June 21, 2007

Should we say "single-gender education"?

Mark Liberman -- who saw that term in a headline -- wonders why someone would want to avoid the standard phrase "same-sex education." [ADDED: I meant to write "single-sex education," and I can see that my slip shows a problem with the term.] Is it a matter of embracing the word "gender" to express the belief that differences between male and female are produced by culture, not biology? Or is it prudery about about the word "sex"?

Liberman informs us that the word "sex" goes back to 1382 -- "Of alle thingis hauynge sowle of ony flehs, two thow shalt brynge into the ark, that maal sex and femaal lyuen with thee" -- but the first use of it to refer to "genital pleasure" is in this D.H. Lawrence poem, "Pansies":
If you want to have sex, you've got to trust
At the core of your heart, the other creature.
I think it's mostly prudery, unless they're going to let the kids decide on their own gender identification, which I think would be a good idea. You have one school that teaches in a way they think works best with most boys and the other that -- like most schools these days -- does things that tend to work with girls. Then, each child, with a parent's help, looks carefully at the different teaching styles and picks the one that suits him or her best.

This reminds me of my old proposal for a law school dedicated to the traditional Socratic method in all the classes. Presumably, that's a male style of education -- not to say that all male law students would like it or thrive in it or that no female students would want to attend. But wouldn't it be good to have that option? Would you take it?


jimbino said...

People can have many genders, only one of which refers to sex.

Yes, it's prudery to use "gender" when meaning "sex." And M├Ądchen has one gender and a different sex.

Unknown said...

"Gee, I wish we had one of them
doomsday machines."

Margaret said...

I adore the Socratic method. When it's done well, I think it's the most exciting way to learn. The problem is that many professors and students equate the Socratic method with bullying and smart alec remarks a la the Paper Chase, when that's not what it is.

Joan said...

I don't think it's prudery at all. I think it's avoiding being at all linked with the political struggle to legalize same-sex marriage. Of course same-sex schools, or same-sex education, has nothing to do with the legalization of same-sex marriage, but any headline with the words "same sex" in it is going to be assumed to be referring to the legalization issue by the casual reader skimming through the paper who might not read the entire headline.

David53 said...

Having never attended law school, I assumed that most, if not all, classes used the Socratic method.

I guess that's not true?

PatCA said...

I think Joan's got it. Same-sex education sounds like something to do with the gay rights movement.

Kirby Olson said...

The Socratic method would ideally be mutual inquiry. But even in the Platonic dialogues although it often starts out that way within a few pages the opposition is reduced to saying yes or no, while Socrates dances them toward a pre-embarrassed conclusion.

Still, it's better than outright reeducation along the lines of Pol Pot or his American epigones.

Ann Althouse said...

Socrates was such an asshole.

dick said...

Socrates may have been an asshole but given the teachers we have now how many do you think would be able to sustain a Socratic method of teaching and how many would very quickly end up being demagogues.

I think done right the Socratic method works well but how often would it be done right, even by Socrates.

I would love to have been taught some of my classes in an all male environment, particularly the liberal arts classes. All too often that is the part that is used to "nannytize" the students. The harder science casses, not so much. There where the results are more true or false the different approaches of male and female can add to the mix. You can also change the material studied in a single gender environment to cater to the tendencies of those in the class and end up with getting both sexes to read more because they are interested.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

All of my best teachers used the Socratic method.

The problem with it is, from a students perspective, the teachers needs to be amster of the information, able to think through various options while conducting class.

IMO, this is why most instructors use the demagogue approach- it works better when you have only "The Book" as a reference.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

As for single/same sex terminology, how about sexually segregated, or does that raise an evil specter as well?

Bissage said...

"I knew Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso was a friend of mine. You, Socrates, are no Pablo Picasso."

Kirby Olson said...

Karl Popper comments in his book The Open Society that Socratic education in which teacher and student actually cared about each other (to some extent, that must be admitted to be true that Socrates did care for his students although he cared a bit too much in some cases), but Popper then says, "The very number of pupils makes all this impossible in our schools" (460).

Socrates was wealthy and didn't need payment, and also wanted to distinguish himself from the Sophists, who did require payment. Most academics do need an income. Popper conveniently ignores that Socrates was having love affairs with his pupils and that his payment came in erotics, which is forbidden in almost all colleges and universities in America today.

