Puberty and the Gender Organization of Schools: How Biology and Social Context Shape the Adolescent Experience
Avshalom Caspi University of Wisconsin
Where should I send my child to school? This question is now heard throughout the United States because "school choice" has become the rallying slogan for educational reformers of different political bents. But beyond political persuasion, parents wish to know the facts: What kind of school is best for my child?
Schools are important because they provide instruction. But they do more than that. Schools also provide youth with opportunities for social interaction. Indeed, what matters most about schools are their characteristics as cultural and social organizations -- in particular, the values and norms to which they expose their pupils ( Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, & Ouston, 1979). Among the many characteristics along which schools can be evaluated, one characteristic stands out most clearly: gender composition.
The choice between coeducational (coed) and single-sex secondary schools is attracting a great deal of attention among feminists, leaders of different religious denominations, and students of education and socialization ( Lee & Marks, 1992). Is coeducation at the secondary school level necessary to prepare adolescents to take their place in the natural world of men and women ( Feather, 1974)? Or is coeducation harmful to adolescents because it subjects them to unnecessary heterosexual and social pressures and distracts them from academic pursuits ( Coleman, 1961)? Studies that have compared the attitudes and attainments of students who attend coed versus single-sex schools provide radically diverging answers (e.g., Dale, 1974; Lee & Bryk, 1986; Marsh, 1989; Marsh, Owens, Myers, & Smith, 1989).