Friday, August 15, 2008

ALL MALE EDUCATION IN LA II: EGP talks to the principals of Salesian and Cathedral High Schools about all-male education, and a teacher in a Catholic boys high school explains the Gurian Method.

by Karl Zynda EGP Staff Writer

This is Part Two of a three-part series about all-male education. Part One reported on how female college graduates are outnumbering males, on an all-male classroom program in South Los Angeles, and on the emergence of all-male classrooms across the country.

Aug 8, 2008 - “Natural Nurturance” is a term describing the adaptation of education and parenting to how children are built. It was coined by Michael Gurian, an author whose ideas on the differences between boys and girls and how education should adjust to those differences have influenced gender-separated education. Teaching methods for boys that involve movement, hands-on work, projects and verbal exchanges tend to work better for boys than lecture-and-test teaching, according to Gurian.

Gurian cites research in his writings that suggest that the differences between boys and girls—that is, the differences between their levels of impulsiveness, relative maturity, behavior issues, and abilities to read, do math, and reason—may be caused by differences in brain structure and hormone levels. Gurian also notes that men tend to have greater spatial-mechanical aptitude than women, while women tend to have superior verbal communication skills. Crespi Carmelite High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Encino, uses Gurian methods of teaching. Brian Sheehan, who has taught English for four years at Crespi, is Gurian certified.

“The Gurian Method recognizes that boys and girls learn differently,” Sheehan said in an e-mail interview. “Boys and girls have a significant difference in neurological make-up, brain chemistry and adolescent development.”

The differences that Gurian advocates in the teaching of boys tend to emphasize interaction, movement, and involvement, Sheehan said.

“Get the students on their feet, boys need movement!” he said, noting that in addition to lectures, classes for boys need projects, interactive learning, and a variety of types of presentations.

Sheehan listed reasons why all-male education works for boys, including the fostering of brotherhood and teamwork, and less distraction from girls.

Crespi became a Gurian Model School in 2005, and since then Sheehan said the students have done very well academically and behaviorally. He said he recognized great improvement behaviorally, saying the Gurian Method’s flexibility has been very beneficial.

“They (the students) recognize the collaborative model,” Sheehan said. “As a result, there is less ‘acting out.’ I notice that my students respect me more because I am in tune with where they are, not where I expect them to be.”

All-male education may be a new idea in public schools, but a tradition of gender-separated education has been part of Catholic education for over a thousand years. Two schools carrying on that tradition in Los Angeles are Cathedral High School, located just north of Chinatown near Elysian Park, and Bishop Mora Salesian High School on Soto Street in Boyle Heights.

Brother John Montgomery is the principal of Cathedral. Having formerly been an administrator at a coed Catholic school, Montgomery sees advantages to a single-sex educational environment.

“There’s far less need to impress people in an all-boys environment or an all-girls environment,” Montgomery said.

Instead of the focus being on appearance, clothes, and what Montgomery called “the superficial nature of adolescence,” there is an emphasis on learning.

“It allows for focus on the job of school,” Montgomery said. “And that’s why you see public schools gravitating towards it. It allows them to have a more distinct, focused environment.”

Montgomery says that in an all-boys school, teaching methods can be adapted to how boys learn.

“Having kids just do seat work is not going to work well for boys,” Montgomery said. “You have them participate more in projects, class discussions and activities.” He said that it is a more student-centered approach than a teacher-centered approach.

Sam Robles is principal of Salesian, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. An alum (1987), he speaks from his own experience as a former student as well as that of being principal.

“What Salesian had to offer was camaraderie, brotherhood, and a family atmosphere,” Robles said. “It creates an environment where there’s no reason to be fake.”

The school is supported by the Salesians of John Bosco, a religious order whose main work is the education of boys.

Robles believes that an all-male educational environment can better harness the competitive nature of boys.

“When there’s a girl in the room, they’re competing for the attention of the girl. Without the girl in the room, they’re competing for the grade, they’re competing for the attention of the teacher,” he said.

Sergio Villasenor, of Whittier, retired this year after 15 years as an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. His son, Matthew, transferred to Salesian from a coed school. Villasenor chose Salesian because of the school’s reputation for teaching family values and religious standards. He appreciates the attention the staff and faculty pays to students.

“They work hard to find out what a problem is, and get him (a student) back on track, whether it is academic or social,” Villasenor said.

Matthew Villasenor has found Salesian to be a less competitive environment socially.

“At the coed school you get judged more than at an all-male school,” he said, characterizing the judgements made as being about appearance, not character.

Matthew believes the lack of female students might be the reason Salesian seems less socially competitive.

“At the coed school, everybody shows off because of the girls, but here nobody shows off because it’s just guys,” he said.

Los Angeles City Council Member Jose Huizar (D-14), whose district includes Boyle Heights, is a Salesian alumn. He credits the school with helping make his career possible.

“I wouldn’t be a councilmember today if it wasn’t for Salesian High School,” he said in an e-mail interview. “It provided a family atmosphere in which to flourish and be part of something positive.”

Sophomores at Salesian take a morality class. Seniors take a social justice class where they learn about being a good father and citizen. The school has formal dress days. Respectfulness is emphasized, as shown in saying “please” and “thank you.”

“In a nutshell, the brotherhood aspect of the high school, the goofiness and the competition, coupled with the focus on spirituality, makes the high school experience more meaningful,” Robles said, explaining the school’s success.

Next week: Is there interest within the LAUSD in all-male classrooms? EGP interviews key people connected to LAUSD schools as to their views on the potential for adopting all-male classrooms or schools in the nation’s second largest school district.

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