Some Harlem Middle School classes this semester are segregated by sex.
Been there, done that. And hated it.
The reason for herding the boys into one room and the girls into another is that educators want to find out if the eighth-graders learn better while kept apart from their gender opposites.
The results of the study will mostly be anecdotal. Still, I hope they write everything down and save it to remember years from now when someone else wonders if the idea will work.
See, the last time we tried something like this, the reason for segregating children by sex wasn't to improve their education. It was because it was no longer legal to segregate them by race.
Walk backward through time with me to the turbulent end of the 1960s. Brown vs. Board of Education was a distant memory, and anti-integration Columbia County residents were finally resigned to the fact that "separate but equal" schools were doomed.
Keep in mind: Opinions on segregation weren't monolithic in Columbia County, with whites in favor and blacks against. John Pierce Blanchard, the white superintendent, is revered by many in the black community because his separate schools really were pretty close to equal, largely through the force of his considerable will.
And years earlier, this newspaper presented a story with the headline, "County Negroes Sign Petition to Keep Segregation." The story said 1,085 black residents signed a petition that said, in part, "The Negro citizens of Columbia County do not want to break down our pattern of segregation in our school system."
It's likely the petition was produced at Blanchard's quiet urging. There was a bond referendum coming that would build new schools throughout the community, and apparently many whites feared that the new schools would be integrated because of the Brown decision. The petition may have been a way of reassuring them to get their approval.
Whatever the case, by the end of the 1960s the federal courts got around to enforcing integration in the deep South. Columbia County changed its school board from one in which the members were appointed by the grand jury to an elected body. Then, with the guidance of Blanchard, and under the gun of a state deadline, that school board presided over the integration of Columbia County's schools for the 1970-71 school year.
Apparently things went just fine in Martinez-Evans. But in Harlem and Appling, as the story goes, some of the citizens were reluctant to allow white girls to go to the same schools as black boys.
Thus, separate but equal took a chromosomal twist: Boys, black and white, went to one school, while all the girls went to another. North Harlem got the girls, South Harlem got the boys; North Columbia-Appling got girls, North Columbia-Phinizy got boys.
Apparently the cooties wore off after seventh grade, because the genders merged at Columbia Junior High School. (Back then, elementary went first-seventh, junior high had eighth and ninth; high school had 10-12.)
The Appling schools carried on their sexual segregation for several years - I was there for the first four - but the split lasted just a year in Harlem. Now the idea has re-emerged at Harlem Middle School.
This time around there are solid academic reasons for separating some of the classrooms by sex. And as bad as my memories are of that girl-less era, it's good to know that the Ghosts of Segregationists Past aren't still rattling chains in the hallways.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.