Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Boys Still Lagging Behind

USA Today has a balanced editorial today on the problem of boys lagging behind girls in college admissions and overall academic performance. The undeniable facts are that in every socio-economic class and among all races, boys as a group are not up to par with their female peers in academics--although the problem is particularly pronounced among minorities and the poor. But some feminists are trying to dismiss the problem as "manufactured" and are insisting on gender equity in studies intended to focus on problems unique to (or, at any rate, more pronounced with) boys.

The paper speculates that the root cause of this gender gap is that today’s economy places higher value on literacy skills. It skirts away from the question of whether the educational establishment in this post-feminist era is geared in a way that intentionally favors girls. That case has been made persuasively in other articles and studies cited on this blog. Polemically there is much in this line of argument that is appealing and could prove useful . . . but perhaps the USA Today approach is even more useful in this case. To sum up their argument with their own words:

Promising ideas for addressing those problems include giving teachers courses on how boys and girls learn differently, adapting teaching techniques and reading assignments to restless boys, and experimenting with same-sex classrooms. The KIPP charter schools have found innovative ways to erase the stigma that reading is for girls.

In other words, look at what is working where it is working and apply it. Forget about the debate over what is causing the problem (and dismiss those who say there isn’t one). Just get serious about saving our boys. Even feminists have sons and, I presume, love them and want to see them prosper. I’d be willing to bury my hatchet if they would.

Discussions - 41 Comments

This is an interesting article. It’s been clear for a while that schools are failing boys.

I think you are spot on Julie, the data is in, and it’s time for action.

It is odd that people have trouble separating the concepts of difference and equality. Makes the subject something of a minefield.

I am no feminist but I would disagree that schools are failing boys...or that schools are intentionally geared towards educating women. A wise steam boat captain once said that one should never let school get in the way of an education...and boys are less prone to this sort of moral failing than women. Could one argue that technical schools are intentionally geared towards men? (sure) Is it true that if one does not go the technical school route one takes a college prep course? Of in addition to the insight of Mark Twain might it not be the case that more women take college prep courses? Is the Ivory tower seen as something of an unmanly guild? perhaps...does it matter in the end? I suppose so... But are schools "intentionally" failing boys? or does is this failure simply a manifestation of the nature of the new economy? One that is less dependent upon manual labor, farming, machining, manufacturing, mechanical work and instead accents computer literacy, teamwork, and derivatives of desk work and yesmanship that in general seem somewhat repulsive? I believe so...but I am just a boy looking to get out of the whitewashing and away from Aunt Polly.

Well it’s interesting, gender issues have apparently become much less sensitive than racial issues. Can you imagine substituting racial language for gender language in that quote?

"Promising ideas for addressing those problems include giving teachers courses on how boys and girls [whites and blacks]learn differently, adapting teaching techniques and reading assignments to restless boys [blacks] , and experimenting with same-sex [segregated] classrooms. The KIPP charter schools have found innovative ways to erase the stigma that reading is for girls [whites]."

Right on Contrarian... and because I have no fear. Let me add to and affirm that...boys are to women what blacks are to whites. But this doesn’t mean that schools are failing blacks...or boys for that matter...all it means is that on some level of self-identity...the hoops one is made to jump throught for the man are more repulsive for boys and blacks... While for boys I would think the reason has more to do with nature and for blacks more to do with society...of course we all have free will... and that is why I can’t agree with Julie and her nagging ilk. If I was born a black man I could be a Clarence Thomas or a Colin Powell...and If I was born a white man I could be a president of Harvard (assuming I checked my balls in at the door...)

The more interesting question is why do more white boys not want to be president of Harvard and why do more black boys not want to be Collin Powell or Clarence Thomas... These questions are easy enough to answer...I suppose... but could one say that the example of Collin Powell fails black boys, or the example of that pussy Harvard President fails white boys? Yes and No... all one can say is that in general most people don’t come to the table with the requisite disposition to become Hero (or Villian) X. In other words we are unique individuals and not aggregate clay "boys" to be molded in a form outside our choosing for the pleasure of others(mothers). Women are more likely to accept and (black people) are more likely to rebel against it...because all educations change us in some fundamental way...and we have a more accute self awareness of this change. If I was anyone but me would I be me? Is there no pride in me...that I would wish change at any cost upon my person?

