Reasons for an institution like the Boy Scouts of America to go coed fall into roughly two camps. First, there’s the stark reality of dwindling membership: The Scouts are down to a mere third of their 6.5-million-member peak reached in the early 1970s. (Admitting girls, theoretically, doubles their customer base.) And then there’s the purported need to catch up culturally. In the Scouts’ case, these two reasons seem to serve stark cross purposes. Altering a touchstone institution to appease the forcefully open-minded looks counterproductive, given that social liberals are not the most likely candidates to sign up their children for a proto-military league of junior outdoorsmen—and women—with its code of honor and conduct firmly rooted in the century before last.

And experimenting with the formula risks alienating those who do celebrate such tradition. It has already. The Boy Scouts’ already declining enrollment took a blow when BSA decided to admit transgender scouts in January—and not long after, the Church of Latter-day Saints had its nearly 200,000 Boy Scouts hang up the goofy uniform for good. (The BSA rescinded bans on homosexual members in 2014 and leaders in 2015.) THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s Mark Hemingway wrote earlier this year, when LDS pulled its Scouts: “It’s facile to say that groups like the Boy Scouts simply must accommodate the latest cultural imperative. The future of the Boy Scouts, and that of the country, depends on the cultivation of decent and hardworking men—that, too, is a cultural imperative.”

And the ill-considered integration will cause pain elsewhere: Undercutting the Girl Scouts, for one thing. Last week, while the world reacted to the news, the Girls Scouts said in a statement: “The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” blaming BSA’s “deficient programming” for their need to pull scouts from a coed pool. Back in August, when the Girl Scouts caught wind of a “covert campaign” to open the Boy Scouts to girls, their president Kathy Hannan composed a stern letter disapproving of the coming integration on the grounds that it would undermine the proven value of “single gender programming.”

The GSA, arguably, has exposed itself to a degree of encroachment by alienating parents with its own reported leftward slide—but the Girl Scouts have a point about letting boys and girls thrive and learn separately. With a dearth of single-sex academic and extracurricular offerings available to kids today, the loss of such a prominent one stings. Few remain willing to stick up for the rewards of single-sex schooling and socialization. Although public schools continue to experiment with splitting boys and girls for practical and pedagogical reasons, and urban districts turn to single-sex education to heal deep achievement gaps across gender and racial divides—for most, it’s stuffy, sexist, or simply unfamiliar to separate girls from boys. But for the girls and boys in question separation offered something else. Nowadays, as I recently learned, it’s hard to find an education scholar whose work focuses on what children gain when they’re separated by sex. (Recent scholarship, not to mention commentary, focuses moreso on mythbusting gender differences, nailing down a neurological basis for what Judy Butler said about gender being a social construct.)

Fortunately American University professor emeritus David Sadker, retired to Tucson, is happy to talk. He and his late wife studied the dynamics between boys and girls in school, comparing coeducational and single-sex classrooms, for their coauthored book Failing at Fairness. They concluded that in coed environments, boys overshadow girls, receive more attention, and are more willing to interrupt. Girls are more likely to buck the stereotypical aversion to math and science in the right sort of single-sex setting, he says. (In a follow-up effort 14 years later, Sadker chronicled a failure to fix the problem he’d earlier identified.)

Breaking down the barrier between boys and girls—as cutting the B from BSA will do—needn’t dissolve the separation entirely, he points out. Dens will still be single-sex, and particularly when children are young, parents should choose carefully where to place their scout. Still, there’s no doubt a different institution will emerge from the other side of coed integration, Sadker points out: “There’s something that goes on in single-sex environments that is missing in coed.” There’s an unmitigated self-discovery, and a freedom from self-consciousness that’s impossible for most humans, particularly those orbiting adolescence, in the presence of the opposite sex.

But, nodding to what’s lost in co-education, Sadker says he sees “a great opportunity to see how you can do things better.” If orchestrated thoughtfully, for instance, the new BSA may well indoctrinate a new generation of sensitive young men and self-confident young women—conditioned so by their cooperative high-stakes survival drill teamwork. A coed pack presents an opportunity for boys and girls to stretch and break the roles the Sadkers studied in American schoolchildren. “You could have as one purpose of a coed scout troop, to help develop public voices in girls and public ears in boys,” he offers.

The scholar of gender dynamics wonders, “If the Boy Scouts reflects coed classrooms, will males dominate? Will males be interrupting and cutting off females? Will the male environment persist, or are they going to create a new environment that’s more equitable?” The manner of BSA’s big change suggests that no one but the education professor emeritus is asking these questions. “Thoughtful questioning, I fear, is not what’s driving this movement. What’s driving this movement is finances: ‘We need more kids.’” And that’s never been the best reason, he adds, to fix what wasn’t broken.