Monday, February 06, 2006

The "boy crisis"

My column in today's Boston Globe deals with the so-called "boy crisis."


IN THE EARLY 1990s, talk about girls as an endangered species was everywhere. There were studies purporting to show that patriarchy-damaged girls suffered a disastrous drop in self-esteem in adolescence. The American Association of University Women published a report titled ''How Schools Shortchange Girls," which landed on the front pages of many newspapers. Educators and legislators alike rushed to tackle the problem of gender bias that was allegedly keeping girls from reaching their full potential -- despite the fact that, by then, girls were already graduating from America's colleges in higher numbers than boys.

Today, it's the ''boy crisis" that's making headlines, from The Weekly Standard to Newsweek. We are presented with alarming numbers: 58 percent of first-year college students are female. Because male students are more likely to drop out, their share will shrink to 40 percent by graduation. ''Man shortage" is the new bane of campuses. While the gender gap in academic achievement has long been a serious problem in the black community -- by the mid-1990s, two-thirds of college diplomas earned by African-Americans went to women -- it has been growing among Hispanics and whites as well.

What's going on? Some blame an antimale bias in education. A few years ago, Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, wrote a book, ''The War Against Boys," arguing that feminist zeal is causing many teachers to treat maleness as ''toxic" and to try to reshape boys in a female image. Gender differences in the ''wiring" of the human brain are an increasingly popular explanation as well. Psychologist and author Michael Gurian is a leading proponent of the view that boys and girls learn differently and that these differences must be taken into account if we want to ensure a quality education for everyone. Some believe that in many instances, single-sex classes are the answer.

Attention to the issue is welcome. For years, the justified celebrations of female achievement have overshadowed the fact that boys and young men were starting to lag behind. Many feminists have dismissed the college attendance gap as insignificant, arguing that men can get well-paying jobs even without college while women need a degree just to catch up. Yet the fact is that in this knowledge-based economy, men without a higher education are increasingly falling behind.

What about the remedies? No possible solution should be off-limits. It would be ridiculous, for instance, to refuse to consider the possibility of biological sex differences in learning styles because of political correctness. Yet it's also important to remember such differences are often dwarfed by individual variation. Helen Smith, a psychologist and blogger who has championed the cause of boys in school, cautions that, while recognizing differences, we should not lapse into stereotyping: In general, boys may be more physically active and girls may be more verbal, but a lot of children will not fit those patterns. Some of the fashionable talk about boys getting in trouble due to their more rebellious and individualistic ways has an alarming tendency to paint girls as dull, diligent sheep.

And sometimes, the talk of a ''war against boys" can lapse into a victim mentality that rivals the worst excesses of radical feminism. Last month, 17-year-old Doug Anglin, a student at Milton High School, filed a federal civil rights complaint charging that his school discriminates against boys. How so? Anglin claims that rewarding students for following rules, obeying teachers' orders, and turning in homework is unfair to boys, who ''naturally rebel." He also wants boys to be exempt from community service, to get credit for playing sports, and to be able to take classes on a pass/fail basis. And, according to his father -- a Boston attorney who wrote the lawsuit -- boys' grades should be retroactively adjusted to make up for past discrimination.

Yet the absurdity of this suit should not blind us to evidence of a chilly climate for boys in schools. Boy-bashing by girls, including T-shirts with such slogans as ''Girls rule, boys drool," is sometimes treated as an expression of ''girl power." In numerous surveys, both boys and girls agree that teachers generally favor girls over boys. Perhaps sensitivity training is in order to make teachers more aware of biases. Bringing more men into schools as teachers and mentors may also help.

The problem is out in the open, which is a positive step. Now, we should try to address it without pitting girls against boys, or treating either as victims.


One thing that troubles me about the current discussions of boys and their problems is the easy lapse into "boys are like this, girls are like that" rhetoric. Examples can be found, for instance, in this thread at Dr. Helen's blog. I fully agree with Dr. Helen that it's ridiculous to dismiss all talk of sex differences in learning as "anti-feminist," as does feminist sociologist Michael Kimmel (SUNY). But I also cringe at comments like these, from one of the posters:

I have twin 9 year-old step-children: a girl and a boy. These children were raised in the same setting, have sat in the same classrooms, and have had virtually identical life experiences.

