By Brooke Claflin
There have been many articles dedicated to both lauding and condemning single-sex education for girls— occasionally, ones that do both without ever choosing a side. One thing these articles often forget about is the experience of real people. They do not stop to ask, “What are students saying about these schools? Are they happy with their experiences? To what extent do they feel they have been prepared for the real world?” Therefore, I would like to reflect on my experience as a student of a single-sex school and explain how I think it has impacted my life. Of course my anecdote is not the same as everyone’s, but I hope to explain why I really do believe that single-sex education made a positive and lasting impact on my life.
I chose for my high school education to attend Miss Porter’s School, an all-girls boarding and day school in Farmington, Connecticut. Of course, the fact that I was privileged enough to choose my high school experience may have also impacted my happiness with the decision. One of the first things I noticed about going to an all-girls school was how normal it seemed; if anything it was even more normal to me than when I had gone to school with boys. The classroom environment felt much more focused on learning and delving deep into each subject. The distractions and side-tracking that occurred were almost always intellectually based. I began to feel this sense of freedom in the classroom like a weight I wasn’t even aware of had been lifted off my shoulders. No one hesitated to speak out (even if at times they should have).
Moreover, everyone had a distinctness in style and presentation. There were fashion trends of course, lots of people owned L.L. Bean boots, but there was no set “cool” or “attractive” way to dress. When I looked at my closet, I never worried about what would help me fit in. We were connected by what kind of people we were, not by what brand we owned and flaunted. The bonds I formed with my friends went beyond anything I have ever experienced. We talked about anything and everything; the universe was ours to manipulate.
Overall, my experience allowed me to develop confidence in both classroom and social settings. I didn’t, and still don’t, know what I want to do or who I want to be; however, being with just girls allowed me to mature and consider my identity without the added pressure of the opposite sex. I think I really did gain a freedom to be me. Of course, if I had gone to a co-ed school I would not necessarily have had to conform to the fashion trends or a certain way of being, but I am not sure that I would have resisted the temptation to just “go with the flow.” To clarify, I don’t think that people at co-ed high schools lack individuality. I just feel that the all-girls school experience is truly unique in its level of acceptance and understanding.
In my opinion, the single-sex environment was a place for me to safely express myself and grow as an individual. I do acknowledge that to some the creating of this safe space seems like a way to shield girls from the real world and perhaps even to perpetuate stereotypes about our “feminine fragility.” However, I believe that the creation of this almost bubble-like environment actually allowed me to develop the skills I would need to go into the real world and break some of those stereotypes. I was taught that anything is possible, not in spite of my gender, but because of.