As we welcome new students to Bryn Mawr College this week, we thought we would feature the work of a current student. This post is brought to you by Kai Wang ’15, a current Bryn Mawr College undergraduate student and winner of the inaugural Essay Competition of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. Kai won a $500 cash prize, sponsored by the Friends of the Library at Bryn Mawr College, and the opportunity to publish her essay here. Kai was also honored in the annual prize giving ceremony. The judging panel was comprised of the Director of the Center, Dr. Jennifer Redmond, Ms. Jen Rajchel ’11, at that time Digital Initiatives Intern, Mae Carlson ’12, representing the Student Government Association, and Professor Sharon Ullman of the History Department. We all thought Kai’s essay connected the past with the present landscape of women’s education in interesting ways. Well done Kai! If you are new to Bryn Mawr College, keep an eye out for the posters this semester announcing the second competition.
Kai spent this past summer doing an exciting short self-initiated extern at the Beijing Cancer Hospital in the Department of Hepatic, Biliary and Pancreatic Cancer. At the hospital she could closely observe and learn more about the doctors’ jobs from a more authoritative perspective, in addition to familiarizing herself with the procedures in a hospital setting, interacting with patients and building more experience for a potential career in the medical field. After this, she returned to Canada to spend the rest of the summer break helping with her small family-operated plant nursery, soaking up the Summer sun, and cracking a few books in preparation for another beautiful semester back home at Bryn Mawr.
Kai Wang: Why Single Sex Education Matters Today
With the hot debate on the significance of single-sex education, dominating public opinion questions the necessity of continuing this rigid and even antiquated tradition. Thus the persisting query is: Why should single-sex education matter today?
Globally, problems of gender bias have always existed, including in earlier Western society (this is especially evident in former education systems, though it is much overlooked these days due to the supplantation of single-sex education by co-education). Thus, the importance of single-sex education cannot be so easily dismissed as great gender inequality still exists in many regions of the world such as in impoverished and rural areas of India and China. This inequality between male-female education remains a stark reality especially for women, who are most often the victims of social discrimination. Yet through its focus on the importance of learning for each and both genders, single-sex education demands equality between sexes and thus contests the culturally embedded notions of gender discrimination. Through teaching women, for instance, single-sex education discourages gender stereotypes through paralleling females’ proficiency to that of their male ‘superiors’. Hence, the development of single-sex education (again, chiefly for women) in this area is very much a means of liberation from gender inequality. Single-sex education, then, is indisputably a crucial element in bringing about recognition for education and equality between genders; it allows for the autonomy of individuals entrapped in cultural bias to reach out towards a change and a future against the flawed perceptions of gender prejudice.
The significance of single-sex education for women in particular has a deep rooted aspect of representation. Since academies for women’s higher education have opened on a socially accepted level, the continued existence and flourishing of all-females institutions attest to the decisive successes against past struggles for the recognition of intellectual equality and freedom from social inferiority. Through my own experiences at Bryn Mawr College, I am continually inspired by my peers’ dedication to their work as well as their confidence and vivacity in interaction. For those of us attending all women’s academic institutions, we bear witness to the legacy of spirit, independence, and dignity of women that these academies uphold.
While the popularity of co-ed systems seems to have rendered single-sex education obsolete, there is no doubt that it is still an important component of educational success. Often, criticism directed at single-sex education argues that it offers a false impression of the world in that its very selectivity of gender and sheltered learning environment does not reflect the real-world challenges as does, for example, the way a co-ed environment imitates a microcosm of society. Consequently, single-sex education is not realistic in preparing students for ‘real’ life and the facilitation into society with its frustrations, some of which are not introduced to students within their educational experience. Yet this argument fails to consider the rebuttal; in a single-gendered setting, there is undeniably greater freedom permitted to the student in terms of release of self expression, a cause contributed to by the elimination of societal pressures for restraint and conformity.
With the focus on single-sex education, students at these institutes are encouraged to explore greater fields of academia, thus propelling the development of single-sex communities to extend in all areas of learning. Many reports evaluating the performances of student in single-sex institutions in comparison with co-ed institutions confirm a significant rise not only in learning efficiency but also in interest of subjects: in a single-sex environment, more women tend towards science courses than in co-ed institutions, showing that what has traditionally been seen as the academic territory of one gender can be managed as adeptly by the other. This support for diverse learning thus mirrors the world within a single gendered space and serves as an outlet for self discovery and expansion of potential. The experiences acquired from a single-sex environment allow its’ students to pursue new and budding interests, thereby contributing to the odyssey of self-realization. The onslaught of new responsibilities and social activities that come with this period of college life also marks a great transitional stage into adulthood whereby one defines individuality and manages independence within the sphere of a single gendered community, and later, in the greater societal world. Thus, not only do these experiences gained through the single-sex environment offer insight and practice in handling future challenges –just as in a co-ed setting- they also invalidate the argument against single-sex education about false-preparation for integration into society.
Yet why must we only measure the value of single-sex education in comparison to co-ed systems in order to appreciate its importance? The significance of single-sex education lies not in its point-to-point advantages or disadvantages over co-ed settings but rather, in the unique experience it provides its’ students. It is this experience that determines value. Experiencing education in a single-sex community is only a short fragment of time in one’s life, yet it creates unique memories of exploration, self-discovery, and lasting friendships in the distinct context of a single-sex setting. In society, there will always be chances for interactions with members of the other sex, though, with time, there will likely be fewer chances to experience single-sex education because of the dwindling number of single-sex educational institutions throughout the nation.
A spring of exploration, boldness and vision, single-sex education realizes within each single gendered community greater potential for growth, liberation from stereotypical constructs, and development of distinct individuals that other modes of education could never mimic. In the end, there will always be skeptics and critics of this approach, but it is time for single-sex education to take a decisive stand for its existence and its merit. What is needed on our part is an adamant persistence and belief in the values of single-sex education against the overwhelming odds of societal demands for conformity. The question should be: Why shouldn’t single-sex education matter today?
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