The XX Factor

Why Are Kansas Middle Schools Separating Girls and Boys at Lunch?

Single-sex environments are moving from the classroom to the lunchroom, at least in several Kansas public middle schools , where male and female junior-high students are separated for their midday meal. It’s a bit unclear what caused the schools to adopt this model, but they report success, saying students are both cleaning their plates more effectively and misbehaving less.

Huh? Who ever decided a quieter lunchroom is a desirable goal? What ever happened to letting kids be kids? Children have been subject for years to attempts by supposedly well-meaning adults to take the childhood out of childhood. Schools under pressure from No Child Left Behind are cutting recess and free play time . Others are hiring so-called play coaches to run organized activities during so called free play time, saying they can’t trust the kiddies to play nice and fair on their own. Still another group is discouraging children from having best friends , saying it cuts down on bullying.

And bullying, it seems, was part of the impetus for single sex lunchtime-proponents say the gender segregation reduces student conflict. Have the good school administrators in Kansas ever read Lord of the Flies ? Taken in a viewing of Mean Girls ? It sure doesn’t sound like it. These books and films resonate because they confirm and validate so many of our own life experiences. Girls and boys (and men and women, for that matter) are just as capable of being nasty to one another as they are of torturing the opposite sex. And even if you take the administrators of this policy at face value, wouldn’t a single sex lunchroom be the worst environment for, say, gay boys , who are notorious targets of bullying and other aggressive behavior by their same sex peers?

Intriguingly, even proponents of single-sex education such as Leonard Sax , who told the Wichita Eagle he considered it a “discipline measure,” are against the policy. Children need free spaces where they can learn to interact with one another and gain social skills, Sax said. Instead, they are losing them, one by one.