GENERAL ARTICLES

Co-Education?—NO!

A. M. PRATT October 15 1934
GENERAL ARTICLES

Co-Education?—NO!

A. M. PRATT October 15 1934

Co-Education?—NO!

A. M. PRATT

MALE AND female created He them.” Which is just too bad, say the Ministers of Education; let’s forget it.

And so they proceed to forget, as diligently as they can, that these boys and these girls have different functions in life; that specialized functions usually involve specialized aptitude; that these differing aptitudes may call for differing modes of development; that a boy is a boy and will grow into a man—restless, adventurous, creative, active, a maker, while the girl under normal conditions grows calm, home-loving, receptive, passive, a user.

Shut them all together within four walls, deluge them with a torrent of words, words, words; see that they sit quietly at their desks during the storm period, then rest in the full assurance that you have done all that a conscientious teacher could hope to do to ensure that, boy or girl, each has been adequately trained for the multifarious duties of life.

The teacher will not fail to notice certain differences in the reactions of his mixed classes to the various tasks that he gives them. He will see the girl patiently, laboriously, painstakingly spend hour after hour imitating a work of art or committing to memory something that someone else has written. He will see her dismiss as “silly” a simple experiment in physics or an exercise in geometry, learning by rote “mercuric chloride and potassium iodide” and admiring the pretty colors, while her brother sneaks into the laboratory, heats a little jxRassium chlorate with sulphur and sugar and hopes for the best. He writes on her term's report: "She is a diligent student but geometry needs close attention,” on his: “He must give more lime to his homework,” and sighs as lie ponders on the work he has done and the meagre effect of it all. If he has read at all, he may recall Sisyphus for ever rolling his stone uphill or the Belides carrying water in a sieve.

For the curious medley that we speak of with dignity as the curriculum ignores function, ignores differing interests, ignores training for life. It assumes—and apparently the assumption is not seriously challenged—that somehow and somewhere the mind of boy or girl alike will benefit by the heterogeneous experiences to which it has been subjected and that the world will say: “He (or she) must be well educated, she (or he) has Grade 12.” And the precious Grade 12 certificate lies in a drawer while the young husband wonders how to mend tl>e washer, while the young wife gazes in dismay at a child’s grazed knee that has begun to fester.

The System Attacked

TJTEREIN LIES a double charge against our present A system of education: firstly, that it ignores different mental traits, different interests and different mental

needs; secondly, that the whole agglomeration of studies, presumed to afford suitable training common to both sexes, is far too bookish, far too remote from the affairs of life to satisfy the mental, material or economic needs of either of them.

Let us dismiss for a moment the financial difficulties that necessitate in small units of administration the classing together of boys and girls. In most of the larger units the whole problem could be solved in an hour by organization were it considered desirable so to do. Let us discuss the question of co-education purely as to its desirability and its efficiency. Have Mr. and Mrs. Brown gained by being taught together in the same room by Mr. Smith or Miss Jones, or would it have been better had they been educated apart?

Well, says the co-educationalist, they have to live together, why not train them together?—and thus comfortably shelves in his own mind the whole question.

Not so fast, my friend. Marriage does not mean common tasks but rather complementary tasks—a vastly different thing. And I am not so sure that constant association between the sexes during the adolescent period is entirely a gixxJ thing. Do not beg the question by assuming that vital differences are best ignored or glossed over. From a distant standpoint we are dealing with mankind; from a nearer viewpoint we are dealing with individuals who differ.

Psychological—I tried to keep the word out because “psychology” covers such a mass of ineptitude, sophistry and pseudo-science, but here it is—psychological differences are possibly most clearly shown in the barely concealed impatience with which a boy listens to a lady teacher doing her best - poor thing—to impress some scholastic fact upon his reluctant mind; or by the equally sad calm indifference with which a girl placidly regards a man teacher who is giving his utmost — poor beggar—to get her to grasp an idea which he apparently regards as important and even interesting. If either, woman or man, be exceptionally gifted; if the idea presented be sufficiently novel to have intrinsic interest, the mixed class may accord to either the whole of its attention; but in the common routine course of school subjects the boy is apt to resent the woman’s patient reiteration, the girl to be wool-gathering during the man’s most impressive periods.

Which brings us to the question of discipline. Do not mistake this for order. There is scarcely a teacher, who knows the A B C of his profession, who cannot ensure the semblance of good order in his classroom—a strained silence, a passive

acquiescence in the fact that he is there to speak and to do his best to teach. But discipline is different. It is active. It is readiness—nay, eagerness—to learn. There are moments in a teacher’s life that compensate for hoursof drudgery. In those moments he notes a faint flush on the upper cheeks of his pupils, a rapt gaze. He is witnessing that rare thing, the growth of an idea—a biological process. The minds of his pupils are at work with his own. Such moments are rare under the best of conditions; they are almost non-existent among the distractions of mixed classes.

What are our objectives in this educational process? The passing of an examination? If so, go ahead with your mixed classes. The peculiar gifts of the boy will be nullified, the special aptitudes of the girl will be modified, and the net result will probably be an approximately equal percentage of passes. But if you will pause a moment and conceive some nobler aim for this vast work of training our youth, you will probably realize the futility of that indigestible mass of half-comprehended, half-remembered, ill-expressed thoughts that comprise the answers which our examiners do their best to adjudge. They would never dream of passing a carpenter if fifty per cent of his nails were driven true, a stenographer if the majority of her words were nearly right. The scholastic examination is in a class by itself. It is unique and, as a test of education, it is utterly futile.

Initiative and Technical Skill

DOR THE boy I would suggest other ends—the development of initiative, of self-reliance, of the power to distinguish the essentials of a problem from its superfluities, and the ability to tackle a task as it arises. With that, I would insist upon the acceptance of a certain code of conduct, the recognition of fair-dealing and the necessity of co-operation. To that I would add the acquirement of technical skill in whatever branches of human activity my boys’ school could instruct. I would teach the use of books, not the mere reading, still less the learning and memorizing of them, but their value in showing what others have thought and are thinking. I would arouse their curiosity concerning the natural world to which they belong in the hope that in some sphere they might find interests to call forth more than I could give. And finally, I would endeavor to help them realize something of the beauty and the glory, the appreciation of which marks the Godhead that is in them.

So much for my boys. The girls are functionally different. Their tasks in life are to be approached in their own way under the guidance of their own kind. There are splendid women living today who could outline the objectives of their education—a field in which I would hesitate to tread.

All things are dual. Let us recognize this duality in our schools.