Those of us who have taught in a single-sex environment for more than a few years have often been asked some variation of the following: Does a single-sex classroom really make a difference? Aren’t there more similarities than differences between the ways that boys and girls learn? Don’t’ single-sex schools, particularly boys’ schools, just reinforce negative gender stereotypes? What is really different about the way that boys (or girls) learn that validates the existence of single-sex schools and classrooms?
Advances in brain imaging, and the corresponding rise in “brain-based” educational approaches, have in some ways only added fuel to the fire. Any discussion of differences in the structure and function of male and female brains can quickly take on political overtones that muddy the picture. As with many other issues in research, one finds opposing camps, the first stating that innate distinctions between male and female brains have been documented and can account for differences in learning preferences, and the other averring that such distinctions are learned constructions stemming from the differences in how we treat boys and girls from infancy forward. Each camp has produced a significant body of literature, and each takes swipes at the research of the other, most often claiming faulty methodology or overreaching in conclusions. Both sides, it often seems to me, are pandering to the Dr. Phil and Oprah crowd, exaggerating this and that to pump book sales and speaking fees.