The evils of single gender schools

Published by the Editor at 4.17pm on Thursday, 15 September 2016.

By Alan Williams. Alan is a retired teacher who lives in France. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.  


As a child, I attended ‘boys only' schools and it screwed up my life. No prizes for deciding which side of this divisive, educational see-saw I'll be jumping on. However, since it is an aspect of life that will affect thousands of impressionable students, let us assume a more pragmatic overview of the situation. 

The Present Dichotomy of Choice Within the Educational Hierarchy.

Obviously there is no correct or incorrect answer to this question as both school systems exist, content in the cosy belief that their system is the better one. They'll justify it by quoting the statistics and opinions of so-called experts with strings of qualifications to their names.

All administrative educationists will validate their own existence and beliefs. It is the nature of their profession and is, I suspect, due to their desire to control the educators who matter, the school teachers, masters and support staff.

In the past, learned people have believed in ‘self-evident facts' that we now realise were wrong but, at the time, the populace listened because the people claiming it were important. The Earth isn't flat nor the centre of the universe, the human body can travel faster than fifteen miles an hour and survive and, despite those who championed sexual discrimination as the ‘natural order of humanity', women are equal to men.

The more qualifications a person has, the more authority their opinions deserve ... or so some academics believe. Don't get me wrong. I love getting new letters to follow my name too. The point is, all of these so-called experts proclaiming, from on high, that single gender establishments are better or worse ...neither matters more than the other. Two PhDs and three Diplomas of Education on one side of the argument nullifies five Masters on the other. It's simple mathematics.

So, for now, let's dismiss the arguments of these experts and concentrate on the real issues by going to the proverbial chalk-face itself; the schools with their plethora of pupils and instructors.

Interview With a Former Rug-Rat

Yes, I know some of you readers might suggest that one student amongst a world population is not a statistically viable sample size or good scientific method. However this is my treatise so I ... don't ... care!

I can assure you that the former child being interviewed was chosen randomly, using a complex statistical test. This result then gives us the perfect subject to be interviewed - a subject that coincidentally turns out to be me.

Roving Reporter: Thanks for agreeing to tell us about the experiences that resulted in your present emotionally crippled state.

Alan: Hold on. ‘Emotionally crippled' might be a bit strong.

Roving Reporter: Would you prefer ‘fruit loop' or ‘barking mad'?

Alan: Oh ...‘Emotionally crippled' is fine. But I wasn't always like this. I used to be well balanced and, dare I say, ‘normal'. I was brought up in Sydney's suburbs in the fifties and sixties.

RR: So you're Australian. That explains the vegemite sandwich and Akubra hat with corks then. Tell us about your experience in a single sex primary school, please. That is, if the memories aren't too painful.

A: I spent four years at Croydon Boys' Primary. They were great. How was I to know that my perceptions of life, in fact my very essence, were being insidiously eroded from within. I knew about girls of course. I wasn't utterly stupid. They wore dresses and played with dolls and had longer hair. I used to see them in the other playground behind the electrified dividing fence. Once a year they came into our playground to dance with us. We learnt the Gypsy Tap, the Pride of Erin and the barn dance.

RR: What do you recall about this strange group of creatures most of all, Alan?

A: Their cold, clammy hands. Yuk. I do remember one of them though. She was called Gayle Tempest. Yes, seriously. Some parents have no idea the harm they do when they choose a name. I loved her. But I wasn't allowed to talk to her. The teachers were very strict. Interaction of any kind was forbidden, under penalty of ridicule and corporal punishment.

RR: So what happened?

A: Nothing. Unrequited love. I left primary school in 1961. The year after they joined the two schools making one that was co-educational. Sadly it was too late for this little brat.

RR: So you survived a unisex primary school relatively intact. What then?

A: I was accepted into a selective secondary school. Surprise, surprise; all boys. There were over 900 of us being indoctrinated into the mysteries of manhood, safe from the diabolical distraction of damsels. Forget the logical premise that schools are there to not only teach the academic subjects but to allow socialization as well. Forget that the end product is a well-adjusted individual, ready to face the world. ‘Let's really stuff the snotty-nosed monsters up,' decreed the powers that be. ‘Let's protect them from the evil temptations of the fairer sex in their formative puberty years. After all, it didn't do our generation any harm.' So we were socially tortured for those six years of secondary school. On the other hand, we were excellent in exams.

