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Segregation or salvation?

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Emil Pitkin took a lot of flak for his decision to switch from a coed school to one for boys. "You're going where?" his friends asked in disbelief.

"Boys' schools are an unnatural environment for a young man," adults told him. "The world is full of girls, so you might as well get used to them now."

But Emil, who lives in Sharon, Mass., and is originally from St. Petersburg, had made up his mind. The scholarly eighth grader was headed to one of the most respected boys' schools in North America, The Roxbury Latin School, in Boston's West Roxbury, and nothing could stop him.

Now a junior, the remarkably self-assured Emil has no regrets. "Sometimes I think I might have had more fun with girls around," he says. "But then I remind myself that I'm in school to learn, first and foremost."

Of course, school and learning should be synonymous. But in recent years, for boys anyway, this hasn't always been the case. Whereas the gender gap favored boys not too long ago, girls now outshine boys in just about every academic arena.

Girls are earning better grades, scoring higher on their SATs, and taking home a majority of America's bachelor's degrees.

In their efforts to keep up, many boys are floundering. In recent years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has flagged boys' increasing disengagement from academics. And recent statistics show boys are more likely to repeat a grade, to require special ed, or to be diagnosed with either attention-deficit disorder or hyperactivity.

Some say this is the result of schools that cater to a feminine ideal - sitting still in tidy rows, for instance, listening quietly to a teacher's lecture, and taking immaculate notes. Many girls can ace these tasks, experts say, but boys will often struggle with them because their learning styles are different.

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