Schools In Which Girls Excel

BARBARA LANDIS CHASE

February 20, 1992|By BARBARA LANDIS CHASE

Last week's study by the American Association of University Women about the discrimination girls face in many coeducational settings is not news to many of us. The AAUW study only confirms what many leaders in girls' schools have been saying for a long time.

In limiting their suggested solutions to the coeducational setting, the writers of the report missed an important alternative: that many girls profit from a girls' school setting for some portion of their schooling.

Single-sex girls' schools have been around for many, many years, and they have been doing a good job educating young women for as long. Bryn Mawr School, for example, was founded in 1885 to provide young women with a challenging college preparatory program, specifically at Bryn Mawr College.

Here in Baltimore, there are girls' schools not only in the private sector, including independent and parochial choices, but in the public domain as well. Western High School is the only remaining public girls' high school in the nation.

I would never argue that all schools should become single-sex, but rather that the existence of such schools enriches the educational landscape and provides important diversity within the educational system.

All schools have something to learn from one another, and girls' schools have a lot to teach other schools about how to educate and empower young women. These institutions provide an environment in which girls thrive.

Girls provide each other with a very strong network of support, making it easier to try, fail and try again.

There is a feeling of intimacy and support, which enables students to meet challenges and stretch themselves intellectually and personally.

There are abundant opportunities for leadership, and girls have the benefit of seeing women in leadership roles.

Competition is valued, but so is collaboration.

We are often criticized as places where girls are sheltered from the ''real world.'' But I would argue that schools should not be the real world, but rather places which represent the ideal.

If they are to be leaders, schools should be modeling rather than mirroring society. Therefore, we need to provide places where opportunities exist in abundance rather than in the same inadequate proportion they occur in the ''real world.''

I am proud that at Bryn Mawr, our students pursue science and mathematics through the highest levels. (Ninety-one percent pursue four years of science, and virtually 100 percent take four years of high school mathematics.)

Last year, the National Coalition of Girls Schools surveyed 1,200 alumnae of girls' secondary schools. Eighty-five percent graduated from college, 52 percent pursued a graduate degree and 75 percent are working. Almost all said they believed their schooling gave them an academic edge in college and in their careers.

Recently, I noticed with pleasure a bulletin board in our lower school. The display was a collection of self-portraits by first graders. Each had the same caption, ''I am a scientist.'' And we need them all to believe that they are.

No country can afford not to encourage its talented citizens to educate themselves for productive lives. We need every bit of talent and energy and confidence we can muster.

That is why it troubles many of us that, as the report asserts, ''Girls still lag in mathematics and science scores, and even those who do well tend not to choose math and science careers.''

How might this picture change if each little girl and young woman in America were taught to say, with confidence, ''I am a scientist,'' or, indeed, anything else their talents and interests may lead them to become?

Barbara Landis Chase is headmistress of Bryn Mawr School.

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