By Luke Stone ‘20
There are 10,693 private secondary schools (high schools) in the United States. Woodberry would, obviously, be among that number. What makes Woodberry different from the other 10,692? We are an all-boys, all-boarding institution with an honor system. All three of those almost mutually exclusive characteristics combine to make the Woodberry experience different from any other experience. Woodberry should not consider becoming a co-educational institution because doing so would negatively impact the classroom environment, it would change the social structure, and it would make Woodberry “just another school.”
Woodberry should not go coed because doing so would negatively impact the classroom environment. Every private school loves bragging about their small class sizes and low student-to-teacher ratios, and because of the basic rules of mathematics, most of them can. But not all of them can say that they have small classroom environments where every student actively participates, asks good questions, and has the opportunity to maximize his potential. Woodberry is fundamentally based on the idea of communality. All classes, but particularly history classes, English classes, and sometimes even foreign language classes are predominantly fueled by in-depth discussion where almost all students are actively engaged and are encouraged to share their opinions. When I was in middle school, I used to be terrified of presentations. Not because I wasn’t ready for them, but because I was nervous about the superficialities like what I was wearing, whether or not I was sweating, or how my voice sounded. All of those fears were because I didn’t want to look stupid in front of girls. On the Foliocollaborative surveys that most of us took on our courses in December, one of the questions stated, “Does my instructor make it comfortable to take risks in class.” For most of us, the answer is yes. But, what if half of the guys in your class were girls? Would you still feel comfortable asking that stupid sounding (yet important) question? Would you still be willing to debate your classmates on a whim? For most of us, the answer would probably be no because, just like my experience above, we’d be afraid of sounding stupid in front of girls.
These examples lead into another facet of this question, the social structure. If Woodberry went coed, the social structure would be overhauled. In its current state, the social pyramid at Woodberry eventually becomes flattened. Although I’ve been told that it takes some time to evolve to that state, almost everyone ultimately ends up on the same plane. If you look around in the dining hall, particularly towards the Sixth Formers, you’ll notice that tables tend to fill up closest to the serving line, and then, table after table, people just keep sitting down at the next open seat. There’s no real social game, no false fronts, you pretty much just get the undoctored version of everyone. That would be radically different if girls were here. We’re all still a bunch of hormonal teenage boys with no common sense, we just don’t have the influence of the opposite gender to make us try to be the most impressive that we can be. Every other school I’ve attended, all of which have been coed, the school always tried to encourage us to be ourselves. Here, other than for some similar instruction for New Boys during the first week of school, we are not constantly reminded to be ourselves because we are ourselves here. We are comfortable in our own skins here. And as much as that is because we are known, challenged, and loved, it’s equally, if not more because we don’t have to put on this façade to appear “cool” in front of girls. If there were girls here, the picture would be a scaled down version similar to brunch this past Sunday in the aftermath of Semi Formal. The guys who didn’t have girlfriends wouldn’t know where to sit, people would try to go and scout out tables to sit with their friends, and everyone would be somewhat uncomfortable. As an all-boys school, Woodberry is a place where almost anyone can fit in with little to no personality change. Cliques, although present, are less pronounced than in coed environments and there isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a sort of “Cool Kids’ Table.” If Woodberry went coed, regardless of how much it fought to maintain its current environment, the social structure would radically change and devolve into that of any other high school.
And that’s just the point. If Woodberry went coed, we would be the exact same as Episcopal, Phillips-Exeter, and Andover and all the other famous boarding schools, we just have a smaller endowment and a higher tuition. I know that it sounds terribly cliche, especially to those not associated with the school, but there is a tangible, palpable brotherhood here. We are a tightly knit community where bonds with one another are strengthened because we are all boys. For teenagers, girls tend to be a fracturing point that divides a class. Here, we don’t have that problem, at least to the same degree that other schools experience a divide in their classes. The factor that makes a prospective student choose Woodberry over other boarding schools is that Woodberry is an all-boys institution. That is the school’s market differentiator, and if the school gets rid of the only thing that makes it unique, it just isn’t unique.
Woodberry should not be a co-ed institution because it would harm the classroom environment, change the social structure, and make Woodberry effectively the same as any other boarding school. A co-ed Woodberry is, quite simply, not Woodberry at all.
The views expressed in this article do not, in any way, represent the views of the editorial board, our faculty adviser, Mr. Guldin, nor the opinion of The Oracle as a whole.