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Coed boys’ schools

/ 12:09 AM March 16, 2016

About four years ago I wrote about Xavier School opening a coed school in Nuvali (Sta. Rosa, Laguna), part of a trend of Catholic all-male and all-female schools making a shift to open their doors to the “other.” For example, not too far away is a new Miriam campus which is now coed rather than all-female.

There are still many Catholic schools holding out.  Xavier’s first campus in San Juan remains a fiercely male bastion, wall to wall, meaning from kindergarten to grade 12. Ateneo de Manila in Loyola remains all-male from kindergarten to Grade 10, but starts taking in female students this next school year for their senior high school. La Salle Alabang is coed, but La Salle Green Hills is still all-male, and will remain so even with their senior high school. Both Ateneo de Manila and La Salle Taft are now coed at the college level.

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The University of Santo Tomas, despite its conservative reputation, has been coed for decades, although until a few years ago they had separate stairways for male and female students.

The separate staircases were iconic. Keep young males and females apart, the reasoning went, and you would safeguard their chastity. The fears of young sexuality were ambivalent, but more often it was based on the idea that even the most modest of our females were a danger to testosterone-driven males.

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There were several reasons why I was intrigued by male schools turning coed.  One is that I come from Xavier and know what it’s like to have grown up in a supermacho environment.  The all-female Immaculate Conception Academy was a stone’s throw away, with Mary the Queen Church in between. Note that there were other “pairs” among Catholic schools like Ateneo de Manila which was separated from Maryknoll (now Miriam) by a creek.

My view, shared by many, is that the physical separation only made the other sex more mysterious and, after high school, the graduates from these segregated schools were like birds set free from their cages or, more dramatically, like ex-convicts eager to make up for lost time.

Xavier girls

As plans for Xavier Nuvali were being finalized, I began to seriously consider putting my daughters there, in part because of pride and confidence in Xavier, and in part because I’m a staunch women’s rights advocate. While my daughters did not have to fight for the right to enter Xavier Nuvali, I knew that they would have to prove to the Jesuits that it was a wise decision for them to go coed.

So, I now have three daughters there, all in grade school. There was something novel about having Xaverian daughters; I remember the first time I brought my eldest daughter to a Xavier San Juan function, and I knew the boys there were very curious, seeing a girl in a Xavier uniform.

Beyond novelty though, I found myself taking on the role of a social scientist, observing how they—still a minority compared to the number of male students—were doing.

I had no doubts they would do better than the boys; in fact, I discussed this with some of the Xavier teachers, who were well aware of how girls do better than boys academically. In the Philippines, standardized test scores through grade school and high school have always had girls outdoing the boys.  So, in a curious reversal of anxieties, the administrators fretted about boys ending up with an inferiority complex; they even considered the possibility of still having segregated classes for some of the subjects like math, which has nothing to do with chastity.

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I don’t see my daughters academically doing better, or worse, than the boys. I worried about possible bullying from the boys, but they have never complained about that and I’m realizing it’s in same-sex schools where bullying might be more of a problem, especially involving boys bullying boys who they perceive as weaker.

All three are active in sports. The youngest does taekwondo, the middle daughter plays basketball, and the eldest is the only female in their year’s football team. She knows it’s a bit strange, but makes no big deal about it. I tell her she’s lucky she can play football because some conservative schools do not allow girls to do sports that involve too much body contact and/or competition.  She’s amazed people think that way.

What does intrigue me is that all three are still pretty much “girly girly” (or as my son goes, almost accusingly, “arte arte”) with their interests, with the way they carry themselves.  And the two younger ones still sometimes say, “No, only boys do that” (for example, play golf, become astronauts); and I’m the one going, “Of course not, you can do as well as they do, if not better.”

I have wondered if maybe some of the all-girls schools, St. Scholastica’s Manila, for example, end up being more conscious about women’s rights and take extra effort to instill feminist sensibilities in their students.

On the other hand, Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) is not exactly feminist, but their graduates have always been known to be feisty, dating back to their early graduates like Jullie Yap Daza. At UP Diliman, among the best debaters we have are ICA graduates.

I’m optimistic about these coed boys’ schools, simply because they come closer to outside realities by having boys and girls together.

Last weekend I asked my daughters how their last school day was before summer break.  The two younger ones almost said in chorus: “Sad.” I was startled, even more so when the youngest said she and her classmates cried because they would be separated for the summer.

I sense younger people today do form stronger bonds, especially because they’re so connected through social media. But my daughters are still very young and don’t use Facebook.  Was it just a “girl” thing that would never have happened in an all boys’ school.

Curious, I asked if their male classmates cried.

Oh no, the youngest was empathic, boys don’t cry.

I couldn’t help but suggest, “If you allow them to, they would. Guys have it tough, too, not being able to express their feelings all the time.”

Meanwhile I find my son, who is being homeschooled, becoming a one-male control group to compare with his sisters.  He’s very “male” in his interests—cars, motorcycles, taekwondo—but is molding some intriguing gender social norms and cues on his own.  In taekwondo competitions, he’s known for holding back with sparring and kicking if his opponent is a girl, or a smaller boy.

He apologizes afterwards, and I always assure him I’m actually proud he does that.  For boys and girls, in same-sex or coed schools, there’s a real challenge of raising them to understand there’s more to gender equality—and life itself—than competing and winning.

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TAGS: coed schools, education, gender, Xavier School
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