January 19, 2006

The gender gap in education.

Richard Whitmire, in The New Republic, considers the new gender gap in education and the lack of attention to it. Boys, not girls, are falling behind. The studies and statistics are very hard to face up to. After so much attention to helping girls overcome their educational problems, it's difficult to believe we need to change things to cater to boys, especially when the primary complaint about the boys seems to be that they aren't motivated to work as hard as the girls. And then there is the notion that there's a profound difference at the neurological level:
The brains of men and women are very different. Last spring, Scientific American summed up the best gender and brain research, including a study demonstrating that women have greater neuron density in the temporal lobe cortex, the region of the brain associated with verbal skills. Now we've reached the heart of the mystery. Girls have genetic advantages that make them better readers, especially early in life. And, now, society is favoring verbal skills. Even in math, the emphasis has shifted away from guy-friendly problems involving quick calculations to word and logic problems.

Increasingly, teachers ask students to keep written journals, even as early as kindergarten. What gets written isn't polished prose, but it is important training, say teachers, some of whom rely on the book Kid Writing, which advocates the use of writing to teach children basic skills in a host of subjects. The teachers are only doing their jobs, preparing their students for a work world that has moved rapidly away from manufacturing and agriculture and into information-based work. It's not that schools have changed their ways to favor girls; it's that they haven't changed their ways to help boys adjust to this new world.

Suddenly, the anecdotal evidence becomes obvious. Open the door of any ninth-grade "academy" that some school districts run--the clump of students predicted to sink in high school--and you'll see a potential football team. Nearly all guys. Ninth grade is where boys' verbal deficit becomes an albatross that stymies further male academic achievement. That's the year guys run into the fruits of the school-reform movement that date back to the 1989 governors' summit in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Democrats and Republicans vowed to shake up schools. One outcome of the summit is that, starting in ninth grade, every student now gets a verbally drenched curriculum that is supposed to better prepare them for college. Good goal, but it's leaving boys in the dust.
What's the solution? The article offers little other than the importance of acknowledging that there is a problem. Well, there's a suggestion high school textbooks be made into comic books to help boys. If the problem really is as bad as this article makes it sound, shouldn't we consider separating the boys from the girls?

UPDATE: I wanted to add that I would strongly object to public schools offering only all-boys and all-girls schools. I think instead there could be two schools, one adapted to the set of skills and behaviors that these scientific studies are associating with with boys and the others doing the same with girls, but then each child could choose which one to attend. For example, one school could have frequent sports breaks and the other could have longer classes. One could have high pressure exams and the other a steady flow of homework assignments.

99 comments:

HomeImprovementNinja said...

THere's a great book called "You Just Don't Understand" which explains (using empirical research) a lot of the differences in ways that men and women communicate. Since many of these differences appear too early on to be socialized, it's a good argument for saying that they are biological.

Dave said...

This doesn't really make much sense.

When I was in ninth grade I was reading Dostoevsky. Are we implying that I am secretly a girl because I had the language skills to digest nineteenth century Russian writers?

What's not said in the article you quote is that one's cognitive development is function of one's parents' education and background, and the environment in which you grew up.

Consider your own sons, Ann. Did they exhibit such a language deficit in the ninth grade? Being that they are the sons of a law professor, I sincerely doubt that, even if they were potential members of a football team.

Let's lay the cards out on the table here: parents who inculcate in their children the importance of education, and who provide an environment in which intellect and inquiry can thrive will have a much easier time of it in school. Parents who fail to engender these qualities in their children, either through neglect or incompetence or both will have children consigned to the academic margins.

Mike said...

My father-in-law is a middle school band teacher and he had a concert the other night at a local high school. I went with my wife to the concert. Near the entrance was the pictures of all the senior National Honors Society Members. There were fourteen, and thirteen were girls. This is of course anecdotal, but I'm sure that this is not so atypical.

My wife commented that the gap is even obvious in her elementary school classroom. She thinks that schools are more girl-centric in part because of the push for standardized testing way earlier. Boys, she says, just don't do well because they just don't have the ability to sit still for as long as girls can. The way early childhood education is taught now is like most older classrooms, which is starkly different than how things were in the past which focused on play and hands-on oriented activities (also the things that boys are much better at).