Yet they couldn't be more different. The girl is calm, thoughtful, mature. She can sit still, follow instructions, and concentrate. She thinks things through before acting. She can carry on a real two-way conversation, and can make new friends and relate to them. Most importantly, she seems to have control over her impulses. The boy on the other hand can not control his impulses no matter how hard he tries, has trouble relating to others, and is constantly in trouble at school. He doesn't think before acting. And it's a constant source of frustration and sadness to him because he really does try!

This is a common story. It's ridiculous that some people are still hanging on to the canard that biology doesn't matter. Have they never met any children?

Well, I can think, without even trying too hard, of two couples I know with (fraternal) twin girls who have completely different personalities, dramatically different levels of aggressiveness, impulse control, and so on. I'm not in favor of doctrinaire unisex feminism, but going to back to putting boys and girls into little boxes labeled pink and blue is hardly preferable.

This post by Dr. Helen, about the Boston Globe article on the David Anglin lawsuit (which mentions, among other things, girls getting extra points when they "decorate their notebooks with glitter and feathers"), contains an anecdote that illustrates the dangers of fitting such issues as "rewarding creativity vs. rewarding orderliness" into a neat gender-based framework:

This reminds me of an education class I was forced to take as a requirement for my PHD degree in school/clinical psychology. The professor--a male--told us to keep a log of our activities with students or patients in my case on notebook paper and turn them in for a portion of our grade. I was out for the class when the instructions were given so got the assignment second-hand from other students. I was shocked when I received an F on the assignment--the reason? Writing outside the margins of my paper. The professor cared nothing about the content I had so carefully written out as best I could--he only cared about appearances.

And here's another good Dr. Helen thread, with some cautionary words from Dr. Helen about the need to pay attention to individual differences as well as sex differences, and a comment from a mother of a physically active, non-stereotypical girl.

More from a Reason essay I wrote about this issue back in 2001:

"Boy partisans" can exaggerate too. ... In The War Against Boys, [Christina Hoff] Sommers asserts that recent data on high school and college students clearly lead to "the conclusion that girls and young women are thriving, while boys and young men are languishing." Yet this dramatic statement is contradicted further down the page by her own summary of Valerie Lee's study of gender and achievement, which she lauds as "responsible and objective." Lee reports that sex differences in school performance are "small to moderate" and "inconsistent in direction"-boys fare better in some areas, girls in others.

More boys flounder in school (and, as Sommers acknowledges, more of them reach the highest levels of excellence, from the best test scores to top rankings in prestigious law schools). But it's important to put things in perspective. Boys are twice as likely as girls to be shunted into special education with labels that may involve a high degree of subjectivity or even bias, but we are talking about a fairly small proportion of all children. About 7 percent of boys and 3 percent of girls are classified as learning disabled, 1.5 percent of boys and 1.1 percent of girls as mentally retarded; just over 1 percent of boys and fewer than half as many girls are diagnosed with severe emotional disturbances.

Clearly, many boys are doing well; just as clearly, it's an overstatement to say that girls in general are "thriving," since all too often the educational system serves no one well. Twelfth-grade girls may do better than boys on reading and writing tests, but their average scores still fall short of the level that indicates real competence-the ability to understand and convey complicated information.

There's quite a bit of exaggeration, too, in the notion of schools as a hostile environment for boys. Few would dispute that boys tend to be more physically active and less patient than girls; but these differences are far less stark than the clichés deployed in the "boy wars." In a 1998 Department of Education study, 65 percent of boys and 78 percent of girls in kindergarten were described by teachers as usually persistent at their tasks, and 58 percent of boys and 74 percent of girls as usually attentive-a clear yet far from interplanetary gap.

(One has to wonder, too, to what extent these differences reflect reality and to what extent the teachers' stereotyped perceptions.)

Still smaller are the differences between boys' and girls' views of the school climate. Surprisingly, in a 1995 survey by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, virtually the same percentages of female and male high school seniors said they liked school. When the question "Whom do teachers like more?" is posed in such a way that they must select one favored sex, kids are likely to answer "girls." Yet when asked about their own experiences, boys are only slightly less likely than girls to say that teachers listen to them, that they call on them often and encourage them, and that discipline and grading at their school are fair.

....


