Saunders

Saunders: Going non-coed has perks

Staff WriterSeptember 12, 2011 

The cute little jug-eared kid in the church pew in front of me a few weeks ago was fidgety - who wouldn't be after three hours of the Rev. Spike? - but otherwise well behaved.

He was 4 or 5, and his mom had had to give him the fish eye only a couple of times - until another mother with her little girl came in and sat by them. BAM! A switch was thrown inside the boy's head, and he became an animated terror, crawling under pews, banging his head with two fans, thumping the ear of the man seated in from of him - in short, doing anything he could to draw the little girl's attention.

The tiny tot's twinkling-of-an-eye transformation was awe-inspiring. It also made you realize that, even at that tender age, we males are hardwired to respond to females of the species, to try to impress y'all and get your attention by any means necessary.

The scientific term for what happens is, "We get goofy."

Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata knows this. That's why he's proposing that the county open single-gender schools to help improve the academic performance of both boys and girls.

If Tata talks to Eric Hines, principal of the Middle College at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, he'll stick to his guns and see the proposal through. Boys at that all-male high school in Guilford County are kicking butt.

"I just got a phone call from our chief of staff an hour ago," Hines said when I reached him at his office last week. "We are the most improved high school in Guilford County."

Hines used to be assistant principal at a traditional school, and he notes undeniable differences in the way boys act when there are no girls around.

"The first thing we see is fewer distractions. They behave better," he said. "Our guys don't see a need to impress young ladies, and they focus more" on academics. Research shows, he said, that "our young men don't seem to do as well with the 'sit-and-git' style of learning." For example, he said, "Instead of just taking notes on a cell membrane, they make one."

More than 90 percent of the boys also make it to college, he said.

Another plus, Hines said: "Teachers don't go home tired at the end of the day" from disciplining misbehaving boys.

When asked about opposition to single-gender schools - there's a corresponding one for girls at Bennett College - Hines said, "We have to do what's best for children, not adults."

Right on.

So, unless you've got a better way to teach kids who are falling behind, hush.

Ranota Hall, a Triangle psychiatrist who specializes in treating children, said girls' grades in math and science tend to fall off at a certain age if they're in school with boys even though they outperform us before that. Boys at the Tata-targeted age - sixth through 12th grades - "Are easily distractible," she said. "It doesn't have to be skirts. It can be a bird flying past the window."

Yeah, but if it's a bird wearing a skirt, you'll never get their attention back to conjugating verbs.

Tell Barry what you think at 919-836-2811 or barry.saunders@newsobserver.com.

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