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Are Women’s Colleges Outdated

Are Women’s Colleges Outdated

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Published by Tom Matlack
Tom Matlack thought women’s colleges were anachronistic—until he toured Barnard with his daughter.
Tom Matlack thought women’s colleges were anachronistic—until he toured Barnard with his daughter.

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Published by: Tom Matlack on Mar 28, 2011
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05/12/2014

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Are Women’s Colleges Outdated?
Tom Matlack thought women’s colleges were anachronistic—until he toured Barnard with his daughter.
I’ve always been skeptical about women’s colleges. I grew up in Amherstwithin a few miles of Smith and Mount Holyoke where, I admit, I tried tosneak into parties as a high school student. Beyond serving a destination forhorny young men, the colleges always gave me the creeps, perhaps because Iwas explicitly excluded from the community or because of some juvenilefantasy that the schools harbored a lesbian cult. Still, the women who wentthere, it seemed to me, were living in some bygone gender-segregated erawhere such a place had a purpose. I assumed they went to women’s collegeslargely because they couldn’t get into the numerous elite coed schools.
Why go to Smith if you could go to Amherst?
Last year we faced what seemed like a momentous decision: whether to send
 
our 5-year-old to an all-boys grade school for kindergarten. The school isknown for being particularly good at channeling high-spirited boy energyinto creativity and learning.The theory goes that boys mature more slowly, on average, than girls,particularly when it comes to fine motor skills and reading. I had seen thisfirsthand when class art projects came home from nursery school. It was likesome pages were produced by art students and others by fingerless monkeys—stick figures on one page, followed by pages awash with color and facesand feeling. Without exception, you didn’t need to look at the name to knowthe gender. Many boys just want to run and tackle one another most of thetime, so having a school that emphasizes physical activity to calm theirminds and allows them space to develop creativity at their own pace madesense to me. And the school has a particularly strong tradition of characterdevelopment, which appeals to my “good men” orientation. But there wasonly one problem: no girls.
 
The difference was made clear to me on a recent vacation. We traveled for10 days with one of our son’s female nursery school classmates, whom hehadn’t seen for over a year. He met up with his best male friend on the lastday. Our son has a sensitive and gentle spirit, but that doesn’t mean hedoesn’t like to play rough. For over a week, he played with his female friendnonstop. We started calling them “the old married couple.” I was impressednot only with how happy my son was but the ease of the play. With his malefriends the frenzy ultimately led to a crash, but the girl brought out the morecreative and mature side of him. They could have gone on forever, neveronce fighting. On the last day, when the male buddy showed up, we noticeda marked change. It got loud. Very loud. The little girl stood to the side tomake way for boys screaming, chasing each other, having a blast. All good. Ilove to see my son so happy. But to be honest, I liked him better when hewas with his female buddy. She taught him something his male friendcouldn’t. (My wife has the same impact on me.)We chose a coed kindergarten.
I have the privilege of raising a boy in kindergarten; his brother, who is inninth grade; and his sister, who is a high school junior just starting to look atcolleges. So after a week of watching my kindergartener play with his girlpal, I picked up my daughter and set off on an East Coast college tour. Onour list were NYU, Penn, Swarthmore, Bard, Vassar, Brown, and Barnard.My daughter is very involved in theater, so she’s looking for a school thatwill allow her to get a liberal arts education while continuing to act. She’dlike someplace artsy, a little edgy, and urban if possible—big, but not toobig. She doesn’t really know, which is why we were going on this adventuretogether.If you have ever been on a college tour you know the drill: an hour-longinformation session with an admissions representative not-selling-but-sellinghis or her institution while telling you how hard it is to get in, followed by astudent-led tour. Too often they let freshmen that have no idea about theschool (or life in general) lead the tours. Out of frustration over thisignorance, my daughter came up with a litmus test: the condition of thebathroom toilet bowl in the student center. Her theory is that the cleanlinessof the toilet is a truth-teller, far more so than a freshman tour guide, when it

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Helen Winslow Black added this note
Heavens I thought this argument had been put to bed long ago! p.s. I always thought: why go to Amherst when you could go to Holyoke?
kdpgrahi liked this

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