Judith Kleinfeld, who authored the 1996 paper "The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls," published by the Washington, D.C.-based Women's Freedom Network (of which I am vice president), credits Sommers with drawing attention to an often-ignored problem but wishes her argument had been more nuanced. "We used to think that the schools shortchanged girls; now the news is that schools are waging a war against boys, that girls are on top and boys have become the second sex," says Kleinfeld. "Neither view is right. We should be sending a dual message: one, boys and girls do have characteristic problems, and we need to be aware of what they are; two, boys and girls are also individuals. Unfortunately, there's a lot of exaggeration going on, and a lot of destructive stereotyping by both sides."

My essay also addressed the still-debated issue of whether boys are at greater risk from "patriarchal" hypermasculine values or from creeping androgyny.

To be sure, there are educators eager to impose their egalitarian vision on other people's children by banning toy guns from preschools, prohibiting "segregated" play at recess, or herding boys into quilting groups and prodding them to talk about how they feel. It's difficult to tell how widespread this is outside the elite Eastern private schools from which Sommers gets several of her examples, where parents not only choose but pay big money to send their offspring. On the other hand, in many communities, boys still face strong pressure to be jocks-and the jock culture probably is more damaging to boys' learning than the occasional quilting circle.

Not unlike the feminists, many conservatives have a vision of a monolithic, virtually unchanging "culture of manhood" that boys must join. Yet one does not have to believe that gender is only a "social construct" to know that standards of male behavior and beliefs about male nature in different times and places have varied as greatly as male dress. Two hundred years ago, it wasn't unusual or inappropriate for men to weep at sentimental plays and for male friends to exchange letters with gushy expressions of affection.

The truth is, both efforts to produce "unisex" children and efforts to enforce traditional masculine or feminine norms are likely to warp children's individuality. Kleinfeld had a chance to observe this when raising her own children: a girl who liked mechanical tools and had an aptitude for science, yet resisted efforts to get her interested in a scientific career and chose humanitarian work instead, and a quiet, gentle boy who was an avid reader. "We tried to get him active in sports, but we were fighting his individual nature," says Kleinfeld. "The one time he made a touchdown in football, he was running the wrong way."

In The War Against Boys, Sommers praises feminists who came to honor and cherish their sons' masculine qualities, among them a pacifist-liberal writer whose son chose a military career. But would conservative champions of boyhood also praise traditionally masculine fathers who came to honor and cherish their sons' "soft" qualities, even when those sons chose to become elementary school teachers or hairdressers?


(My review of Sommers' The War Against Boys can be found here.)

A closing thought. How many of the problems of schoolboys today have to do with father absence?

39 comments:

Rodney said...

Why isn't there any mention of college enrollment of students as a percentage of the population (by sex)? It seems that the amount of males enrolled in college as a percentage of all males, now versus in the past, is a more relevant statistic. Looking at this measure, it seems that any gender gap is due, at least in part, not to any decrease in the percentage of males enrolling in college but to a much larger rate of increase in the percentage of females enrolling in college.

Zack M. Davis said...

Cathy Young: "Yet the absurdity of this suit should not blind us to evidence of a chilly climate for boys in schools."

I'm a male twelfth-grader attending a public school and I don't precieve a "chilly climate" for boys. I know: one person's personal experience proves nothing, but I thought I might as well mention it.

"Bringing more men into schools as teachers and mentors may also help."

I don't understand. Why should the sex of teachers and mentors matter?

It could be that I am hopelessly naïve, but I do not understand why it is said by some that boys need male role models specifically.

jw said...

The first two posters show the problem we face in the schools: When it looked like girls had a problem the conversations were universally "What do we do?" Now, boys have a problem and the conversations are all over the map, with lots of "Why do anything?"

The difference is stark and goes directly to how the sex's are seen and how the sex's are valued.

We still have a great many millions of dollars being spent on girls. To the best of my knowwledge there are no foundation or government funds going to boys: Again, the difference is stark and clear.

Girls have value: Boys? Boys may have value, that is open for debate.

