Hearing New Voices in Gender Groups

By Madeleine Herbst '20

Editors’ Note: For three weeks, the Catlin Gabel sixth graders split into gender groups, in which most classes were segregated by sex. At the end of their experience, the sixth graders reflected on the merits of single-sex education. After the class chose the best pieces, the elected writers visited our New Media Studies (CatlinSpeak) class and workshopped their pieces with our staff. These articles are the final products of the class of 2020’s hard work.

For the short period of time in the Middle School when I was in gender groups, (small groups divided by gender during my core classes), I had such a fun and interesting time. I found that the overall experience of gender groups was amazing, and provided an exclusive opportunity for getting to know the girls in my 6th-grade society better.

We shouldn’t get rid of gender groups, or change them at all, because just the pure fact of a girl-filled room, no boy students allowed, made me somehow feel more comfortable. It also made the unit that two of my teachers were teaching, Ann and Carter, easier to understand.

Part of the workshop process was discussing 6th grader opinions of the gender groups. (Photo: Nico Hamacher '15)

Part of the workshop process was discussing 6th grader opinions of the gender groups. (Photo: Nico Hamacher ’15)

Being in a classroom of all the same gender made me feel more secure. I felt better sharing my ideas with others, because they were all girls. I felt free to share and explain my ideas on sexism, because I knew that I wouldn’t cause a huge outburst from a boy with an opposing idea.

I knew that no girl in our class was going to comment, “Yeah! I think things should stay as they are, with men having all the power!” (Heck, even a boy probably wouldn’t say that, unless he was extremely sexist.) But it still made me feel better sharing my ideas.

Also, for some reason, whenever girls are in a classroom with boys, it seems like there is always commotion, and I have a harder time focusing. Trust me, since gender groups did not affect our language classes, which is the closest class to a core class, I could clearly see the difference. In our core classes, all of the kids were quiet and attentive.

However, in language class, people were shouting to each other from across the room, chatting, and being extremely loud. It was a very annoying and disruptive environment. Also, as I was editing this article, a huge argument broke out between a boy and a girl about Starbucks! The volume level was way above my comfort zone.

Another reason why I loved gender groups is that it made the lesson at hand in two of the four core classrooms on sexisim (and other big unfairnesses, such as racism, stereotypes, and gay rights) easier for me to absorb.

I was able to express my opinion to other girls freely, and we got to learn more about the social justice problems of the world and what we can do to help fix them. I think that the teachers liked it, too. It gave them a great opportunity to teach us about the subject.

Since we were already in gender groups, they didn’t have to worry about explaining the two sides of these issues to two different genders in four separate classes. Plus, we’re in gender groups anyway, so why not have carpe diem and teach a lesson about gender?

Some people have said to me, “I didn’t like gender groups. Being in a class with all of the same gender was different. If this school is all about diversity, then why did we completely divide the classes into girls and boys?”

Well, this school does have a strong fulcrum off of diversity, and I think that the purpose of gender groups was to help to promote diversity in different ways in the future. If we do gender groups, then who knows?

What if one female student who used to be a sixth grader at Catlin Gabel gets elected as the first women president? Now that’s diversity! And if gender groups made some people feel awkward to be in a classroom of all of the same gender, well I think that sometimes it’s just best to accept that change as a good thing and embrace it.

Furthermore, gender groups was such an awesome and memorable experience to have right before Arago. It taught me more about the meaning of gender, among other things.

I learned how comforting it can be to study and learn with a classroom of all girls. I enjoyed learning about important and life-changing social injustices of the world, such as sexism, racism, gay rights, and other large world problems.

Overall, I think that gender groups was a great learning experience for me and my peers alike, and I think that nothing should be changed.