I do not think that schools are not educating boys properly, but that there is a lack of interest for boys. Like John Lewis, I would look more at the reason that boys find school repulsive than to blame the educational environment.

My "best" students, whether they be boys or girls (for the past 4 years my AP class has been dominated by boys) come from homes in which education is highly valued and considered something to strive for. I would blame parents for their lack of educational support, before I blame teachers for not properly teaching boys.

I would blame parents for their lack of educational support, before I blame teachers for not properly teaching boys.

In general I don’t think that teachers are the problem, or parents for that matter. Rather the issue is methodology related.

Boys learn differently, and are different from, girls. Along the continuum of personality and skills, boys and girls occupy a different but overlapping range of the spectrum. This is in the first instance common sense, and more recently, increasingly borne out by research.

Several hundred thousand years of role diversification and hunter gathering have left boys better at creeping up on things, and throwing rocks accurately, while girls are better at engaging and interacting socially.

It’s a round peg, square hole kind of situation. No one is at fault, but a solution is required.

Brian...I constantly vary my instructional strategies in order to "hit" every different type of personality in my room. It is true that some kids are more hands on, while others prefer more traditional styles of learning. However, the students who do not succeed with any strategy, regardless if they are boys or girls, are those who come from poorer families where education is not valued. These are the parents who never come to parent teacher meetings, who don’t return parent phone calls and who put education down in front of their children.

So, while reinventing the wheel sounds good from one perspective, perhaps one should do more to get parents and the public involved in education.

I think teachers...try hard... lord knows all of mine did...(and little good it did them) they didn’t learn me a thing.(none of the old river people ever said "teach"). By the way...I have to reproach my teachers for never assigning me Life on the Mississippi...or maybe I should thank them that they didn’t(since I actually ended up reading the whole thing). But you can talk about "education" till we all turn blue(or perhaps red in the case of the NoLeftTurn folk)...The education of a human being will always be commesurate with what he(or she)is comfortable projecting. It isn’t so much about different learning techniques as it is about the thirst of the horse. I also think identity crises, struggles, goals and achievements play a far greater role than learning disabilities in hindering education(This should go without saying in those who haven’t been diagnosed with any...but perhaps also in those who have)

To put it another way...Mark Twain could memorize the Mississippi only because his boyhood dream was to be a pilot. Those without boyhood dreams can’t bring themselves to do much of anything(no matter how intelligent they are on some IQ test.) If boys are failing in education it is because the direction of the dreams they pursue(if they pursue any to begin with) are not congruent with the standardised tests... It is no secret that the dream of playing in the NBA, NFL or MLB is is also no secret that boys today are bigger, stronger and faster than ever...nor is it a secret that they are more adept with computers(than ever before)...look to the dreams and aspirations of the youngster and there you will find his education...but the liberal education is dying... because of the requirement of specialization (see Ortega) and the liberal education is even dying in sports(if this is not a this I mean that multi-sports atheletes are more and more rare)...So if we see drop off in some areas I believe this is to be expected...also remmember that it is only recently(last 100 years) that so many have received an education...

I come from a blue collar family and circle of friends. Just from my observations, could it be than many boys see themselves as working in construction trades, police officers, manufacturing, automotive, etc. and take a more vocational route, while girls may see themselves as teachers, nurses, accountants and take a course of action that requires college?

I think this is true in my family. It isn’t right or wrong, it just is. Most of the men work in the construction or manufacturing sector. Most of the women work in clerical or health-care fields. The clerical and health-care fields tend to push people towards college education for advancement while the construction and manufacturing fields don’t seem to.

We could be overthinking the issue of how many females vs. males are in college - it may have nothing to do with public schooling, but more of the roles young people see for themselves.

I actually think there is alot of truth in what John Lewis says and I admire him for saying it--in that hands off way that one sometimes admires Nietzsche’s insights. On the other hand, I still think that a teacher (unencumbered by an "education" in "education" or rules from some union or hovering, nagging parents whose kids never do wrong or lame bureaucratic administrators or P.C. state legislatures) might be able to use his insights to the very great good of many boys like him and old Tom Sawyer. There will always be a large number of Hucks out there who must educate themselves in their own way because no one can learn them a thing (unless, perhaps--and only perhaps, it is a Jim). But are there really so many more Hucks today than there were just a few decades ago? Has our economy and our society changed SO much that we no longer produce enough boys with enough eros for politics to sustain us? Must we now be ruled by yesmen and--(dare I say it?)-- nagging women? I’m really asking the question. Has society changed THAT much? If so, then that’s a whole new ballgame. I think it is unlikely, but I’m open to the discussion.