Cathy: My concern in bringing fathers into the discussion is that it just becomes another "Blame and Shame those disgusting sub-human men" games. That's what happens, more often than not, the absent father is brought up in the boy problem debate and there's a flood of "those evil men." That just shuts down all thought on all sides.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Cathy: I don't think that comment (albeit out of context) should make you cringe. It's true the boy could have turned out to be more verbal and thoughtful while the girl could have wound up with behavior problems that made her act out. But it's just not as likely. To recognize such strong patterns is not the same thing as forcing kids to conform to those patterns.

Brad said...

Yet the absurdity of this suit should not blind us to evidence of a chilly climate for boys in schools. Boy-bashing by girls, including T-shirts with such slogans as "Girls rule, boys drool," is sometimes treated as an expression of "girl power."

Is this meant as a real example of a "chilly climate"? How sensitive do you have to be to feel oppressed by that shirt on any level?

Perhaps there are better examples, but mentioning things like this really undercuts the argument, especially as it is meant to be a direct contrast to earlier "absurd" arguments.

Anonymous said...

rodney wins the prize for writing the smartest comment in this thread, and also possibly for settling the discussion altogether. The percentage of boys enrolled in college has increased slightly since 1970 (32% then, 34% now). The percentage of girls in college has doubled in that same time (20% then, 41% now).

Given that more boys are going to college than ever before, it does seem silly to look for evidence of anti-male hostility in education contributing to this "problem."

W.B. Reeves said...

I think we would all agree that the role and status of women in US society has undergone a revolution, whatever its limits, over the past 30 to 40 years. What I find amazing is that anyone would think that so profound a transformation could be accomplished without profound effect on the roles and expectations that are placed on males in our society.

Yet, that is precisely how we, as a society, have proceded. Incredible efforts and monies have been expended in order to free women from the stereotypical roles and subordinate positions they occupied when I was a child. How much has been done to prepare male children for these changed circumstances? From my experience, it appears little to none.

If women are now independent, competetive individuals, drawing status from their own achievements, how sensible is it that we continue to socialize and educate boys for a privileged, pre-imminent, pre-feminist male role that no longer exists? How surprising can it be that boys shaped for social obsolescence would began to fall by the wayside in increasing numbers?

To paraphrase Einstein, everything has changed, except the way we raise our boys.

Revenant said...

Is this meant as a real example of a "chilly climate"? How sensitive do you have to be to feel oppressed by that shirt on any level?

The "chilly climate" comes from the fact that the sentiment is tolerated by those in authority, while similar anti-girl sentiments are discouraged. It creates a perception that those in authority are "anti-boy". Being criticized is one thing; being criticized while being forbidden to return the criticism is something else entirely.

Brad said...

The "chilly climate" comes from the fact that the sentiment is tolerated by those in authority, while similar anti-girl sentiments are discouraged.

Hmm. Then, the second half of that equation should be forthcoming. Some reference to a boy being kicked out for a statement that is similar (in tone and sentiment) would make this point.

Otherwise, all there is to go on is the idea that the shirt is offensive enough on its own to merit action. I guess I just don't see it.

Anonymous said...

Folks, there is no anti-male bias in schools. More males go to college today than ever before. Hasn't anyone read the link that rodney gave us?

And revenant is wrong, as usual. I can cite lots of examples of anti-female bias in schools: 1) many schools allow Hooters T-shirts but not shirts with anti-male messages; 2) schools commonly punish girls who fight more severely than boys who fight; 3) most teachers are female, but most administrators are male.

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cathy Young said...

It seems that the amount of males enrolled in college as a percentage of all males, now versus in the past, is a more relevant statistic. Looking at this measure, it seems that any gender gap is due, at least in part, not to any decrease in the percentage of males enrolling in college but to a much larger rate of increase in the percentage of females enrolling in college.

Really? So, if the percentage of women attending college had grown since the 1960s but the percentage of men attending college had grown even more, this would not have been a problem?

It seems to me that when Group A improves its well-being on some measurement at a much faster rate than Group B, Group B can be said to be lagging behind.

The reality is that today, compared to 20 or 30 years ago, a college education is far more essential to a successful life.

schools commonly punish girls who fight more severely than boys who fight

Is there any evidence of this?

Btw, the female student body president at Milton High confirms at least one form of discrimination against boys: that boys who are in the school hallways during class time are commonly asked to show their hall passes while girls are not.

Revenant said...

Folks, there is no anti-male bias in schools. More males go to college today than ever before. Hasn't anyone read the link that rodney gave us?

