Gender-Divided Schools Carry Risks, Psychologist Finds

The debate over gender-divided schools rages on, and now a UT psychologist is bravely tossing another match into the blaze.

Sex-segregated schooling is not superior to the coed kind, and in fact carries the risk of exaggerating sexism and gender stereotyping, psychology professor Rebecca Bigler has found.

Bigler is taking her findings public in a major way. In an article in the next issue of Science magazine, she and other members of the American Council for CoEducational Schooling entreat policymakers to closely examine the scientific evidence relating to single-sex education.

Nationally, the number of gender-divided schools has increased in recent years, and the Austin Independent School District, which operates an all-girls middle school, is considering opening two more single-sex schools.

Past research by Bigler and colleagues has demonstrated that labeling and organizing children by social groups, even randomly assigned T-shirt colors, prompts children to infer that the groups differ in significant ways and to develop group prejudices.

“Schools play a larger role in children’s lives beyond academic training—they prepare children for mixed-sex workplaces, families, and citizenry,” Bigler says. “Institutionalizing gender-segregated classrooms limits children’s opportunities to interact with members of the opposite sex and to develop the skills necessary for positive and cooperative interaction.”

Illustration by Mala Kumar


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