All-boys classes make sense, despite what PC crowd says

October 18, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

JAWANZA Kunjufu certainly tried to pack as much controversy as possible into his speech at Morgan State University's Murphy Fine Arts Building.

Kunjufu denied that slavery destroyed the black family and proclaimed loudly (and bravely) that "the greatest demon in black America is fatherlessness." That was covered in the last column. Left uncovered is another Kunjufu topic that's sure to roil the waters.

"In Baltimore," Kunjufu said, "we've designed a female pedagogy for large numbers of male students."

Kunjufu -- an author, lecturer and educational consultant who divided his junior year in college between Morgan and Towson University as an exchange student from Illinois State University -- then elaborated, as he would have had to after a salvo like that.

Boys, Kunjufu said last week, have shorter attention spans than girls. They're more active physically and hence should have several breaks for recess during the day. Many schools, Kunjufu noted, have none. Lesson plans should be shorter to account for the boys' attention span. How would Kunjufu solve the problem?

Have separate classrooms for boys and girls.

Richard Rowe of the African American Male Leadership Institute and a friend of Kunjufu's, agreed (perhaps not surprisingly) with the proposed solution. Rowe wouldn't even mind entire schools for boys.

"You still have in the school district Western High School," Rowe said. "The principal [Landa McLaurin] was very supportive of an all-female school. Why don't we at least look at having an all-male school?"

The fact is, we did. For 140 years, from 1839 until 1979, City College was an all-boys school, as was Polytechnic Institute from 1882 until the mid-1970s. Though several alumni at both schools have groused about the feminine intrusion, neither City College nor Poly will return to all-male status anytime soon. It'd be a fine how-do-you-do to have told the lasses all these years they can attend both schools and then all of a sudden say, "Sorry, girls, the deal's off." Besides, it occurs to me, from my visits to City, that the girls add something special to the school. I can't speak for our esteemed rivals at Poly.

The all-boys classes might be the next best thing. Kunjufu may or may not have known it, but the idea has been tried here. Leah Goldsborough-Hasty established same-gender classrooms at Matthew A. Henson Elementary from 1987 until 1995, when she was principal at the school.

"It worked well," Goldsborough-Hasty said of the experiment (which she believed ended when she retired in 1995). "In grades one through five, I had one all-male class, one all-female class and two co-ed classes so parents could make a choice."

Goldsborough-Hasty saw results within one school year. Boys who had come to school maybe 80 days in a 180-day school year started showing up in classes on a regular basis. Goldsborough-Hasty said she saw "vast improvements" in their work.

"They tried harder," Goldsborough-Hasty said of the boys. "They saw themselves with other boys and had male teachers. They thought they were special. There seemed to be a new kind of spirit among the boys. They volunteered more in the boys classes than they did in the co-ed classes, particularly in spelling and reading contests. It really worked, and the parents supported it."

Let's see: The experiment was a success, and parents supported it. That means we can be sure bureaucrats and politicians in this town -- liberal, Democrat, committed to a feminist agenda that got us that female pedagogy Kunjufu spoke of -- will do all in their power to shoot all-boys classrooms down. (The Supreme Court has already done its part, striking down a Detroit program that would have established academies for boys, using -- or rather, misusing -- Title IX as justification.)

Marcy Crump, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's public schools, said three schools still have all-boys classrooms. Before the PC horde goes after such classes, they had better consider the data showing how boys are falling way behind girls academically, are more likely to get shunted off to special-education classes and are more prone to drop out of school. Then, if they can come up with a better idea than all-boys classes, by all means do so.

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