Um, in 1950 it could honestly have been said "more blacks go to college today than ever before". Does that mean the people who claimed there was anti-black bias in college admissions were wrong?

It doesn't matter how many members of Group X attend college; what matters is whether Group X is statistically over- or under-represented in relation to their percentage of the population. Men are underrepresented in college, and have been for quite some time now. That suggests a problem -- either there is bias against men, or men are for some reason less-qualified for college (or less interested in college), by the time they're out of high school, than women are.

many schools allow Hooters T-shirts

How is a Hooters t-shirt anti-female?

Cathy Young said...

Here's a sample image of a Hooters T-shirt.

And by the way, I don't think it's particularly hypersensitive to be offended by "boys are stupid" T-shirts.

Anonymous said...

1) It's true that college is more important today than ever before. It does not therefore follow that more people are able to succeed in college. Not everyone has the intelligence, or the requisite verbal skills to get a bachelor's, regardless of how good their high school is.

2) It is also true that men without college education have more opportunities than women without college. The construction industry, in the commercial and institutional side of things, pays well and offers excellent benefits. And while there are no official barriers to women doing this work, the fact remains that very few women want to. Women need college more than men do.

Revenant said...

And while there are no official barriers to women doing this work, the fact remains that very few women want to. Women need college more than men do.

You're forgetting that women also have an advantage in that it is both more culturally acceptable and more personally desirable to be a primary caregiver instead of working. Male high school graduates do not really have the option to get married and stay at home instead of working a job. Women do.

So it isn't necessarily a given that women need college more than men. They need college more than men if they want to work, but they have less need to work.

beenaround said...

revenant opined:


So it isn't necessarily a given that women need college more than men. They need college more than men if they want to work, but they have less need to work.


Dude, you are so going to regret that :-)

Cathy said:


Btw, the female student body president at Milton High confirms at least one form of discrimination against boys: that boys who are in the school hallways during class time are commonly asked to show their hall passes while girls are not.


Sigh, people just seem to want to find discrimination everywhere.

Perhaps the reality is that, on average, boys are more prone to wandering around the school without permission and are more likely to resent authority of any form.

Perhaps the teachers recognize that.

We need to concentrate on the real cases of discrimination and not those that do have to do with differences in average behavior between boys and girls, men and women.

reader_iam said...

Anonymous and beenaround: Just curious (and not implying that I know)--do you have a boy kid in school right? At the very earliest of grades (k-2)? It'd be useful for context.

beenaround said...

reader_iam asks:


do you have a boy kid in school right?


My children are female. One is in college and one is a sophomore in high school right now.

I spent large amounts of time with them when they were little, and man-handled them far more than any woman would have. I also changed all their daipers (nappies) when they weren't with the baby sitter, and gave them their late-night feeds, and so on.

Just last week I had the opportunity to play with a four-year-old and two-year-old boy and an 18-month old female. Remembering back to my daughters, who I also read to extensively (because my wife's first language was not English) , it is pretty clear that there are differences.

Moreover, we know that male and female humans have different developmental trajectories. At age 16 females have about a two year maturity advantage over males verbally and emotionally. They might have a similar advantage at age 12.

Given that we think that it is not fair to have females competing with males in something like 99% of sports because males have advantages of strength, height, etc, it might also be appropriate to explore single-sex education, in some subjects at least. If nothing else, it will eliminate the sexual posturing going on and allow them to focus on their academic needs.

I suspect also that anyone who has an opinion on the this subject should read Eleanor MacCoby's book: The Two Sexes: Growning apart and coming together.

Zack M. Davis said...

As I think about this issue more and more, I am giving increasing credence to the idea that public schools are inherently oppressive. In the Newsweek cover story about this alleged boy crisis, I was struck by the following passage: "Across the nation, educators are reviving an old idea: separate the girls from the boys--and at Roncalli Middle School, in Pueblo, Colo., administrators say, it's helping kids of both genders. This past fall, with the blessing of parents, school guidance counselor Mike Horton assigned a random group of 50 sixth graders to single-sex classes in core subjects."

"[W]ith the blessing of parents," says the article. The reader can only wonder--which parents? Did every single parent involved bless this?