RR: That is so sad, Alan. I ... I can feel myself becoming quite misty-eyed. But surely, all was not perfect in your prison paradise?

A: Well there was this one time. Somehow a young lady was transferred in as a French teacher. One woman in a school overflowing with repressed hormones of students and staff alike. The entire school suddenly wanted to study this exotic language, including the other teachers. She lasted one term before being transferred once more to an all female school, leaving us all sadder, wiser and wondering ‘what if'. In retrospect it was like putting a single Kit Kat chocolate bar into a convention of excommunicated Weight Watchers and watching the chaos that follows.

RR: What next? Ten years of isolation from females couldn't last forever, could it?

A: No. I applied to be trained as a teacher, craving that same life-or-death absolute power that my tormentors had used over the years. I ended up in a teachers' college with over three hundred teenage fluff-bunnies and five blokes. To use that same analogy, I was one chocoholic in a warehouse full of Kit Kats. It should have been heaven.

RR: I'm sensing a ‘but' here.

A: Within a week, I had three hundred new enemies. Talk about making a ‘faux pas'. It was a steep learning curve. The next two years I was very lonely. If only someone had taught me how to converse with women when I was a kid.

RR: Thanks for sharing your thoughts as a student. Now to move on.

Interview With a Brilliant Teacher

Alan: G'day.

Roving Reporter: You again?

A: That random sampling whatsit is a real bugger, isn't it? Talk about coincidences ... Of all the teachers in all the world ...

RR: Save me the misquoted lines from Casablanca, please. Just tell our audience about your experiences as an esteemed educator.

A: Well, Rover. I can call you Rover, can't I? I've taught in boys only, girls only and mixed gender schools so I'm more than qualified to give an expert evaluation of their respective merits. Agreed some of the guys were distracted and some of the sheilas, sorry, young ladies liked to flirt but the co-ed schools worked much better.

RR: Give us a for-instance, then.

A: I recall one sex-education lesson with a boys-only class. From the standard of questions, every lad was as mixed up as I used to be. Talk about not having a clue.

RR: But you corrected their mistaken ideas, of course; taught them the error of their puerile ways.

A: Did I, hell. I tried. I really tried. But they were sadly beyond hope. They were convinced that girls can't get pregnant if you're doing it standing up, that banana milkshakes increase your sex drive and that masturbation does make you go blind.

RR: So, despite your efforts, you were destined to fail in ‘righting the wrongs'.

A: When the establishment found out I was attempting to actually teach them social skills, I was dishonorably transferred to a ‘co-ed' school. The headmaster was disappointed that I couldn't see the value of teaching boys the ‘traditional' way.

End of Interviews

So that's it. My sound and conclusive argument about the evils of single gender schools. Nevertheless those hideous establishments still abound and we must ask ourselves ‘Why?'

Is it, as I insinuated, to perpetuate the ‘status quo'? After all, society does need its dysfunctional adults to fill the upper echelons of big business, and its politicians.

Hopefully some day someone will ban these dens of ignorance forever and society can move towards utopia and a brave new world. We can only hope.

I rest my case.


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Posted by at 8.39am on Friday, 16 September 2016.

I attended a mixed school but we had separate classes and separate playgrounds policed by very angry supervisors. I wanted to be a footballer (4 brothers) and play with rifles so I was permanently in trouble for breaching the boundary and for hating dolls. What pointless madness it seems now. At least it taught me to break rules and disregard authority.
Don't let the well written humour in this piece distract you from its seriousness.

