of English

Spring 2011 Edition

Preferred Form of School: Single Sex or Co-ed?

Chan Mi Kim
Argumentative 1010 Honorable Mention
Professor: Dr. Carole Schuyler

In Korea, there are as many single-sex schools as co-ed schools. But, in Korea, co-ed schools are a more preferable form of education over single-sex schools because they raise competitiveness, equality, and sociability. Two of my sources do support my position while another one is neutral and one is opposed. Additionally, my real-life experiences of co-ed schools and single-sex schools in Korea will give support that co-ed schools are preferable.

Despite academic achievements, there are more important lessons that students need to learn in co-ed schools. Some of these lessons are in the article, "Single-Sex Schools: Solution or Setback" by Sean McCollum, the author of twenty-five books and many articles for children and teens. He points out a deficiency of diversity in single-sex high schools and also highlights social development of teens in co-ed schools. Furthermore, "The Trouble with Single-Sex Schools" by Wendy Kaminer, a Public Policy Fellow at Radcliffe College and contributing editor at the Atlantic Monthly, also refers to competitiveness and discrimination as problems of single-sex education.

However, Peggy Orenstein, an American journalist who is opposed to co-ed schooling, shows the problems of a girl's situation in a co-ed middle school through anecdotes in "Learning Silence: Scenes from the Class Struggle." In this essay, she draws a line between boys and girls with the terms "voice and silence." With these terms, the author explains that American boys and girls have different learning styles, so girls in co-ed schools usually cannot get a better grade than boys. This is because girls have less confidence around boys, so they do not learn as well in co-ed schools.

The gap between boys and girls is also shown in "Effects of Single-Sex and Coeducational Schooling on the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement," by Sheree J. Gibb, David M. Fergusson, and L. John Horwood. They use empirical data to compare boys and girls in co-ed and single-sex schools. These sources should give an idea about the most desirable form of schools. Their findings show that both co-ed and single sex schools have advantages and disadvantages. However, co-ed schools are more true to real life. The main type of evidence to be used in my essay is authoritative and anecdotal.

The main reason why co-ed schools are a more desirable form of education in Korea than single-sex schools is that students need to become more competitive against the opposite sex before they graduate from high school. From my personal experience, I know that Korean girls are equally active and proficient as Korean boys in co-ed middle and high school classes, whereas in America, the boys have higher grades than the girls in co-ed high school classes. Some male Korean middle-school graduates want to go to single-sex high schools to keep high GPAs for admission to universities because of the generally higher academic achievement of girls. However, society is a place of competition for both sexes. In the reality of Korea, most universities are co-ed schools, just as in America. One high-school senior girl said, "If I don't learn to compete [with guys] now, when am I going to learn?" (McCollum 19). This means that, at the least, high school graduates are going to need to compete with the opposite sex in universities, so they may as well practice that interaction earlier.

My second reason why co-ed schools are a more desirable form of education than single-sex schools is the development of sociability. The real world is made up of males and females: "Single-sex schools also run the risk of retarding teens' social development. …Sooner or later, members of both sexes need to develop the social skills that will serve them as adults" (McCollum 19). I saw many friends who graduated from single-sex schools struggle with this problem of socializing with the opposite sex. They were not sure how to treat boys in universities or males in society. Sociability is one important factor in order to live well in the society between the sexes. To raise sociability, both sexes need to know each other naturally by accepting diverse viewpoints that the opposite sex may have in the co-educational system: "Girls might have a very different take than the boys, say, on [author] Virginia Woolf, and it might challenge my way of thinking" (McCollum 18). Sharing perspectives of the opposite sex in co-educational systems will help each gender to understand the other. It will basically help to raise competitiveness with diverse thinking.

The last reason that co-ed schools are better than single sex schools is sexual equality.