Popper argues (this is from the very last pages of his book) that the best we can ask under current conditions of overloaded classes and underpaid teachers is that the teacher not attempt to cram their "ideals" down the throats of students.

"Accordingly, attempts to impose higher values not only become unsuccessful, but it must be insisted that they lead to harm ... the principle that those who are entrusted to us must, before anything else, not be harmed, should be recognized to be just as fundamental for education as it is for medicine" (460).

Compare the madrassa, where mere repetition is the name of the game.

"Although he should not impose his scale of 'higher' values upon his pupils, he should try to stimulate their interest in these values" (Popper 459).

Fair enough.

Beth said...


Nobody ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole.

Beth said...

I was going to say there's a little homophobia at work in avoiding "same-sex" as a modifier, but Joan and PatCA beat me to it.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn’t the appropriate terms be “same-sex education” here and “gender-apartheid” in Saudi Arabia?

And how many of us have written in "yes" on forms asking our sex?

tjl said...

"Socrates was wealthy and didn't need payment"

Socrates originally belonged to the Athenian artisan class, having been a stonecutter by training. His students, on the other hand, came from families wealthy enough to afford them the leisure to take part in Socrates' dialogues.

"Socrates was having love affairs with his pupils and that his payment came in erotics."

Not so! Reread Plato's "Symposium," which addresses this very issue. Alcibiades, the leading hottie of Athens, complains that he spent the entire night on Socrates' couch and got nothing but philosophy in return.

MadisonMan said...

I have never thought of same-sex education as anything but single-gender classrooms. Now I'll think of it as indoctrinataire teachings on two men marrying, thanks to PatCA and joan.

Anonymous said...

"Alcibiades... complains that he spent the entire night on Socrates' couch and got nothing but philosophy in return."

Which would be heady intercourse.

blake said...

Socrates was such an asshole.

Thank you!

Kirby Olson said...

TJL, Socrates' wife apparently had money.

He didn't sleep with all of his students. He was disgusted with Alcibiades. Said he looked good, but wasn't, or something along those lines. But not sleeping with one student doesn't mean that he didn't sleep with any. There was an irony in the Symposium that Socrates was a homely man who was beautiful by dint of philosophy whereas Alcibiades was a beautiful man who was ugly by dint of his lack of morality.

A poet named Robert Peters told me that Socrates practiced somethng called intercrural sex -- the young man would cross his legs, and the older guy would do pushups of a sort on him.

Presumably this was how lessons were paid for.

But I'm not sure. I wasn't there.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

As a wealthy, educated 'WHITE' woman, I must protest the fact that TC is nominally more interesting than the pace of donkeys stampeding in these here parts.

The Dems need to do better.

tjl said...

"A poet named Robert Peters told me that Socrates practiced somethng called intercrural sex"

How on earth would Robert Peters know? Was he lurking in the darker recesses of the palaestra?
I think the question really is settled at the end of the "Symposium," when Socrates turns his attention to Agathon. Alcibiades thinks it's because Socrates wants to make a move, but when the next morning finally dawns, Socrates is found still discoursing while everybody else is fast aleep.

Roger J. said...

What Kirby Olsen said about the socratic method (re inquiry, not sex). I have always come away from the dialogues thinking that I was led to a conclusion--a philosophical con game.

As for teaching using the socratic method, I don't believe that many people could carry it off well. Pedagogy, unfortunately, is not something you need to be a professor; merely the appropriate credential--and it really shows in many college classrooms.

Kirby Olson said...

Agathon had a brain (he apparently wrote a few good plays) but Alcibiades was morally crazy (he later sold out Athens to Sparta, I think I remember).

Socrates was a complicated guy, and his whole philosophy was about not being seduced by the superficial. He just couldn't love someone who wasn't good. And Alcibiades was bad to the bone.

What was the name of the dialogue in which Socrates talks about the two horses -- ? In that one it is clearly suggested that something took place in the middle of it.

tjl said...

"What was the name of the dialogue in which Socrates talks about the two horses"

"Phaedrus," where Socrates says the soul is like a charioteer who has to manage two horses, one docile, the other wild and unruly.

tjl said...
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