Limited Segregation by James Elder Armstrong, May 23, 1906




Principal Englewood High School

Read by Dr. B. N. Hamilton Before the Seventh Annual Congress of Mothers, State of Illinois, at Springfield, May 23, 1906

When we speak of segregation of pupils one naturally thinks of boys' schools and female seminaries, so it is essential at the onset to so define the use of the word that there may be no misunderstanding. I have attended co-educational schools throughout my course in school and college, so no one can accuse me of prejudice. My reasons for trying the experiment of teaching boys and girls in separate classes are based entirely upon my observations on the defects of the present almost universal custom of teaching boys and girls in the same way. I believe firmly in the benefits of the social relations of young people in their "teens," and in fact I think the advantages ascribed to co-education are chiefly derived from these social relations rather than from identical education.  I would, therefore, like to use the term "limited segregation" to denote that the sexes are not in separate buildings, but simply separated in their recitations. All the benefits derived from the social relations of young people will thus be preserved, and to my mind all the benefits ascribed to co-education will be saved, while an immense advantage will be gained by being able to adapt the instruction to the needs of each.

If boys and girls throughout their "teens" were exactly alike in mental ability, tastes and habits, there certainly can be no need of a different mode of instruction. But an experience of twenty-five years in High School work, corroborated by the testimony of many others, leads me to the conclusion that boys and girls commence to differ in mental traits at the beginning of adolescence.  This period begins at about thirteen for the average girl and fifteen for the average boy. Physical growth makes rapid strides with each at these periods. The girl of thirteen is usually taller than the boy of the same age. Nature provides for the maturity of woman first. At eighteen she is considered capable of holding property in her own right, while the law recognizes the boy's slower growth by fixing his legal age at twenty-one. The girl begins two years earlier and reaches her full stature and development three years sooner than the boy. Just as nature begins this rapidly changing period, where the child is transformed into an adult, the youth becomes languid, requires much sleep and fresh air, and finds concentration of mind difficult. The average girl, therefore, passes this listless, weary period during the seventh and eighth grade. As they come up to the High School at abought fourteen and a half, the girl has begun to think more seriously. She has a more settled purpose and is ready for the new work. The boy, on the other hand, is just beginning his period of rapid physical change, his sleepy, languid period. He is now no match for the girls of his class. Add to this the fact that boys are hopelessly in the minority, and it may be easily seen that his mental differences will scarcely attract the attention of the instructor. He is set down as a lazy boy, which really he is not of choice, however, but by the edict of nature.

As sex begins to assert its influence on the mind, the boy begins to think more seriously of life, and so they boy must commence early to ask, "What am I going to make of myself?" This gives a practical beginning to all his thinking. If a study does not appeal to him as offering some contribution to this sense of utility, he is apt to neglect it and even despise it. The girl does not need to look forward to a business career. In her heart of hearts she looks forward to a home of which she will be queen. Her girlhood has shielded her mind from many impressions that tend to harden the heart of the boy. She has learned something of the multitude of little though exceedingly important duties of her mother. Nature has already begun to specialize her to fill her mother's place.

The boy's life has been more out of doors, exposed to numerous temptations, hardened to taunts, jibes, and rough sports. He begins to chafe under restraints. He longs to be the master of himself, and long before he knows what a terrible responsibility he is assuming, he breaks away from the control of superiors. He looks at life through a telescope, while his sister looks at it through a microscope. He sees a few mountain peaks ahead and steps boldly out, falling into chasms, but crawling out again, and if his magnet is true and his heart right he climbs on to his Goal. The girl, timid of venture, must see her footing before each step. She is truer to nature, is more conservative and keeps closer to the experiences of the past.  These different mental traits lead her to accept advice more readily than her brother does. She is more tractable. She is more patient in pursuing disciplinary studies, so that a larger part of the High School studies appeal to her. In an experience of twenty-five years, twenty per cent of the girls who graduated ranked ninety percent or over in scholarship, against two per cent of the boy graduates. This failure of the boy I ascribe to less maturity, dislike for disciplinary studies, and dislike to follow set tasks that do not offer a stimulus to the sense of utility.

Some one may ask why boys and girls should not be kept together so that each may help the other as they do later in life. Now let us first see the facts: Do men and women help each other by doing the same or different things? Do we not recognize in this that the one does a work which the other cannot do? Then should it be our aim to make the boy like his sister, or the girl like her brother? Or is it the aim to evolve a new race of beings all alike, identical in tastes, habits, physical strength, etc? This, I think we will all admit, would be far from the ideal of natural men and women. The sexes are most nearly alike among savages, and as we ascend the scale of civilization, men and women differ more and more.

At the beginning of adolescence, Nature is doing a mighty work in separating the boy in mind and body, farther and farther from his sister. After a few years, when manhood and womanhood have been completely differentiated, Nature then turns them into parallel paths but not identical paths. I see no great reason for segregation beyond the second year of High School.

Our experiments thus far-–eight weeks-–have been very satisfactory. We now have what we never had before,-–a chance to study the characteristics of each sex as shown in school work, side by side. The boys are keen and alert on all practical questions. They are unhampered by the large number of girls who usually get along so slowly with such matters that the boys' interest lags while waiting for the girls to catch up. A teacher must go by the majority of her class. These boys rush on like a herd of wild colts. It takes a lively teacher to keep up with them in some studies, such as Science and Mathematics. In Language, including English, it requires great tact and skill as well as devices to interest them. In girls' classes the first impression is that they are deficient in practical knowledge, but as the whole class or nearly so is of this kind, the work is being adapted to their needs. In language they excel and their progress is great, as they are unhampered by the so-called "lazy boy." It must be remembered that many boys are of the girl type of mind and many girls are of the boy type, but the necessity for economy of funds will never permit our making all classes segregated. There will always be some mixed classes.

It seems to me that segregation as I am trying it is but a further step in the grading system by which I have gathered those of like training together. I believe the evolution of text book making has brought about the use of studies ill adapted to boys' needs. Many a boy loses interest in practical studies because the study has lost so much of its charm for him by being adapted to the girl mind. Possibly many a boy is driven from school, not because money is a necessity, but because of the pleasure of such mental stimulus. Girls have suffered less, I believe, because they more readily take advice and because, being in majority, the studies have changed to suit their needs.

I believe the first benefit to be derived from segregation will be to hold more boys in school, and second to drive us to better teaching, because a teacher must study her pupils more than before.

If we could lay aside any fears we entertain that segregation is going to deprive woman of the fruits of the splendid victory she has won in securing the right to an equal education with man, we may learn how to push her success one step higher. If I felt that segregation would in any way lessen the chances for my daughters to obtain an equal chance with my sons, I would be the last person to wish to put it into schools; but I am more and more impressed with the fact that equal rights are not identical rights and that to help our boys and girls to fulfill the highest usefulness, is to train them at the onset of manhood and womanhood to obey the instincts that lead man to become more manly and women to become more womanly. To train each to specialize, so that there shall be one distinct type for the noblest manhood and another for the most superior womanhood.

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