I do not dispute that some traits are much more common in males than females, and vice versa. But experiments like the one at Roncalli (it's public) scare me. 'By what right, by what code, by what standard' can tax money be used to support a system that would treat me not for what I am, but for what others of my sex tend to be? What could possibly justify using public funds extracted from everybody to support a system that is inherently degrading to the individual?

Is my sympathy for libertarian political philosophy getting in the way of my perception of practical reality? Maybe. But maybe not.

I don't have time to get into a debate over this: to be perfectly honest, I am falling a little behind in my studies. But, I thought, as best as I could with my male brain, that this was worth posting. I hope I have made some sense.

It's just that I'm scared. I don't know whether it's normal for boys to mention their feelings and I don't care--I want to tell everyone that I am deeply, genuinely disturbed by all this talk about what to do about the boys. You see, I know that if my grades go down this semester it has nothing to do with the fact that I happen to have a penis--

But how can I prove it to all of you?

Zack M. Davis said...

And, as long as we're going to be recommending books, I might as well say that Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs by Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers is definitely worth reading.

beAzl said...

It is my hope that now that males are seen to be the underachievers in education, that this will allow serious, and much needed educational reforms to advance, without the Al Gores of the nation calling the reformers names like “racists”, “sexists” or “elitists.” These reforms should benefit everyone, not just males. Although our children’s scores, compared to other countries’, aren’t catastrophic, I can’t help noticing that in the company I work, the vast majority of IT positions, which pay well above the national average, go to foreign-born Indians, Chinese, Bulgarians, Russians, etc. Surely we can do better?

I hope that those leading the fight to improve boys’ educational achievement (and as the father of two young sons, I certainly have a stake in the success of this fight) don’t assume some of the worst aspects of the feminists, liberals and general do-gooders of the past. For example, not to pick a fight or anything here, I think jw is out of line by criticizing zack m. davis for saying what he honestly thinks about his high school experience, even if it doesn’t conform to the "politically correctly incorrect" view. Good for zack for not searching for excuses for poor performance of his male peers if they are unjustified (my guess is he is doing fine in school). This kind of attitude will get him far.

It is unfortunate that so many of the efforts to reduce the black/white, rich/poor, and to a lesser degree the male/female, gap have been based on band-aid solutions. Since the 1960’s, for example, great numbers of colleges and universities have opened the doors to anyone capable of nose picking, leading to an inevitable decline in the quality of work expected of college students. Although unprovable, this generous, egalitarian policy may account for a great deal of the decline in SAT scores that started in the early 60’s, finally bottoming out in the early 1980’s, when the Reagan administration released the A Nation at Risk report. The report seemed to scare Americans enough to actually make some positive reforms. We need more reports like that, and more Bill Cosby’s, of all ethnicities and nationalities, willing to shake things up a little.

Maintaining high goal posts for college admissions seems to have a profound impact on the educational peer culture of high school students, which in turn greatly affects the culture in elementary schools. Even the liberal American Federation of Teachers used to state this as an obvious truth, until Giuliani unleashed a fury when he actually did something about it.

To take a trivial example that might illustrate this "peer culture" effect, my older son, who is now in kindergarten, just had to switch to boxers, because that’s what his hero, the high school counselor, who taught him how to play soccer, prominently wore during his summer camp. Imitation is much less likely to occur the other way. If older students view challenging academics as a cool thing, the attitude is bound to rub off on younger kids.

The southern states have proven that you don’t need affirmative action to narrow an educational gap. (By the way, if discrimination is so beneficial to the party on whose behalf the discrimination is occurring, why are southern states struggling to catch up to their counterparts in the rest of the nation?) Test scores in the south, while still below the national average, have been going up at a faster rate than the rest of the nation, while the gap between black and white test scores seems to have gotten stuck in recent years.

Having clear goal posts (via college admissions) will make students view their high school and elementary school teachers like coaches, there to help them achieve their dream, rather than as their adversaries.

And with those clear goal posts, educational choice (which might include all-male classes or schools that go at a different pace for boys vs girls) makes more sense. Competition is very good at getting people what they want. Unfortunately, in our current environment, for too many students, their first priority [is] to get papers that certify that they are competent rather than to develop real competence. For them, the game is about gaining academic credits while successfully resisting education. Let's get the horse in front of the cart, please.

