Single-sex classrooms not a revolutionary idea

The Education Beat

History: A former pupil makes the case that this `innovation' goes back to at least the 1970s in West Baltimore.

January 05, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

FROM TIME TO TIME, this newspaper and others have published stories about a "new approach" to education in the cities -- all-male schooling. Single-sex classes are said to give young urban boys the identity they lack in a culture dominated by females.

Four years ago, on the eve of the Million Man March in Washington, I wrote an Education Beat column about all-boy classes at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in West Baltimore. They'd been established there in 1987, I wrote.

A heavy package arrived recently from Lydell C. Bridgeford. Along with it came a lengthy cover letter and a question: Wasn't that an all-male, a deliberately all-male, class he had attended at Henson -- in 1974?

Bridgeford, a 31-year-old legal assistant in Washington, compiled 300 pages of clippings, school records and other documents on single-sex education. He had the material duplicated and mailed to 10 educators and journalists, including four of us at four major newspapers who had written about all-male public school classes as if they were revolutionary. (Polytechnic Institute and City College began as all-male public high schools, but this is about elementary schools.)

Bridgeford says his mother "vaguely recalls" his returning home from the first day of school, Sept. 5, 1974, and complaining, "There's no girls in my class."

The package includes Bridgeford's second-grade report card. He got a "D" in reading (in a year shortened 19 school days by a teachers' strike). This might explain why his relationship with Charlotte Marshall Perry, his second-grade teacher, "got a little intense. I am dyslexic. Yet I remember her as being very patient and encouraging with me during our sessions, even though in 1974 few educators knew about or understood this learning disorder. I was diagnosed as an adult."

Why would anyone not writing a college thesis spend $400 -- Bridgeford's estimate -- documenting the history of single-sex education and his experience with it 25 years ago? To set the historical record straight, Bridgeford insists.

"I have the evidence of my own eyes, but I don't have hard evidence. If there is documentation that that classroom was there, then we are not putting out a truthful history, and that's not right."

In his letter, Bridgeford quotes the respected African-American historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.: "Only a body of shared information can end the curse of [educators]: that each generation must reinvent the proverbial wheel."

As a historian of Baltimore schools, I appreciate Bridgeford's sentiment. We journalists are also fond of reinventing the wheel, and sometimes when deadlines press we don't look back at the original invention. I suspect the single-sex elementary classroom was invented much earlier than 1974 -- and that it will be invented again.

Fighting plagiarism in the Internet age

The Internet makes it easier to cheat, but it also makes it easier to fight cheating.

To counter the dozens of term paper mills on the Internet, a California doctoral student has established a Web site (plagiarism.com) that tests college papers for cheating. For a mere $20 per course, professors can have students' papers scanned against millions of Internet pages, including a storehouse of college term papers.

The computer flags plagiarized passages, says John Barrie, a biophysics major at the University of California at Berkeley and founder of plagiarism.com.

The latest wrinkle in cheating is online college-essay assistance. For a fee ranging from $60 to $499, you can get all the help you need to produce the personal essay that will wow a college admissions committee. That help includes packets of essays designed, according to one company, to give applicants "inspiration."

Certs dance in the gym is not your father's sock hop

This week's entry in Education Beat's school commercialism sweepstakes: The Certs Cool Mint Drops Atomic Lounge brings "high-quality, professional video dances" to high schools, according to a news release. The Atomic Lounge transforms a gym into an "exciting, interactive and entertaining music festival."

During breaks in the four-hour dance, with a live "video jockey" as master of ceremonies, students can visit booths sponsored by Mudd jeans, Kodak, Toys R Us, Liz Claiborne and Duncan yo-yos, among others.

Schools can charge admission and use the proceeds for scholarships or other worthy causes. Glen Burnie High School reportedly raised $9,000 in one night of the Certs Cool Mint Drops Atomic Lounge.

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