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Choice.

A word used to describe an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with more

than one possibility. Australian students and parents face plenty of "choice" for schooling.

Single-sex, coeducation, public, private and all that is in-between. The main issue here is that

gender and class play a huge role in the decision-making process and can hinder your choices

and subsequently impact your student's outcome. The fact is that in Australia you must plan and

decide whether to follow the predominantly normalized societal discourse that is espoused by the

media and government or to come to your own conclusion. Will sending your child to a single-

sex school transform him (or her) into an unknowing plankton waiting to be swallowed by the

whale that is hegemonic culture? Or will a coed school further reinforce these heteronormative

issues? Where you sit in the gender debate of essentialism or social construction plays a role.

Secondly, depending on where you sit on the societal ladder, you may or may not be able to

afford to send your child to the school that you like best.

This choice is a huge issue that has sparked up some great debates within Australia throughout

the last two decades. (Forgasz, Leder, Taylor 2007) The media says one thing, government

something else, and teachers are screaming in the middle watching the walls burn down around

them. To understand this madness, poststructuralist and feminist theory will be applied to

critically reflect on the great gender debate of coed vs. single-sex schools in Australia. How the

"choice" of schools perpetuates the inequity placed upon the shoulders of the Australian parent

and their offspring. From there we can critically analyze the intersectionality of gender and class,

and how the dominant discourse of the gender debate is utilized will be used to explain how

governance and power impact teaching and learning.

As stated before, the dominant discourse of gendered schooling within Australia is up for debate.

On one side, Educators and researchers, tend to side with poststructuralist theories. They believe
we should look at this issue by considering “our social realities and their manifestations as

affected by many dynamic and intangible factors” such as “situational, contextual, historical,

temporal, cultural, social and political. There is no single truth and no absolute.” (Ferfolja, T.,

Jones Diaz, C., & Ullman, J. 2015) We need to think with intersectionality in mind because at

the end of the day there is no correct answer when looking purely at coed vs. single-sex schools.

There is no research to back it up (Forgasz 2016) and instead comes back to the teacher.

This theory couldn't be better exemplified by the research that shows that girls do better in math

and science when in a single-sex school yet "when factors such as socioeconomic backgrounds

are taken into consideration, there were no substantive differences in boys' or girls' academic

achievements." (Forgasz et al., 2007) As well as boys doing better in some aspects in a single-

sex setting yet "extremes of machismo behavior can also be fostered." (Forgasz et al., 2007) For

the educators and researchers, it all comes down to having excellent teachers with high-quality

teaching, who have mastered reflexivity when understanding socio-economic backgrounds, are

aware and involved with the parental community, and for the school to have a good pool of

relevant resources. (Forgasz et al., 2007) As Judith Gill (2015) puts it, “These features are much

more important than the issue of gender context.” However, not to the media.

The media rarely tried to examine the research critically. Instead, they create a Regime of Truth

(Foucault), after any research is put out there, the media usually cherry picks facts and "goes to

town” on apparent issues. (Forgasz 2016) This narrow lens is where the debate comes from, and

this is where the problem begins. According to Forgasz (et al., 2007), the media promoted

parental choice in school settings for their children, debated over the merits of single-sex vs.

coed, discussed the crisis in boys' education, and girls' high achievement. To the media's credit,

some research shows that girls in single-sex settings ‘benefited with respect to confidence, and
achievement', and that coeducational setting appear to be more beneficial to boys. (Forgasz

2016) To the media’s discredit, how the brain functions differently for boys and girls received

more airtime than it deserved, considering it is only true by the slightest of deviances. (Fine

2015)

With all this information, some easier to digest than others, Australian students and parents are

left with a choice. An "opportunity" to decide which school will suit their needs. A choice, not

so funnily enough, without many options. As stated before, gender and class play a huge role in

"helping" you decide which school is "your school" and one of the many reasons you don't have

as many choices as you might think is dependent on what capital you have. Looking to Bourdieu

(1986), capital is accumulated labor. Whether that labor amounts to wealth, culture, social

network, or symbolic papers are up to you and your hard work. The saying "It's not what you

know, it's who you know" couldn't be apter in regards to Bourdieu's social capital. What social

capital does the average Australian parent have? Rural, suburbia or metropolitan? Who are they

talking to when they get their information? The inequity here is palpable.

Another reason you have a choice without many options, your economic capital. Depending on

your wealth, you may be able to send your child to The King's School provided you can make

the yearly 20,000$+ tuition payments. In saying that, Australians who find themselves more

financially secure will have a wider range of schools to choose from as “Most of Australia’s

single-sex schools are found in the fee-paying non-government sector.” (Forgasz 2016)

Economic capital can make or break families. Depending on your socioeconomic status, where

you live and how much you earn, all heavily affect your choice of where to go to school. Beyond

that, the choice of school can define your identity. “the definition of these students’ identities is

closely linked to their life chances, opportunities and consciousness.” (Sever 2012) Akin to a
self-fulfilling prophecy, a “poorer” school has “worse” life chances or opportunities when

viewed through this identity lens.

