It’s well-established that boys and girls learn differently. Cognitive differences between the sexes start showing up in our brains when we are quite young.
“Brain-imaging technology shows the differences in living color,” Psychologist and brain development expert David Walsh told PBS in 2014. “A growing body of research on these differences points us to a girl brain built with a language head start.”
While girls’ brains are wired earlier for language, in the brains of boys, “a greater part of the cerebral cortex is dedicated to spatial and mechanical functioning,” says another expert, Michael Gurian.
This is reason enough to consider sending your son to an all-boys school for part or all of his education—starting as early as pre-kindergarten. But the advantages of an all-boys education go far beyond different learning styles.
As Tim Murphy, Director of Secondary School Placement here at The Fessenden School, told us recently, boys flourish socially and emotionally at all-boys schools in ways they wouldn’t at coed schools. Free of the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles, their true personalities shine through.
“In a single-gender environment, boys are more likely to let their guard down and more likely to be true to themselves, their personalities, and their interests,” Tim explains.
According to Tim, there are three ways all-boys boarding schools—especially at the middle school level—bring out the best in boys.
1. At all-boys schools, there are no ‘boy things’ and ‘girl things.’
“At coed schools, there are often ‘boys things’ and ‘girls things,’” Tim says. “For example, the dance programs are dominated by girls, as are the arts, singing, and theater. Sports are supposedly more for boys.”
At an all-boys school like Fessenden, on the other hand, everything is a “boy thing.”
“In an all-boys environment, they have opportunities to more thoughtfully develop their personalities based on what their actual interests and passions are, as opposed to how social media or the perception of the opposite sex may define them,” Tim says.
2. At all-boys schools, boys’ natural energy is part of, not a distraction from, the learning process.
Tim points out that one of The Fessenden School’s endearing icons is an image of a running boy.
“I think that captures the essence of a Fessenden boy: constantly in motion, his tie flying behind him,” he says.
At a good junior boarding school, like Fessenden, it’s accepted that boys can be physical, loud, and boisterous. Rather than being discouraged, these natural tendencies are managed and worked into the everyday life of boys at the school.
Tim describes it as “organized rambunctiousness.”
“You’ll see classroom teachers take the boys outside and literally have them run a lap around the building,” he says.
3. At all-boys schools, boys feel more comfortable showing emotion.
With so much societal pressure on middle school boys to act a certain way, to close off, to be macho and serious, they tend to bottle in their emotions. They’re afraid of betraying their real feelings to the outside world.
“That’s not necessarily developmentally appropriate,” Tim says. “Boys need to learn how to feel, express, and harness their emotions.”
At the all-boys Fessenden School, Tim points out, it’s not uncommon to see boys walking the halls with their arms around each other in a demonstration of friendship.
“I think there’s a huge misperception that an all-boys school is somehow more cutthroat or competitive. Or you have to prove that you’re even more macho,” he says. “I have found the polar opposite to be true. There’s an emotional depth to an all-boys experience. Our boys are much more comfortable showing their feelings here.”
At no time is this more obvious than during the ninth grade graduation ceremony every year.
“You will see 45 teenage boys with tears rolling down their cheeks as they hug their teachers to say goodbye,” Tim says. “They are just so invested in this community and in the experience they’ve just had together.”
What do you think? Do all-boys schools help boys develop emotionally and socially?
Opinions vary widely on the benefits of single-gender education compared to coed. What’s yours? Share your take in the comments section below, and let us know if you have any questions about sending your son to an all-boys junior boarding school.