Sunday, March 9, 2008

On the Merits of Single-Sex Education - Part I

The issues of gender are complex, ranging from cultural expectations and childrearing methods to sexual preferences and neurological and physiological issues. When you add to the mix a discussion on Black manhood, it's like adding gasoline to a fire.

I know that, as an African-American male, I'm always frustrated by the outcomes of such dialogues, primarily because as individuals we belong to one gender or another or sexual preference or another, and, therefore, believe that we know the full-scope of what that gender or sexual preference lifecycle is about. NOT!

Few of us understand, for example, that the needs of the male in the first five years of life are dramatically different from that of females nor is it appreciated that although males catch up with girls physically in their teens, recent neurological research tells us that males may not catch up with females in brain development until their late teens (ages 18-20). We are told that only the X chromosome carries a full set of defining body characteristics; a man's single X chromosome may be defective, whereas a woman, who has two chances, is believed to seldom fall short. And, even when partners can possibly understand this, how is the information integrated in their childrearing patterns? Among caregivers? Nursery school providers? Educators? Grandparents?

To create an environment for equitable education for Black males will require a complete overhauling of the system of knowledge delivery in public schools up to at least the 6th grade. That will not happen soon, of course, as the larger society does not accept the need for change, particularly for Black males. More to the point, the failure of young Blacks and Latinos (male and female) is important to the criminally unjust law enforcement and incarceration system in the United States.

As an adult male, I understand more clearly that the current warehousing method of education worked partially for me, but not for most of my peers. Boys in general, regardless of ethnicity, are exploratory by nature, and sitting in rows and forbidden to explore is going to cause conflict. The problem is not the child or the gender; it's the inability of the teacher and the system to adapt to the neurological and physiological needs of boys. To create better men, our parents, our community, and our schools must make creating healthier boys a priority.

Additionally, how gender roles are defined by BOTH women and men needs increased discourse as the roles of husbands in the household is changing. But, I also know that many women have not made the full shift to equitable gender sharing. While men now perform domestic tasks in their households more than ever before, fewer women have taken up "outside tasks" like lawn, landscaping, home repair activities, because these do not reinforce their standard of beauty, and are still considered male tasks. In my opinion, until some women and men redefine their image of beauty, change is going to be slow. Are nails and hair or condition of hands more important than family and relationship? Not if we are parents. I believe that it's healthier for parents to work together in all tasks in our fast-paced economy and for children to see them doing so, even if one or the other is only showing spiritual support.

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