The War Against Boys: Sexism, School, and Your Son

For decades, we’ve focused on important measures to help girls perform better at school. We’ve worked hard to bridge the gap between genders when it comes to academic performance, and we’ve done so with great success....for girls. Today, girls outnumber boys 2 to 1 in top-10 high school senior rankings. There has also been an amazing 14% increase in women receiving college degrees since 1978. But now, the tables have turned. When it comes to school learning, boys have fallen behind in an alarming way.

“It was wrong to ignore women’s educational needs for so long… but turning the tables and neglecting boys is not the answer,” says Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys, How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men. While there was a 14% increase in graduating college women since 1978, male college graduates have increased by less than 1 percent.

Over the past couple of decades, the general view has been that boys have been unfairly privileged in the classroom, but now they’re falling by the wayside. Studies show that girls are outperforming boys in the educational gender divide and a typical boy is about a year and a half behind a typical girl in both reading and writing. 

From The Atlantic:

Data from the U.S. Department of Education and from several recent university studies show that far from being shy and demoralized, today's girls outshine boys. They get better grades. They have higher educational aspirations. They follow more-rigorous academic programs and participate in advanced-placement classes at higher rates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, slightly more girls than boys enroll in high-level math and science courses. Girls, allegedly timorous and lacking in confidence, now outnumber boys in student government, in honor societies, on school newspapers, and in debating clubs. Only in sports are boys ahead, and women's groups are targeting the sports gap with a vengeance. Girls read more books. They outperform boys on tests for artistic and musical ability. More girls than boys study abroad. More join the Peace Corps. At the same time, more boys than girls are suspended from school. More are held back and more drop out. Boys are three times as likely to receive a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. More boys than girls are involved in crime, alcohol, and drugs. Girls attempt suicide more often than boys, but it is boys who more often succeed. 

Surely, Boys Must Catch Up…

The current trend in education labels boys as immature. They’re unable to sit still, focus, or perform as well as their same-aged and yet so much more mature female counterparts. If it’s all a matter of immaturity, surely boys must catch up at some point, right?

If you look at professional schools within universities, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Once the domain of young men, professional schools in the University of California school system also saw a turnaround. Since 2006, women have been earning 57% of the degrees in law, 62% in dentistry, 73% in optometry, 77% in pharmacy, and 82% in veterinary medicine. All great achievements for women for which we're grateful, but wouldn’t it be better if educational gains were being made by both genders?

Critics of the Idea of a Gender Gap

Opposition to the idea that gender is what affects educational achievement these days comes from The American Association of University Women (AAUW). Their view is that economic, class, and race factors are cause of the education gap. But statistics indicate that young black women are twice as likely to go to college as young black men; and girls from poor neighborhoods do better academically than boys from the same neighborhood. It certainly looks like it’s gender rather than race or economics that is making the difference.

So Is It Their IQ?

You might be tempted to wonder secretly… are girls just smarter? No, not really. Men and women’s IQ test scores are nearly equal, with men scoring higher at the high and lower ends, representing more geniuses and as well as more mentally vulnerable students. Women do have an IQ testing advantage, apparently, which is similar to the girls’ classroom advantage.

IQ expert James Flynn says that women’s slight advantage has to do with being able to focus better in the testing situation. It’s the same in the classroom where girls can sit and listen better, but that doesn’t make them innately smarter. That’s exactly the problem Sommers identifies in her book about boys getting shortchanged in the classroom. Schools are not recognizing that boys learn better visually rather than auditorily, and that they also need adequate time to move around physically.

What’s Missing?

Rough-and-tumble play that boys love is defined by University of Minnesota professor Anthony Pellegrini, as behavior that includes “laughing, running, smiling, jumping, open-handed beating, wrestling, play fighting, chasing, and fleeing.”  From an early age boys like outdoor games with body contact, conflict, and clearly defined winners and losers.  In many schools these games are outlawed. Coaches at Central High School in Naperville, Illinois are to be “immediately fired” if they permit children to play dodgeball.

In addition, physical education has been cut nationwide and recess play times have been reduced in many schools, especially with the testing pressures of Common Core Standards. A Missouri principal put it this way, “We do take away a lot of opportunity to do things boys like. That is to be rowdy, run and jump and roll around. We don’t allow that.” When boys are not allowed to express the dramatic play themes they want to, it may affect their early language and literacy development. And it certainly affects their boredom with school in general.

On top of that, competition of any kind has practically been eradicated. There are no class rankings. Children are no longer separated into high, medium, and low groups. And awards are simply doled out to everyone just for showing up. Consequently, there is no room for the desire to strive, to prove oneself to a group of peers, and competitive learners lose out.

Legislation Hurts Too

A new and updated version of Title IX anti-discrimination in school sports legislation is being put into place in the academic realm. Over a billion dollars is committed by the Perkins Act to put more girls into nontraditional vocational and technical training. Critics of the effect of Title IX in sports programs say that athletic opportunities are taken away from male students and given to female students, despite the comparatively lower interest levels of those female students. This suggests that, in the future, opportunities may be taken away from male students and given to female students in the STEM subjects, regardless of interest level or skill. 

What do you think about new attitudes towards boys in the educational realm?

Tags : education   school   boys   

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