Julie - I think there really are many more levels to consider. You ask if society has really changed that much in a few decades.. Well - yes.

Occupations for women have opened up, many more girls are encouraged to have careers instead of being house wives, the GI bill probably led to a boom of men in College, etc.

I think this issue needs to look more at society than educational technique. In blue collar families, boys see their dad’s working in trades that don’t require a college education, when girls see their mothers not advancing without a college degree and might be more encouraged to be more diligent in their studies.

I’m studying calculus so I can work my way up to tensor calculus so I can understand Einstein in the original. I’m 40+ years out of high school.

I blame it on my Jewish mother.

Every one ought to have one.

Nick is on to something. Men thrive with jobs in "construction trades, police officers, manufacturing, automotive" etc. Unfortunately, so-called "conservatives," with their invade the world, invite the world foreign policy and their complete unwillingness to protect American manufacturing have made it impossible for men to support a family in these traditional forms of employment. Men are left with nothing but girly-work. And with all due respect to Mansfield and Schramm, reading about Odyesseus ain’t going to get this baby bathed.

I’m studying calculus Comment 13 by M. Simon

How interesting that must be for you. How boring it would be for me, no sarcasm intended.

My point is that what is interesting to one may be a drudgery to another and I think boys have a lower tolerance level for boredom, at least mine do, as did I when I was their respective ages.

So what’s the answer? We’re trying to find something, ANYTHING, that our sons have an interest in, then have them study the hell out of that subject in the hopes the discipline of study they will have learned in the process can be extended into other areas of interest later. It’s a work in progress.

A very wise professor (not, in this instance, Prof. Schramm--though his wisdom has been invaluable to me) once told me that if you study what you love and love the hell out of it there will always be a place for you in the world. I think that is largely true. I also think that all of education needs to allow more room for self-direction. We all need the basics but there should be more room for and demand of students to pursue those things that really grab their souls. I know that for my husband there were only three things that kept him from becoming a drop-out due to the kind of boredom Nick and the Contrarian describe: 1. a challenge/dare from a snotty boy in his class 2. a demanding (even _itchy) nun who saw potential in him and conspired with his parents to set him straight and 3. the promise of technical high school where he could pursue his love of mechanical things.

A few decades have produced alot of changes. Here are three: 1. snotty boy would now be called a "bully" and sent to sensitivity training or prescribed Ritalin 2. there are no (or few) nuns at the Catholic schools (and the ones that are there are not as tough as those old ones and 3. there are few serious technical schools and the ones that do exist are not afforded the respect they deserve. There has been a real neglect and even disrespect of manly work as such. I agree with you guys in that much. I think we disagree about the reasons for those changes and I still doubt that those changes alone have been enough to explain a generation of Hucks.

We all need the basics but there should be more room for and demand of students to pursue those things that really grab their souls.

It’s such a pleasure to be agreeing, it’s making me giddy:-)

My daughter, although an adequate student, often complains of being bored at school. However, a few months ago, she had a test on European countries, capitals and geographic placement which snagged her interest.

She was enthusastic about it, and we took up the torch and made about 44 flash cards with capitals on one side, and countries on the other. For about a week, she and I spent 30 minutes each day going through them.

She owned the test and was 1 of 3 in a group of 44 that got every single one of 80 questions right. Man, we were thrilled!!

For her however, the value was not in the learning as such, but the sudden realisation of cause and effect. I studied, therefore I did well, went from head to heart knowledge. Since then she has become notably more engaged.

The trick is, how do you give every child, boy or girl, at least one such experience early on?