Sexual discrimination is in our subconscious from real-life experiences: Single-sex schools are one subconscious form of sexual discrimination because "...it was a cultural mandate at a time when sexual segregation was considered only natural" (Kaminer 31). In addition,"sexism was most severe in boys' schools; […] girls' schools did pay the most attention to equality between the sexes, but, they also 'perpetuated a pernicious form of sexism: […]'" (qtd. in Kaminer 37). In my real life experience of attending a co-ed high school with a single-sex educational system, which means that both sexes go to a high school, but they study in a different classroom, most of the students in single-sex classes had illusions about the opposite sex. For instance, girls thought that all boys in single-sex schools were dirty or spiteful; boys thought that all girls in single-sex schools were pretty and feminine. But those kinds of illusions cause a form of sexual discrimination that has to do with consciousness of one's sexual role. In "The Trouble with Single-Sex Schools," Kaminer said, "today a return to separate single-sex schools may hasten the revival of separate gender roles. Only as the sexes have become less separate have women become more free" (39). Furthermore, Korea is influenced by Confucian culture from long ago, so the prejudices against females still exist in various social forms and in the subconscious of the people. Today's Confucianism in Korea remains as the moral system, such as social relations between old and young, and the basis for much of the legal system. Therefore, co-ed schools are the most desirable form of education in Korea because they reduce sexism.

Despite the merits of co-ed schools, there are still worries. Orenstein points out the gap of the math score between boys and girls in a co-ed school: "Unfortunately, girls are far less likely than boys to retain their affection for math and science. As they move through school, their confidence in their mathematical abilities falters and their competence soon follows suit" (22). However, the AAUW (American Association of University Women) reports that "both sexes tend to lose interest in math and science as they proceed through schools, but the loss is more pronounced for girls" (qtd. in Kaminer 36). Furthermore, the Australian journal refers to this: "After controlling for background factors and prior achievement, there was no significant difference in the size of the gender gap at single-sex and co-educational schools for reading, mathematics, science or writing" (Gibb, Fergusson, and Horwood 303). Therefore, the gap of the math and science score between boys and girls is not a worry in co-ed schools.

A second objection is raised by those who think there will be disadvantages in academic grades between the opposite sexes because of personality differences. In Korea, some parents worry that their boys may lose self-esteem while studying among girls in a co-ed school because of girls' meticulous habits of studying such as taking notes, which may lead to higher academic scores than boys achieve. However, when I was a middle school student, I saw several boys in my classroom who were not that good at taking notes, but they studied in their own ways and they got better grades than many girls. Seen from my experience, academic achievement depends on one's own effort and one's own special way of studying. Also, the AAUW reports that "maybe a loss of self esteem is a function of adolescence not of sex" (qtd. in Kaminer). Accordingly, losing self-esteem because of academic grades is not a problem caused by co-ed schools, but a problem that students need to solve by themselves.

Third, some parents in Korea, especially parents who have more than one girl, want them to go to a single-sex school because of adolescent relationships with the opposite sex which may result in sexual relations. However, contrary to parents' belief, single-sex school students are equally exposed to serious relationships with the opposite sex:

In fact, according to research, there are about six students in forty students (15%) who have relationships with the opposite sex in a single-sex high school class, while there are about six students among thirty-six (16%) in a co-ed high school class. (Meong Sun)

Moreover, the co-ed system results in a positive effect on relationships with the opposite sex. Sexual information about both genders can be shared in a less awkward manner, so students can understand the opposite sex comfortably. Additionally, in this situation of learning about the opposite sex, making students avoid going to a co-ed school is not the advisable answer. Rather, we need to more realistic about sex education, and teach not just classical educational information— when a sperm meets an egg, it is fertilized— but more open and practical information which students can understand clearly.

School days are too short to compare with the rest of a person's life. And the school days are also the time to prepare for the rest of life. Have you heard the saying: "No pain, no gain" and "The early bird catches the worm"? As everyone knows, we will be faced with the opposite sex someday. Though it may be hard, both sexes need to try to strengthen their academic weaknesses against the opposite sex. For example, girls need to work harder at math and science and boys need to study more— not avoiding the opposite sex but adjusting to them in co-ed schools. As a result of experiences in co-ed schools, we can live with open minds and comfort in a society all together.

Works Cited
Durst, Russel K, ed. You Are Here: Readings on Higher Education for College Writers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2003. Print.
Gibb, Sheree J., David M Fergusson, L. John Horwood. "Effects of Single-Sex and co-educational Schooling on the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement." Australian Journal of Education (2008): 301-317. Print.
Kaminer, Wendy. "The Trouble with Single-Sex Schools." Durst 30-39.
McCollum, Sean. "Single-Sex Schools: Solution or Setback." Literary Cavalcade. Aug. 2004: 18-19. Print.
Meong Sun, Jin. "Studies have been pushed aside." HanKyoReh. N.p, 9 Mar. 2008. Web. 15 April 2010.
Orenstein, Peggy. "Learning Silence: Scenes from the Class Struggle." Durst 12-29.