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Tom Purcell: Imagine being the only boy at an all-girls’ school

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Tom Purcell: Imagine being the only boy at an all-girls’ school
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The Daily Beast article brought back several painful memories of my experience as the only boy at an all girls school.

According to the article, a public middle school in West Virginia is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for separating boys and girls into single-sex classrooms.

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School directors, motivated by research that shows single-sex education can improve learning, have been experimenting with the concept.

The ACLU, though, says that teaching kids differently on the basis of gender defies Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ...”

I’m going to have to side with the ACLU on this one.

You see, in the late 1970s, I became the first male student to attend an all-girls’ boarding school, the Academy for Girls Too Smart to Study with Boys — an experience that haunts me still.

The school refused to admit me at first, so I filed suit. Since the school accepted public funds, the judge ruled that it had to let me in.

My female classmates harassed me from the beginning. They said I was a wimp. They printed up T-shirts: “152 debutantes and one dork!”

The school’s administrators were out to get me, too. They forced me to follow school regulations to a T. Do you know how hard it is, wearing a plaid dress and Oxford shoes, to outrun neighborhood bullies?

To be honest, though, that dress, combined with a pair of boxers, gave me a freedom and comfort I haven’t known since.

My teachers treated me harshly, too. I got an “F” in physical education. Sure, I was the strongest and fastest in my class, but my baton work was hideous and I never could do a split.

What’s worse, I was forced to live in separate quarters. Despite my frequent pleas, I wasn’t permitted to sleep or shower with the others.

One night, while sobbing myself to sleep, the girls stormed my room and stole my athletic supporters. I still wake in cold sweats with memories of them running off with my most private possessions.

The stress finally caught up with me and I got into a fight.

One girl said I was a jerk. I told her she was immature. She told me to get a life. I told her she was a spoiled brat. Finally, one of the den mothers broke it up.

I know that boys and girls are different — that today’s political correctness makes us pretend that there are no real differences between the sexes.

I know there are many studies that show that boys and girls can perform better in school when the other sex is not present — that different techniques can be used that can generate real results.

I know that one of the biggest issues in America is education and that schools should be free to experiment with a variety of techniques to find the most effective ways to teach children to “learn how to learn.”

But then again, there are other studies that say single-sex education is sexist and wrong-headed.

So I think we ought to close our minds and use the might of the courts and federal law to ban experimentation with single-sex schools altogether.

That way, no kid will ever again suffer the humiliation I did as the first male to attend an all-girls’ school.

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Tom Purcell is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

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