Brian...that reminds me of what I did in my History classroom to get kids interested in History...I have a girl who just loves JFK..for Christmas she got a book about JFK (An Unfinished life). When she told me about it, I went and bought the book and started reading it along with her. I made a test on it so she could get points for her English class (we have a program at our school called Accelerated Reader where students have to read books and get so many points a marking period for their English grade). We also met and discussed it. Her enthusiasm has rubbed off and now I have a few more students who are reading books with me and meeting to discuss it...kinda like our own History book club. They are boys and girls..right now we are reading Andrew Jackson by H.W. Brands and next the Cold War by John Gaddis. I vary the books to keep everyones interest. But, these students are hooked and it is amazing and wonderful!!

Lori demonstrates a clear instance of a teacher adapting to her students’ needs / interests. My question is, how many teachers are honestly willing and able to spend their own money possibly, and certainly their own time to do that? She bought one book to challenge one student, which has turned into more books and more students (girls AND boys). Look at Brian, who actually spent 30 minutes a day studying with his daughter, which impacted her enthusiasm for learning. Hello? Anybody see the answer here???

I think we should bring Larry Summers back to explain this! What happened to the genetic inferiority of women in the science and math fields?

There is a great deal of home-spun common-sense goofiness being thrown and caught, here.

"boys are to women what blacks are to whites" I assume you mean boys are to girls....?

Does this mean that Blacks can look forward to running the country, the corporations, etc., when they "grow up?" They will be pleased to hear that, if your simile is valid.

The biggest relevant difference between young boys and girls in grade- and middle-school is activity level. Boys have a much harder time, as a group, conforming to teachers’ needs for quiet, sustained periods without physical activity. Therefore, boys are punished more often, reprimanded more often, and expected to act out more often. As a result, they find the school atmosphere less welcoming, less supportive, and more aversive. Of course, they can always find support and recognition playing football, soccer, etc., and they are (generally) smart enough to see that sports are more fun and valuable to their parents than are good grades. When classroom behavior problems can be unconfounded from academic performance, then we can seriously assess how boys might fare on a level playing field. When Honor Roll banquets equal Varsity banquets in number, attendance, intensity, and financial support, then boys may begin to turn their attention more to academics. So far, there is very little research to report the wisdom, here, that there are "learning style" differences. In fact, the "Learning Style" research is itself a load of hooey. I would be happy to explain that, if anyone is interested, but suffice it (for now) to say that the money spent on adjusting "teaching style" to accommodate "learning styles" is 100% wasted. I would rather spend it on standardized testing, and I am no fan of that, either!

I’m inclined to agree with FMG on the stuff about different "learning styles." Usually when I hear that term, it’s from an educrat who’s looking for an excuse to dumb down the curriculum.

I also agree that the whole "learning styles" phenomenon is, to put it charitably, overdone. It might also be "a load of hooey" as FMG put it. I just think that people should be encouraged to pursue the things that they love and find interesting. Learning should be one of the most erotic experiences of one’s life--whether it is Einstein’s physics that does it for you or political philosophy. Learning fills the highest yearning of the human soul and no matter what it is that you are learning (unless, perhaps it is the hooey they teach in education departments) you are the better for it. So I say whatever it takes to get kids (boys and girls) to get that is what I favor. But if what we’re doing now is not working for this large a number of boys then we’re doing something wrong. It’s time to try new (or old) things--even if it involves sacrificing some sacred cows.

BTW: For Brian. I don’t know how old your daughter is, but my daughter is 6 (and like your daughter, is often bored at school). But last year her kindergarten teacher introduced us to a very engaging way for teaching geography to very young children. She would ask the kids to come up to the front of the room where the map was and she would read the labels on their clothes. The kids would all get the biggest kick out of the fact that their clothes had travelled on a boat or airplane to come finally to them. They would have the name of the country whispered in their ear and then they would tell the other students the first letter in the name of the country where their shirt came from. The other students had to guess and whoever guessed correctly would have to come to the map and show us where it was. They enjoyed it so much that they started bringing in bags of clothes and looking in the stores for the most unusual labels. We started doing the same at home and my son (who last year was only 3) was able at one point to find nearly 50 countries on the map without blinking! Now they have those plastic placemats that have a map of the world on them at their places at our table. Our rule (it’s really a game) is that if you spill food you have to identify the country (or ocean, etc.) that you spill on. I don’t know if this has done much to improve my kids’ manners--but they’re loving geography.

I agree with you, Julie.

Wow Julie, the labels idea and food idea are both brilliant!

