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Coeducation Twenty Years Later

This coming September will mark the 20th anniversary of Deerfield’s return to coeducation after an all-male stint from 1948 to 1988.  In retrospect, Deerfield’s success at coeducation is obvious. Still, it is interesting to look at the variety of opinions for and against this shift that were voiced here in The Scroll, only two decades ago. 

In a 1987 poll, only 39% of students approved of coeducation if Deerfield remained at an enrollment of 560.  Even if Deerfield increased to 600 students, only 45% supported the admission of girls.  This poll came only a few months before the Board of Trustees voted affirmatively on the issue.  So did the pros end up outweighing the cons?

When reading articles from 1980s issues of The Scroll against coeducation, I expected to find dated, chauvinistic opinions, wildly opposing female admission without any valid arguments except self-righteous postulations about the glory of “tradition” and “brotherhood.”  However, while I found some quotes that supported my assumptions, others introduced opinions that had never really come to mind.

“Teenagers by nature are self-conscious beings,” states a 1987 article. “At Deerfield, because we do not have that more intense self-consciousness that comes with being observed by females, we can be more relaxed and more ourselves…No where else have I seen boys be so openly fond of each other.”

A similar article from November 1986 describes how “Girls would spark a new, unnecessary, and abrasive rivalry amongst us and create cutthroat competition for grades and extracurricular positions. Coeducation would polarize Deerfield, and we would become so preoccupied with impressing each other that every aspect would suffer.”

I find these worries about competition and self-consciousness intriguing.  Were boys really afraid of showing their brotherly comradeship in front of girls?  Twenty years later, in a media culture filled with shows like MTV’s Bromance, essentially a “dating” show for heterosexual guys, it seems like males and especially “Deerfield Boys” still are just as “openly fond of each other.”

As for the “competition” that would be fostered among boys for grades, sports, and extracurricular activities, I also find this an interesting argument.  Yes, no one wants to create unnecessary “abrasive rivalry,” but, in my opinion, healthy competition can often be a driving force behind success.  Is it bad to want to work and achieve higher grades, or spend extra hours in the gym preparing for sports, or join a club that interests you?  Deerfield students’ level of academic success has jumped significantly since the admission of girls, perhaps due in part to this increase in much-feared “rivalry.”

Another argument I found remarkable was the fear that Deerfield would “transform from a closely-knit community to an institution, with the resulting bureaucratization and loss of flexibility and human response,” as laments an editorial from 1986.  Considering the fact that Deerfield was not planning on increasing enrollment by more than about 40 students, I find this opinion very narrow-minded.  Often here at D.A, the word “community” is used as such a catchphrase that we forget what it really means.  To say that Deerfield would become “institutionalized” with coeducation implies that only boys are capable of forming a close-knit community, which clearly has not been the case. 

While I found these arguments against coeducation to be remarkable educational tools for examining the mindset of fellow D.A community members two decades ago, in the end, the pros of coeducation, visible to all of us, overshadow any perceived negativity. 

As English teacher Frank Henry ’69 eloquently wrote in 1986, “If we are willing to let our traditional, romantic vision of Deerfield slip into the past, we place ourselves in a position where we may more completely examine how to live humanly.”           

 

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