The New Separate but Equal?

The Federal Government is voicing support for more single-sex classrooms and schools. The claim is that some studies have shown that single-sex environments lead to better academic results.

The part from the article that worries me is this (my emphasis added):

“School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of ‘substantially equal’ quality available for members of the excluded sex.”

That sounds a whole hell of a lot like separate but equal to me. That ideology was found to be unconstitutional.

I never attended a single-sex school or class, so I have no first-hand experience with this. Do people that did feel that they were better off because of that experience? Is anyone else as nervous as I am about resurrecting ‘separate but equal’ rhetoric?

One Love. One II.




About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

11 responses to “The New Separate but Equal?”

  1. YPD says :

    I was in all female classes from elementary to middle school. I joined co-ed classes in high school. While I was academically movtivated in both. I cared less about my apperance. In high school found myself nervous while sitting next to men. When I started dating, it took it to a whole another level. I think single sex classes clearly have benefit for women who are socialized to be timid and not as competetive as men. Before cared about my studies care intensely and there was no pressure to please or show off to the other sex. I know so many women who are so shallow and don’t realized they really only care about those stilletos because it attracts men. Not because those shoes make them feel good when they put them on. Fashion a distraction? Some say get a uniform but self-esteem and beauty are tied whether you have a dress code or not. This is my experience.

  2. ypd says :

    Sorry for the many errors. Hopefully you get the pic.

  3. ellen says :

    There is definitely an advantage to single sex schools! After graduating (and during my time at) an all female college, I saw the benefits of attending Smith unfold before my eyes. The confidence and security that comes out of single sex environment is both phenomenal and necessary.

  4. ellen says :

    Let me emphasize that this should always be A CHOICE, not a mandate

  5. Garlin II says :

    Ellen & ypd, thank you for participating in this discussion.

    Both of you are pretty clear on the benefits for female students. I don’t know the answer to this, but is there any way that those benefits can be worked in to a co-educational environment? There has to be a way to foster self-confidence in the presence of boys.

    Also, are there benefits to all-male classrooms/schools? I understand that freedom from sexist social norms exists in all-female environments. I would think that that is not as much of an issue in all-male ones.

  6. ellen says :


    Yes, there are definitely benefits for the boys. My younger brother attends a boys high school. Both he and my brother benefited greatly from this experience. The sense of camaraderie and community that comes out of this all male group experience seems to be a strength of single sex schooling. YPD also makes great arguments for females that can be flipped and used for the boys argument

    to take this discussion to the next level, i’d like to throw out an idea/suggestion. What benefits/ opportunities do single sex institutions present in the wake of an absence of strong role models, particularly male roles?

  7. "The Consigliere" says :

    I attended an all-boys high school and I think it was great. At first I was not too keen about it, but it greatly increased my focus and discipline. It also caused me not to take the presence of women for granted. Compared with my cousins and friends who went to co-ed institutions, the exposure, social networks and discipline were unsurpassed. You treated school like a job, which it is. I was focused on my goals. I do not know if there is a way to reap the same benefits. If you look at any teenage dude, with the hormones and everything, it is a recipe for disaster. I know at least for me and my broters, we love women, and the focus would not have been on school if they were in the building. You fall into trying to look cool and be popular and getting up with shorty after the lunch period. ANd I have found, that when men and women mix in a sexually charged environment, drama ensues. Like my little cousins be all love sick every other week because of some high school stuff. That just was not my experience.

    There is a drawback in that there is a chance of social retardation, but college will easily changed that. I agree with Ellen that it is not for everybody. I would not make all of my children attend single-sex institutions, if it is not a good fit for them. But the benefits are extremely difficult to replicate (i.e. no distractions).

  8. ellen says :

    After a hectic week at school, I found myself thinking about this post. I teach in the lower east side of NYC working with quite a group of young brown and black youth. The reality is they are a group of black and brown children with little to no resources, who are dependent on social services, know very little about the world outside of their beaten, worn down neighborhood, and for the most part are headed towards a life that wont amount to a great deal of success because most of them wont graduate. I wonder if removing them from the environment they are most familiar with and placing them in an environment where the opposite sex is not present, would my students be more responsive. Would fashion, sex, and saving face be less of a priority if the opposite sex wasn’t around?

  9. Garlin II says :

    It sounds like the common thread here is that co-ed classrooms and schools are cesspools of distraction. While I would prefer a mentorship-based solution to these problems of focus, an alternative approach could be removing the student from the distraction or vice versa. Perhaps both could work simultaneously?

    Why is this culture so damn superficial? Why is it that we encourage people to care about the unimportant, so much so that it leads them down a path personal, spiritual, emotional, academic, professional, and economic failure?

    This is frustrating because you, me, we are not the only people that understand or observer this phenomenon. The people that send messages and create images and ideologies that make students think that sex, fashion, or whatever is all that matters understand it too. Why do they continue to purposefully put people on a path towards self-destruction? What is so f’d up about our system that it is in their best interest to see an entire class of people fail?

  10. ellen says :

    Garlin, can you expand on your thoughts of how mentorship will answer this problem IN the classroom?

    Also, it seems that you view “removal” as a negative thing. I would argue that it isn’t. In fact, around the world, some of the leading education systems are single sexed. Rather than seem them as simply a removal from a distraction and a responsive solution, see all the postitive that comes from them.

  11. Garlin II says :


    I see mentorship as addressing behavioral challenges outside of the classroom, so your point is valid. My thinking is that if we can help encourage healthy mindsets through mentorship outside the classroom, that will translate into better classroom behavior and performance, and students with better ability to deal with ‘distraction.’

    ‘Removal’ as I call it is not necessarily negative, but I think that it is inherently reactive. I believe this because I see it as accepting the ‘fact’ that boys and girls with distract one another. I don’t see how that deals with having students either better handle said distractions, which is what I think a more proactive solution would do.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know what that more proactive solution looks like. I’m trying the mentorship approach for now, but that is not the only solution. I’m not sure what the in-school solution looks like.

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