For the record I also want to take the opportunity to agree with Julie:-) There seems to be a significant body of evidence showing that boys are struggling.

Even if we have not pinned down the specific reason, we need to start assessing some alternate options, and seeing how they turn out.

I recently heard that seperating boys and girls for certain classes is quite effective. English and Maths were the two subjects mentioned. I couldn’t find anything online though. Anybody see anything about that?

Is this a world-wide phenomenon?

Is this a world-wide phenomenon?

It’s been discussed in Sweden and Ireland certainly, and if it’s also happening in the US I suspect it’s worldwide.

and Germany ....

and South Africa though you’ll need to dig the relevant bits out of this site, butit’s iin there :

Yep, worldwide.

We had a similar game at our house, when my kids were little. We would buy our clothes at a WalMart, and then look at the labels, identifying the places where they had been manufactured. Then, we would match those countries with photographs of children just like my kids, only they lived in those countries where the clothes were made, and worked in horrible conditions for next-to-no money. We would then match those photos with even MORE pictures of American families, huddled around the Christmas tree, and wishing that Daddy and Mommy still had the jobs that they had lost to families in China, Mexico, and India.

Boy, I miss those dasy!

Sorry. Boy, I miss those "days." I had tears in my eyes, and could not see the keyboard.

Presumably FMG thinks it would be better if those kids in other countries went back to the "good old days" when their families had absolutely nothing because there were NO jobs and even more American families were huddled around Christmas trees with nothing to open because they were spending all their money on outrageously priced clothing. But why are we ruining the wonderful and rare spirit of agreement here?

But why are we ruining the wonderful and rare spirit of agreement here

Online troll syndrom, I’ve done it myself. Happens to the best of us. An overwhelming urge to say something annoying, disruptive and basically unproductive.

I agree with were FMG is coming from I hasten to add, those are all real issues, however it’s not going to add anything to this discussion:-(

How many kids do you have Julie?

One of each--a boy and a girl. And you?

May I also add some anecdotal evidence to our growing body of evidence? I was volunteering yesterday at my daughter’s school because they needed someone to erase all the stray marks in their standardized test booklets. (They’re doing those horrible SAT tests this week.) And the boys in the (first grade) class were overwhelmingly having a rough day--lots of tears and long faces. All that boring, sitting still, relentless answering of inane questions and the like . . . It was torture for them. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them (and many of the girls too--though they seemed to be coping better as a whole) and wonder if there wasn’t a better way. Or, more to the point, if this was even necessary? For my part (without giving her permission to fail) I assured my daughter that I don’t really care a wit for how she does on this "test." I know all the standardized test fans will come out of the woodwork here but I can’t help it . . . I hate them and I hate them with every fiber of my being. I suspect that there is some particularly horrible circle of hell where the tormented are forced to sit forever taking a standardized test!

Oy, Fung, study some economics. Go back and compare today’s unemployment rate and median family income to how things were back in the "good old days" when virtually everything Americans consumed was produced domestically. I know I wouldn’t want to trade places with people who lived back then.

some particularly horrible circle of hell where the tormented are forced to sit forever taking a standardized test!

Hmmm ... I don’t know about that. In Sweden for the first 6 years of school they have little or no standardised tests, but it seems to be worsening standards. There is an ongoing discussion here about it. Certainly Malin was well ahead of her Swedish counterparts on the basis of her more traditional Irish schooling. She is still a year ahead 4 years later.

The most interesting idea I have heard is a school in Stockholm. Each year has a curriculum, but day to day kids can work on whatever they like. There are weekly check points to ensure that no single subject is falling hopelessly behind, but if a kid wants to spend all day on Tuesday doing maths, it’s their call.

I really liked that idea, because it allows kids to get into a subject, and explore it in detail rather than artifical 40 minute segments.

I have an 11 year old daughter. When you have your own kids suddenly it’s a subject that gets your attention eh wot?:-)

Yeah those terrible days before we had 40 million abortions. Those terrible days when America could actually sustain its population without bringing in 12 million illegals. Those terrible days when one guy could work at a factory and support a family of five.

Okay, sorry about the Walmart thing. Chastisement received and deservedness acknowledged.

Back to the spirit of agreement: At our house, we have a method for distinguishing course-based exams (which contribute to the student’s development) and standardized exams (which contribute to the school’s report card).