Posted by Bruce Williams at 11.26am on Friday, 16 September 2016.

as I am the younger brother of the above writer - barking mad was sadly closer to the mark, but I digress. I followed the same pattern co-ed and all boy high school followed by Uni in a 99% course, so I realised that boys needed protection from girls of bad intent. I realised this in year 6 when out of pure logic Insuggested to a girl that given that both of our surnames were Williams she could keep her name if she married me. This was very reasonable in terms of marriage, so I thought. She chased me down the hill - I did not ask at the time if she was impatient for nuptials as the anger in her red eyes told me to flee and flee quickly. I knew that safety lay in single sex schools. Crazy people wear dresses. Scottish men were yet to be classified. I spent many years away from women until I spent time seeking the company of women. Another disaster. I was taking out two girls at the one time. No one warned me of the danger. They both caught the bus and were separated in schools. How was I to know that they discussed their new boyfriend. The bus exploded! I was dropped without explanation so I thought must take out more than two in future. I later found out this cause of crazy people who wear dresses but someone on that bus who had longed to meet me. She said the whole bus of girls wanted to meet me. So I guess that they were correct to place boys in single sex schools etc to protect them from crazy people in dresses. I later found that Scottish men had realised that they could only avoid the crazies by dressing the same. Note to self do not ask what's worn under a kilt/dress to a woman - Scottish men reply Nothing's worn, all in perfect working order. Women just look at me strange. My vote is single sex schools in order to preserve the species. My comment of barking mad was in reference to anyone going into a den of women. :)

Posted by Jennifer Twomey at 12.38pm on Thursday, 22 September 2016.

A great piece, containing many valid points amongst the humour!

Posted by Alan Williams at 6.25pm on Saturday, 24 September 2016.

Thanks to Jane, my brother and Jenny for your comments. As has been pointed out, my humorous view should not take away the reality that this practice in education shapes the future lives of all affected children. It failed me in so many ways and that humour conceals a bitterness that cannot be undone. If I could apologise to the young ladies I treated rudely or arrogantly, I would. Maybe, in some small way, this is an attempt at explaining the me I once was. Is there anyone out there who disagrees with my negative attitude to these insidious institutions? I'd be interested to hear. It might not change my totally justified attitude but we can share opinions so speak up, please.

Posted by Rufus at 7.54am on Tuesday, 18 October 2016.

Of course, many degrees don't make one's opinion right; they simply give one a ready audience. It's daring of the author to challenge such authority with his own touching record enveloped in hilarious randomized interviews. The approach is simply creative.

But I think that was too much single sex education for one person. Now that the real world is made of mixed gender. As a product of a boys-only school, I agree we missed our lady-folk. But that bought time to develop the brain 'muscle'. The rare opportunities by the school to interact with other girls schools also helped us put the lady on a respectable pedestal. It's just strange that boys are taught to avoid girls.

Teamwork, leadership, competitive excellence, great discipline... Everything goes on right but for the indept knowledge of girls which is rarely achieved even at the post-grad coeducational level.

If I, another randomized sample, turned out to be a gentleman in the eyes of the female friend, then my boys school must have equipped me with needed self discipline to pursue relationships I knew little about, then I bet the author's school sent the wrong signals about girls and for too long - that must stop.

Posted by anny at 6.21pm on Friday, 21 October 2016.

I really liked the way the piece is written, making you want to read it.
I think it depends on the generations and the culture of the country the school is in.
I was in a coed day school, and interacting with boys didn't seem like a big deal when they were your desk partners, or pencil borrowers, and even best friends.
My boyfriend however, was in an all boys boarding school, and they had regular socials with the neighbouring all girls boarding schools. You can't teach a person how to talk to the opposite gender. His school groomed the boys to become confident young men, and in interacting with the girls at regular intervals, in a way led them to understand and become gentlemen of their own accord.
We're both 21, and we can safely conclude the generations are changing vastly in terms of how interactions between young boys and girls are being looked at, and being changed.
So if I was to pick a side among the two, I'm on the fence saying, that there should be an atmosphere at single sex schools, such as that of my boyfriend's, conducive to personal growth, without compromising the ability to interact.

Posted by Alan Williams at 5.31pm on Wednesday, 26 October 2016.

Thanks to Rufus and anny for your thoughtful comments.
It's great to know my views (shrouded in exaggeration and humour) are being considered by others.
Realistically I know things have changed from the 50s and 60s in Australia. I understand the positives I received in education however the social faults of my schools back then cannot be defended, at least in my girl-free case.
I realise I cannot dwell in the immutable past yet each and every day I find myself wondering ... What if.

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