, Research Paper
Through the Eyes of a Tiger
Looking back a few years, I remember my first convocation day at The Westridge School for Girls. Four hundred girls in dresses that much resemble nurses uniforms (except for the curly, green |WX on the right breast pocket) parade into the gymnasium. Pretty soon all I can see are rows and rows of girls seated on the bleachers, as small as fourth graders and as old as seniors. The headmistress welcomes us to another year of continuing the tradition of a fine women+s education. Soon the time arrives to sing the school song. As soon as the mass of girls rise to sing I know that I am glad to be a part of this community. Many of my peers were here last year in fourth, and they already know the simple tune to |Surgere TentamusX. Since this is my first year and I don+t know the words, I stand shyly in my dress, nervously wiggling my toes in my new, stiff saddle shoes. By the next year those few bars of music are a part of me and to this day I often sing them to myself. |Surgere TentamusX translated from Latin means |we strive to rise.X I feel that even in today+s liberated world women still need to learn that unless they |strive to riseX they can be easily overshadowed by their male counterparts. Becoming educated at an all girls school is a simple answer to the often perplexing problem of competing with male dominance in our society.
Clearly, l am an example of why any young woman should spend at least part of her schooling in single sex education. I am and always will be a Westridge tiger. Tigers were the school mascot at Westridge, where I attended fifth through tenth grade. I suppose that every year from the time I set foot on this earth was a formative one for me, but I feel that my time spent at Westridge has influenced me and my thinking for life. Now, I am at Catlin Gabel, a coed school. Both places are small, and offer a very high quality education, but I feel that for me, being in an all girls atmosphere for those years was the best choice. Catlin is a fine school for me now, but I know that if I had not spent so much time in the single sex environment I would not be the strong and assertive woman that I consider myself to be.
My strong backbone comes from years in single sex education. During that time much of my life was centered around issues pertinent to women. Obviously, a coed-liberal school such as Catlin or any other could look at women+s issues too. However, I feel because of the 100% female atmosphere at Westridge, looking at women+s issues had a greater impact on me than they would have had in coed education. At Westridge, even as little fifth graders our class was looking at the roles of women in society. We did interviews at a local nursing home and then wrote biographies on our elders. Talking to the senior citizens, we could see how different things were for them as young women. As little girls we were becoming aware of the restrictions placed on previous generations of women. Our teachers encouraged us to step beyond these predetermined roles of the past and shape our own destinies. Later on, in eighth grade I did a report on Martha Graham, a revolutionary figure for women in modern dance. I do not believe that it would be common practice in coed schools to do a report on famous, successful women. At a school like Westridge it was merely part of the curriculum.
Catlin or any other coed school couldn+t compete with the wide array of women successes to visit Westridge. Constantly, there were successful female speakers visiting the school to lecture us on topics ranging from Jeanette Rankin, a prominent woman in congress who strongly opposed WWII, to an actual classmate of Hillary Rodham Clinton+s from Wellesley. Surrounded by strong women role models from a young age, I was always conveyed the message that as a woman I was capable of anything that I could set my mind to.
At Catlin I would have received no less encouragement to reach for my dreams, but I never would have seen all those accomplishments of women specifically. Being a coed school, it is much more difficult for Catlin to distinguish itself as a school concerned with women+s issues. The specific message that I as a growing woman need to fight for what I believe and desire is not as clear at a coed school such as Catlin.
The aims of the two schools are different. Catlin claims in its mission statement to prepare students for |lifeX. While this is a very praiseworthy goal, Westridge has a more specific aim that is very helpful for the young women of today+s world –to prepare them to cope in a world continues to be dominated by men. There are still many issues to be resolved between men and women. Westridge gave me the tools to recognize those issues and deal with them. Even as women are an integral part of the work place, men still are expecting them to fulfill their traditional roles. Unless women get a concentrated education it will be very difficult to break this cycle. My stepfather assumes that a steaming plate of food will be awaiting him as he parades in the door from a day at work. My mom feels an obligation to fix dinner for him every night. I know that because of my time at Westridge I will not have a hot dish ready for my future spouse unless I want to. I won+t fulfill an obligation on the basis of my gender. Thanks to Westridge, my life will not be about liabilities to men. Any relationships I have with me will be purely interdependent ones.
Another advantage at an all girls school there is no problem with gender equality in the classroom. There is so much controversy as to whether or not males receive more attention in the classroom than females. Whether true or not, I know that in my chemistry class at Westridge it was only a matter of haphazard randomness as to whether my friend Sally or I would be called upon. We both sat in the front row, with arms eagerly outstretched, ready to talk about the number of protons in a Carbon nucleus. Although there were some shy ones in my class it was much more likely that they would speak in class at Westridge than if they were at Catlin, a coed school where males dominate in every aspect.
I do not feel that teachers at Catlin intentionally call on the young men more frequently than the young women. Still, even at a small school the battle of the sexes is evident. The struggle is not an issue of personal competition between individuals. It is a matter of women trying to overcome the male dominance that fills the air of any coed learning environment. In my opinion, the very reason for competition in class is that men just have a bigger presence than women. Their voices fill the room easier. Their superior physical strength is even evident in when they raise their hands. When John+s arm shoots up, his giant hand waving in front of his teacher+s face, in a small class at the Catlin Gabel School there is little else that John+s teacher can see. It is relatively easy to be heard in a Catlin class, but at Westridge I was never faced with any issues about whether or not I might be called on.
Men+s bodily presence is only one aspect of male+s threatening domination that young women must deal with in coed school. The naturally haughtier attitude of men also contributes to the fact that they can so successfully monopolize the classroom. Never before in my life had I met so many arrogant young men as the ones I met during my first weeks at Catlin. Their physical presence isn+t the only thing that towers over a young lady. Their opinionated stature can keep many a female from speaking up. I was a well known chatterbox at Westridge. When I first arrived at Catlin those males shut me up –but not for long, and I attribute that to my Westridge education. Since I learned to speak up in a more comfortable environment than the one the Catlin classroom offers, the transition although a bit surprising at first simply took a little of my assertiveness skills.
There is another hazard to coed education. It is absolutely undeniable fact that when young women and men are together education is frequently not a primary concern. Attraction prevails. At Westridge I remained focused on my most important occupation at this time of my life –being a student. During the school day my concerns were Spanish and English, not that I might pass George in the hall on the way to class. School was a time for learning and if I so desired, after hours I could pursue my love life.
A friend of mine at Catlin is a prime example of how a coed environment can effect what I think a young woman+s priorities should be. I feel that becoming an ambitious, self-assured, well-read woman should be what+s most important. She fell in love with Sam last year and has never fully regained her academic focus. Although while attending Westridge she still would have fallen in love, at least during the day she would be forced to point her attention to her schooling because of her actual physical separation from her dear Samuel. At Catlin, in the coed environment, she is never separate from her boyfriend and I feel that this really strips her of some valuable independence. Their two selves have merged into one and sometimes I can hardly tell what she thinks anymore. Every minute that she is with Sam is one less minute that she could be using for her own development as a strong woman. If attending Westridge, this young woman would most likely still be involved with Sam, but at the same time her physical separation from him during the day would build on her strength as a woman. I think that distance from hormonal males in a young woman+s school day is perhaps an advantage she doesn+t recognize.
In no way do I regret any of my time spent at Catlin. In my two years here I am thinking critically and I write so much that sometimes it feels like all my life is one big essay. Westridge and Catlin are both excellent schools that offer a unique education. Being a student at Catlin is a valuable experience much like at Westridge. However, as a maturing woman I feel that nothing can replicate the important knowledge gained in the atmosphere of an all girls school.