When the exam scores reflect on the school, we receive an admonition to provide our children with a good breakfast, and a good night’s sleep the night before. When the exam is merely for the sake of the student’s assessment and development, we are welcome to deprive them of both food and sleep.

This is how our kids know what kind of exam they are preparing, or being prepared for.

Touche! Right On, FMG! That is EXACTLY true! We got the same admonition from our school! But the up-side is that we didn’t have to do any of that mind-numbing homework this week. So after she completed her daily reading assignment (from me, not from school) I let her stay up past her bedtime and watch T.V. This morning I let her eat whatever she wanted for breakfast. Next week, when they actually go back to learning something, we’ll go back to a more stable routine! See . . . Jefferson was right. A little rebellion every now and again can be a good thing!

"Go back and compare today’s unemployment rate and median family income to how things were back in the "good old days" when virtually everything Americans consumed was produced domestically. I know I wouldn’t want to trade places with people who lived back then."

Good point: Dr. Mosier, things aren’t that bad...(i.e. there aren’t that many more Hucks...and if there were it wouldn’t be a bad thing)Additional point: Men still make more money than women. Why is this? because Men have a way of learning things when the end result is tangible...(like Julie says of Jefferson...a little rebellion now and then can be a good thing, albeit we ask forgiveness for giving the poor old ladies hell!)and we won’t grow up until then...and we only grow up in the pertinent area.

Okay my real point: get off our backs... I happen to be college top it off my military test scores put me in the top 99%... but I would be a fool if I didn’t take for granted a simple fact: For every 5 soilders I meet, one of them is smarter than I am(I am talking enlisted!). At the very least 4 out of 5 are more mechanically inclined than I am..and some of them have esoteric knowledge the likes of which ammazes me. Boys today aren’t "stupider" than any that have came before, they just could care less about your testing methods....(unless it comes time to go to the NCO board...and then talk about route memorization,and putting on a show)

Essentially I am fighting a war... a cultural war against the "good ol’ days" people...Everywhere it seems people are giving up and saying the sky is falling. It isn’t and to believe it is un-american. If there is one trend in history it is the belief that this time period (pick any point in history) is more decrepit, more corrupt than the one that preceded it. It isn’t, and wasn’t, albeit it may be in areas(at least since the original birth and dominance of classical liberal ideas/industrial revolution)...but these changes are just the result of economic/social realities manifesting themselves, and people addopting to and overcomming them. Say what you may philosophically...the facts are in.. we countinue to see an unprecedented growth in knowledge(both general and specialized) productivity and standard of living...(if candles can even be compared to floresent lights...if bleeding can even be compared to triple bipass surgery...not to mention antibiotics...if World War II can even be compared to the War in Iraq...(It can’t... I am not sitting here with trench foot...holding unto a rain drenched black and white photo...wipping the get the idea... No, I am blogging on high speed wireless seeing 3 million colors and live video feeds on a high-def monitor in the middle of "wartorn" Iraq for christ sakes...The A/C almost makes it cold!) There is no crisis...but I do think it may be healthy in some regards to have the attitude that there might be one...keeps us from being complacent. Keeps us proactive...keeps us asking how to do things better...In a way the fact that we are always talking about how bad things are (pick your favorite pet injustice..sin...) means that we are working to make it better. And that is american.

Godbless, and keep complaining! Just don’t complain about my generation...or boys..or education...or the war in Iraq...or myspace...or foreign trade...or immigration...oh what the hell...complain about all of it...but keep perspective, if such a thing is possible:)

Good points all, John. I like your spirit. People like you will help us win this war and I thank you for your service. I agree with you that boys today are not any less intelligent than boys of yesterday. But teaching has changed and it has changed in ways that may not always be best for boys--particularly for spirited boys with natures like yours. I just don’t want to see that kind of spirit beaten out of boys. I’ve got nothing against your (our?) generation. But I don’t much like alot of the social experimentation that has been foisted upon us in the last 30 years or so in the name of some abstract notion of "equality" or "gender neutrality."

On the other hand, like it or not, you must admit that your earnings point is not your strongest. Women earn less, in large part, because they work less. Or, to be more precise, they work for pay less because they very often work at home raising children. Who knows what would be what if that were not the case? But I, for one, hope we never find out.

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