Op-Ed: Debate over single-gender education continues

Posted Feb 25, 2011 by Rob Campbell
Chris Spence, director of education for the Toronto District School Board, believes single-gender education might improve the academic performance of Ontario's boys. This article takes a look at a prestigious Toronto all-boys school and its history.
Boys at St. Andrew s College in Toronto
Boys at St. Andrew's College in Toronto
From St Andrew's College website
For many mothers, it can be endlessly frustrating to witness their sons on a quest to be as tough as possible. Stuffed dogs are replaced with Dinky cars, followed by toy guns, followed by video games. Exemplifying male machismo, comedic writer Dave Barry wrote in the New York Times, “Guys at sporting events getting into shoving matches and sustaining fatal heart attacks over such issues as who was next in line for pretzels; guys on the street making mouth noises at women; boxing; foreign policy.” Barry explains macho behaviour as “complex and subtle hormone-based chemical reactions occurring in [the brain]...” and to some extent this is absolutely true. But sociological causes play a role, too. Growing up in Canada, it was apparent very early in my young brain that the boys in my grade displaying the most bravado, the most outspoken confidence, were the hockey players, who favoured each other when picking teams, discussing girls and exerting an air of childish control over the rest of the classroom.
While sports and competition are healthy and normal activities in a child’s life, the emphasis on them is unfortunate if it causes an individual to bury any affinities for the arts or intensive study. In 2010, Chris Spence, the Toronto District School Board’s director of education, made headlines when he brought attention to recent low levels of achievement in boys specifically—even suggesting the segregation of genders in the school system.
While single gender education is arguably not a great primer for the realities of co-ed life, some schools, like St. Andrew’s College, Canada’s largest all-boys boarding school, are certainly doing something right. St. Andrew’s, which was founded in Toronto in 1899, has over a century’s experience educating boys to be well-rounded citizens. Their website states that, “...those who attend all-boys schools are more than twice as likely to study art, music, drama and foreign languages, in addition to the traditional maths and sciences.” Sports are encouraged too: “ is not unusual for a top athlete [at St. Andrew’s] to also play the saxophone or have a lead in the School play.”
With alumni like NHL players Michael Del Zotto and Steve Gainey, actor Kiefer Sutherland, author Timothy Findley and very notably artist Lawren S. Harris, widely recognized as the founder of Canada’s Group of Seven, it is apparent that St. Andrew’s challenging academic approach produces outstanding results in a variety of fields and interests. The extra-curricular programming at the College is excellent, as are the highly-qualified teachers and staff, who do their utmost to heighten the interest levels of their students. For example, on February 8, 2011, a Grade 12 Writer’s Craft class enjoyed a discussion and workshop with three of Canada’s brightest young journalists, The Toronto Star’s Brendan Kennedy, The National Post’s Matt Hartley and The Globe and Mail’s Omar El Akkad. By exposing young students to successful young writers and allowing them to ask questions and glean advice, students gain perspective on work-force realities early on. Without the presence of girls in class to impress, it’s no wonder that St. Andrew’s College continues to produce accomplished and progressive intellectuals who routinely get accepted to Ivy League schools.
There will be an Open House at St. Andrew’s College campus on Saturday, April 9 from 10 am – 1 pm. Interested parents and sons can take a tour of the facilities and voice questions to staff and students.