Brad said...

And by the way, I don't think it's particularly hypersensitive to be offended by "boys are stupid" T-shirts.

Apologies that my comments yesterday came out snarky. I didn't intend them that way, but on a re-read, they are.

But I do still want to follow the point. I'd note, first, that the shirts didn't say "boys are stupid" (although, I confess, this wouldn't meet my personal bar either). They say "boys drool." My first interpretation of the statement was "boys lust." I'd wager that the slogan is printed on baby-doll t-shirts, meant to have a little sex appeal (see my note below).

But even accepting the "stupid" interpretation: this still falls well below a standard for intervention (and, after all, what is acceptance than a failure to intervene?)

Offense, like pornography, depends on a highly personal standard. Generally, though, I think we give weight to symbols rooted in history: a student wearing a swastika, klan symbol, or even a men's shirt that said, for example, "Beat Your Wife" or something else terrible, would be admonished.

Without any other reference point, these shirts lack resonance as an offensive statement. Maybe you can make a case for personal offense. (And who am I to say what offends you? I'm one of the few who gets offended at nativity scenes on gov't property.) You still have to go a ways from there to an oppressive climate for boys (either that it is representative of a repressive view of the school, or that there is a sense of danger from the individuals that wear such a shirt).

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I don't really see it. This seems to me more like a case of finding offense than taking offense, a little indulging in victimization.

[Just a note: A quick google search on the phrase turned up a lot of hand-wringing talk, but no actual shirt, within the first few pages of results. I found a reference to the company that prints them, David and Goliath, but a search of their site turned up blank. I did find a bunch of "dumb blonde" shirts, and things like "I stole your boyfriend, ha ha." It seems that the line lampoons everyone.]

Revenant said...

Perhaps the reality is that, on average, boys are more prone to wandering around the school without permission and are more likely to resent authority of any form. Perhaps the teachers recognize that.

Perhaps. But would that justify "profiling" of that type? After all, there are many significant gender-based differences in schools, such as girls generally being less interested in math than boys are. Should teachers assume girls are uninterested in math and focus their efforts on teaching the boys? Or, perhaps, should they focus on the needs of the individual students?

Lori Heine said...

It's a shame that a serious issue like this has been hijacked by the usual phonies and hypocrites who stoke the fires of our "culture wars."

We need to be concerned about the education of ALL children -- male AND female. Instead, what seems to have happened is that those on the Left have "adopted" girls, while on the Right they are backing the boys. What utter twaddle.

A lot of good ideas are being expressed on this issue (this blog and some of its comments are an example). It's especially encouraging to hear from somebody who is (A) a real student at this time and (B) a male. There certainly doesn't seem to be anything wrong with HIS education.

If only the perpetrators of the "Left versus Right" fraud now being foisted on our country would actually busy themselves with improving education FOR ALL KIDS, instead of each picking a favorite sex and hammering at the other. But of course the government can't really do anything to improve education, except for staying out of the way of it -- the one thing that it is unwilling to do.

To further the fraudulent gospel of "the State is all-important," it must go on tinkering with our educational system no matter now much mischief it makes. Sometimes the liberals will be in charge and girls will be "helped," others the conservatives will be in power to "help" the boys.

They all would be helped a whole lot more if the State would simply dry up and blow away. Political hacks who play one sex of children against the other are criminally irresponsible. Let's get the parents more involved at a grassroots level. As most of them have both boys and girls, this will see to it that those truly invested in the kids' best interests will find creative new ways to help them all.

Oh, but of course this is the last thing the State wants.

Jim said...

"We need to be concerned about the education of ALL children -- male AND female. Instead, what seems to have happened is that those on the Left have "adopted" girls, while on the Right they are backing the boys. What utter twaddle."

AMEN!

My experience from calssroom teaching is that gender is a very unreliable way of discerning how a student is going to respond, what he/she needs from the teacher...however you care to formulate it. Half the time it was more useful to look at the kid's birthdate to tell what her/his birthsign was, it was that much more predictive.

The other thing to remember is that there is no one best way to teach even the same student. to begin with, no student is so monlithic as to require or do well with only one approach, and also, thse teaching approaches key on "learning styles". You want both to teach the kid in the stykle that best suits him/her AND also to teach him/her to learn to learn effectively in other styles - one of rcontent and one as a skill.

al fin said...

