Jump to content

'Boy' problem an overblown backlash against women's movement

Recommended Posts

'Boy' problem an overblown backlash against women's movement


Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Chait Barnett


I t was the early 1900s, and boys were supposedly in crisis. In monthly magazines, ladies' journals and books, urgent polemics appeared, warning that young men were spending too much time in school with female teachers and that the constant interaction with women was robbing them of their manhood.

What boys needed, the experts said, was time outdoors, rubbing elbows with one another and learning from male role models. That's what led -- at least in part -- to the founding of the Boy Scouts in 1910.

Now the cry has been raised again: We're losing our boys. The media have been hyping America's new "boy crisis."

Boys, these reports lament, are falling behind in academic achievement, graduating from high school at lower rates than girls, occupying fewer seats in college classrooms, displaying poorer verbal skills.

This time, some experts are calling for a complete overhaul of American education based on gender, saying that boys are wired differently from girls, learn in different ways and may need their own classes and schools. One high school student in Massachusetts has even filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his school is biased against males.

But are American boys in academic free-fall? Not really, if we look closely. Nor do they need boys-only classrooms to teach them in ways tailored for their unique brains.

The boy crisis we're hearing about is largely a manufactured one, the product of both a backlash against the women's movement and the media's penchant for continuously churning out news about the latest dire threat to the nation. And the subject got a big boost last year when First Lady Laura Bush announced that she was going to turn her attention to the problems of boys.

But those "problems" are hardly widespread. The alarming statistics are rarely broken out by race or class. When they are, it becomes clear that if there is a crisis, it's among inner-city and rural boys.

White suburban boys aren't significantly touched by it. On average, they are not dropping out of school, avoiding college or lacking in verbal skills. Among whites, the gender composition of colleges is pretty balanced: 51 percent female and 49 percent male, according to the National Education Association. And in Ivy League colleges, men still outnumber women.

When it comes to academic achievement, race and class completely swamp gender. The Urban Institute reports that 76 percent of students who live in middle- to higher-income areas are likely to graduate from high school, while only 56 percent of students who live in lower-income areas are likely to do so. Among whites in Boston public schools, for every 100 males who graduate, 104 females do. A tiny gap.

But among blacks, for every 100 males who graduate, 139 females do.

Still, a peculiar image of the "typical" boy has emerged in many media reports: He's unable to focus, can't sit still, hates to read, acts up in class, loves sports and video games, gets in trouble a lot. Indeed, such boys exist, but most research indicates they are not typical. Boys, in fact, are as -- or more -- different from one another as they are from girls.

Nonetheless, some are advocating boys-only classrooms.

Many, perhaps most, boys would be bored to tears in the kind of classroom that is now being described as "boy-friendly" -- a classroom that would de-emphasize reading and verbal skills and would rely on rote learning and discipline -- because it is really a remedial program in disguise. That's great for boys who need it, but most boys, especially those in affluent suburban schools, don't.

Still, some educators "are reviving an old idea: separate the girls from the boys." We may see a rush to single-sex classrooms that won't really be good educational policy.

In fact, according to a 2001 Ford Foundation report, the academic success of both girls and boys is influenced more by small classes, strong curricula and qualified teachers than by single-sex settings. Of course, this solution costs money, and has none of the sex appeal of the trendy single-sex-school quick fix.

Obsessing about a boy crisis or thinking that American teachers are waging a war on boys won't help kids. What will help is recognizing that students are individuals, with many different skills and abilities. And that goes for both girls and boys.

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Rosalind Chait Barnett is a senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. This commentary was first published in the Washington Post.

2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.




Link to post
Share on other sites

Yah, a journalism professor and a women's studies researcher. They're qualified to comment, eh? Some people never recognize the limits of their own competence.


Just like global warmin', what's interesting and important is not the current temperature, but the rate of change. The rate of change of boys' performance is a bit alarmin'.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...