However, it isn’t all about class dynamics, power imbalances, and misinformation. Gender also

plays a role in limiting choice in schools. The first hurdle, there are more single-sex schools for

girls than for boys (Forgasz 2016). The second obstacle, how the Australian student and parent

identifies themselves and with school, what deviance did they go through during their previous

school time or did they ascribe to hegemonic masculinity/femininity and faced no social

sanctions? "…the fact remains that schools are the place where children spend more of their time

between the ages of five and eighteen, and thus play a seminal role in either confirming prejudice

or combating it…It's the place where we either learn to get along or learn to hate. Too often it's

the place where prejudice becomes ingrained." (Jennings 1999) Jacqueline Ullman (2015)

concurs stating, "Much informal learning regarding gender and sexuality occurs through social

rewards and punishments, meted out by both teachers and students." The third hurdle is that

depending on your understanding of gender, either essentialist or constructionist, can help your

choice along. As an example, more conservative and religious Australians tend to have an

essentialist mindset and may limit the school choices that teach or believe in social

constructionism, and for the especially religious the big bang theory or Charles Darwin need not

be in the course work (this was my mother). Funnily enough, this understanding comes through

from performing your gender.

Gender performativity, as described by feminist poststructural theorist Judith Butler, states that

individuals are actively involved in constructing gender identities albeit unconsciously. (lecture

3) This informal, unconscious learning of getting along/learning to hate has created the identities

of all who walk through her institutionalized halls. This social constructivism is shaped by the
culture we live in, or in this case, the school we go to, which is a microcosm of the larger

community showcasing its limited available discourses about gender at school and in the broader

community. Gender is a student or parents’ ideology on life and with it will make a choice based

on their own experiences living that gender.

Gender and consequently your sexual orientation can play a huge role in determining whether to

choose a coed or single sex school. Inclusion is something all parents want for their child, and all

students want from their peers, yet the Other is quite prevalent at schools. If the student or parent

strayed from the path of hegemony or attempted to be hegemonic, they will understand being the

Other. “…the ‘how’ of avoiding prejudice occurs through performance, through performing the

identities of ‘a “normal” girl or boy’…if individuals move outside of what it is to ‘fit in’,

rejecting their role to perform normatively, they are presented with a dangerous social reality

even within the ‘safe’ space of schools.” (Rawlings 2016) What school is a safe space?

Indeed, gender and class play quite the role when deciding which school to go to. However, there

is one more culprit up for grabs, and that is the schools themselves. The policies they have, what

they believe in, how they present themselves and their students, how much they get funded and

what academic boundaries do they have set in place? According to Mustafa Sever (2012), “the

academic boundaries which are culturally produced… are usually the outcomes of complex

power-games.” These power games may be visible in some cases where prejudice and

disaffected students aren't Othered, but in most cases, it is more subtle. “The problem here is that

education - which is fundamental to our personal and our national success - is a game played by

politicians, and funded by parents.” (King 2016) Power is the Holy Grail of just about

everything. Governance comes through authority to govern, so when the government demands a
new curriculum or a new understanding of the national policy, state schools must comply.

(Australian Education Act 2013)

Depending on the school, funding can go either way which can impact teaching and learning

within the school. “Because the amount of money private schools get from the Commonwealth is

based on the capacity of parents to pay for their children's education, this sum is based on

students' addresses — which comes down to their socioeconomic status.” (Hanrahan 2017) The

problem here is not just the government, but power. Power to get funding, power to make

curriculum changes, power to make school equity policies and practices better, the power to

change the dominant discourse, power to decide which school to go to, and as a teacher, power to

impact learning.

Choice. A seemingly small word with some huge and mostly hidden consequences behind it.

Gender and class intersect with choice and have huge impacts on students and parents’

educational aspirations and life chances. Depending on your socio-economic status, social and

cultural capital can either hinder or help your choice. The socioeconomic disparities that are in

play in Bourdieu’s capital show the inequity felt by some Australians. This class problem is

exemplified when looking from rural to suburbia to metropolitan. The gender aspect seemingly

dwindles down what few choices are left after considering your status on the class ladder. While

the media has taken this, and gone for sensationalizing of single-sex vs. coeducation schools, and

girl's brain vs. boy's brain news stories. Researchers tended to side with poststructuralist and

feminist theories. The fact is that while the gender context is just that, context, it cannot and will

not be more important than a teacher who has mastered reflexivity when understanding socio-

economic backgrounds of their students. Because in the end, it all comes down to the teachers at

school.
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