Girls benefit from affirmative action policies while making up 60% of college graduates. It is time to treat both sexes equally, finally.

Discrimination by sex should not be official policy of universities and employers any longer.

Revenant said...

Girls benefit from affirmative action policies while making up 60% of college graduates.

I don't think most colleges have affirmative action for women, do they? The only ones that I know of that do that sort of thing are tech-oriented universities like MIT and CalTech, where women are scarce.

Jean said...

I had to post. I'm a public high school teacher and I could see gender bias everywhere if I wished - or I could just admit that my students are different. More female students are suspended when they fight than when two boys fight - but the girlfights tend to be harder to break up. Boys are more likely to be punished for unruly behavior - but then again, the girls don't tend to wrap their friends in ducttape like their male counterparts did in the wall before class this morning. (They got off with a warning because I could barely stop myself from laughing.)
.
Of more concern to me is the idea that all young adults MUST go to college right after high school. Many of our graduates go into the military, to trade schools, or directly into a family business. (BTW daughters are less likely to take over the family business than sons.)
.
I'd also watch out for "gotcha" clauses in any study. Do they count all students, or just those enrolled at least 12 credits? To put it in perspective, for purposes of "No Child Left Behind" statistics, any high school student who doesn't graduate in four years is counted as a "dropout" - even if graduating after summer class.

Cathy Young said...

I want to thank everyone for very interesting and thoughtful comments.

mythago said...

As a parent of very active children, I found Sommers's book most useful as a doorstop. It was incredibly frustrating to read her pointing out many of the real problems with underfunded, assembly-line education, and then to point to the cause as: Feminist educrats hate our boys.

Sommers is a mother of boys, and I can't help thinking that she's personalized every difficulty her sons have had in school into "those evil feminazis are picking on my precious young males." Because it's crystal-clear that she has no clue of how schools react to active, outgoing girls, or how boys who are less than the Muscular Christian ideal fare.

The "chilly climate" comes from the fact that the sentiment is tolerated by those in authority

Nowhere has anyone shown, in any way, that this sentiment is 'tolerated by those in authority'. Cathy said that such shirts are sometimes treated as an expression of 'girl power'--carefully phrasing it in the passive, so that she needn't show who is doing the 'treating', or even that those shirts have a thing to do with the climate in schools.

drumgurl said...

I read in Newsweek about a proposal for sex-segregated education in which girls wouldn't have timed math tests. The reason was because girls are supposedly less competitive and don't like the timed tests. But you know what... too bad. Sometimes you have to do things you don't like in school. If you can't handle a timed test, then don't plan on going to college. As a recent grad, I can say with confidence that you will fail even the most basic course if you can't take a timed test.

The article also said that girls' classes would have time set aside to talk about feelings. I don't think that is a good idea either. First of all, no one will care about your wittle feelings in college. Second of all, it's not the place of public ed to do that. I would have been horrifed to be put in that situation as a kid (to be pressured to talk about my feelings). Kids go to school to learn, not to be coddled. If other students still need their binkie and blankie, it's not my problem.

mythago said...

Kids go to school to learn, not to be coddled.

Why the unsavory, fangs-out attitude towards children in education? It's a tough world out there, kiddies, you better grow a pair in kindergarten and deal with cold, cruel reality!

The reality is that all this crap about how girls don't like timed tests and want to talk about 'feelings' is wholly a projection by the adults.

Another reality is that schools DO need to take kids' feelings into account. It's not an excuse for academic laxitude. It IS reality that if you're a teacher or administrator who thinks Lord of the Flies is a fantastic social model, you're not going to end up with a successful student body.

drumgurl said...

Mythago, I didn't mean we should just not care about kids' feelings at all. I meant that it would be inappropriate to have a special "feelings" session -- epsecially just for the girls.

Of course there are some kids, boys and girls, who don't like timed tests (or any tests at all). If I sound angry, it's because I think it's a horrible idea to take the timed tests away from girls. Notice I said girls are *supposedly* less competitive. My point is that it doesn't matter if they are or aren't. They need the timed tests either way.

mythago said...

Then why the scornful disdain for "widdle feelings" (in kids who are, um, "widdle")?

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