By: Molly M.
In high school, many of us were given the chance to start making choices in regard to what classes we would be taking and when. For me, and probably many of you, phys. ed. class was one of these choices. I had the choice to sign up for an all girls class or a coed class. For me, this was a no brainer- all girls. Why? All my friends were doing it and everyone talked about how much fun it would be. That’s all I needed to hear. I wasn’t concerned about what exactly we would be doing in the class or how it would be different than the coed class. A lot of other girls took the class with the understanding it would be ‘easier’ than the class with the boys.
In retrospect, I question why the option even existed. We didn’t have a choice to take gender segregated biology or math class, so why phys. ed? I think there are a number of ways to look at this. On one hand, it could be argued that giving young girls, who are already self-conscious and unsure of themselves, a safer environment to experiment and learn skills for sports might give them the confidence to continue with sport throughout their lives. Another way of looking at this might be that this segregation only gives the girls negative perceptions of their own abilities. They may believe that they cannot play the same types of sports that their male counterparts can, or as well.
Research actually shows a number of significant differences between all boys and all girls classes. According the study ‘Physical Activity in High School Physical Education: Impact of Lesson Context & Class Gender Composition,’ classes made up of only male students showed much higher levels of vigorous physical activity than in the classes of only females. The boys spent about 21.9% of the class in a state of vigorous physical activity while the girls only spent 12.9% of their time in this state. Boys also spent much of their class time actually engaging in game play compared to girls. Some of the explanations for these gaps include the nature of the activities and the teachers. It has been suggested that in order to combat this, teachers need more professional development in order to understand the different interests that male and female students might have.
It seems that although there may be some legitimate reasons young girls may benefit from gender specific classes, there are also some serious drawbacks. What do you think about this? Should we continue on with separate classes or push for coed classes? What is best for everyone?
Smith, N.J., Lounsbery, M.A., & McKenzie, T.L. (2014). Physical Activity in High School Physical Education: Impact of Lesson Context & Class Gender Composition. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 11(1), 127-135.