She, like most every other teacher, knows that there's a huge difference between the way the average boy and the average girl learns.

She thinks it has less to do with actual focusing on girls-though there is something to that as well. Substantive teaching has changed in significantly over the last several decades. The problem is that if boys don't get the basics early on via any method, they're almost certainly going to be behind for the remainder of their education.

Again, that's not to say that all boys fail in this environment, that's certainly not true. Just as it's not true that every girl failed before. We're talking averages here.

What needs to change? I'm not sure. My wife thinks that either boys need to adapt, or we need to find a way to teach to the differences.

Troy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Troy said...

I tend to agree with Dave... is there any correlation between family circumstance, education level of parents, presence, or lack thereof of either parent, etc.)?

My 6-year old son has read since he was 3 and can read at a high level. He hates his journal however (and I am beginning to). For MLK day he had to write down what his dream was for the world. WTF?!? Joshua's response: "I don't have a dream!" Of course if he writes that or "Chocolate chip cookies for everyone all the time" or "Spongebob for President of the world" then he's being un-PC. Or perhaps I'm transferring my adult paranoias to him.

Anyway, his teacher usually does OK things with the journal. Tell me your favorite animal, country, etc., but she must get some hair raisers with the tell me about your family assignments.

Mmmmmmbeer (love that name)... My son's 1st grade environment seems very girl-friendly and the GATE testing is already hanging like the Sword of Damocles. I will say though that the table where the highest level of reading goes on is populated by 6: 4 boys and 2 girls -- anecdotal I realize...

LarryK said...

I'm surprised it's controversial that, on average, girls are more verbally adept than boys - just listen to the conversations around you, and it's hard not to conclude that women are usually better talkers than men (how's that for male eloquence?). I'm not sure why this is so, but it's been true as long as I can remember, and long before any post-1989 education reforms.

I suppose it would be better if verbal skills were more equitably divided between the genders but, in the long run, does it matter? The "problems" that boys have sitting still and learning when they're young could turn out to be compensating advantages as they get older e.g. testosterone-fueled aggression, properly channeled becomes drive, ambition and achievement. Of course, the key words here are "properly channeled", which points up the need for proper socialization and fostering good habits, especially for boys and especially at young ages.

Yes, we're talking about averages, and some girls/women will be highly driven to achieve just like some boys/men will be linguistically gifted, but I think we're fighting reality (or biology, if you prefer) if we expect boys and girls to display the same skills and try to design our educational systems accordingly.

OK, now everyone can pounce on this incredibly sexist post...

Pogo said...

I agree with dave. What leaves boys behind is not the lack of verbal potential. Take a look at what 8th graders mastered in the patriarchal 1950s and compare that to today's material. Textbooks then were considerably more difficult.

What's changed is the societal approach to rearing and teaching children. One can debate the relative contributions of:

1. Children are now mostly raised in an institutional setting even from infancy.

2. Intellectual achievement is highly regarded primarily among the professional classes. It is a matter of indifference or outright derision in many subcultures.

3. Pedagogy has become focused entirely on girls.

4. Teaching has succumbed to fads on a repeated basis. Some have been deleterious.

5. The primary civilizer of human offspring (the family) has declined in recent decades. As a result, misbehavior is rampant, and teaching becomes impossible.

6. An anti-white male bias known as "diversity" and "multiculturalism" has undoubtedly affected the desire and ability for at least one group of boys to succeed. (How could such a message not do so?)

7. Despite vast increases in education spending over the last 3 decades, fewer dollars end up in the classroom, more being spent on important administrative matters.

Bonnie said...

I'll point a finger of blame. The blame is with a school system that is designed by women, administrated by women, taught by women and graded by women.

Oh, and look at that -- girls do great in these schools. Wow, what an astonishing coincidence.

I have three boys and a girl. The school (and my kids go to a very good charter school) put far too much emphasis on fine motor skills and sitting still. And how about that reading material -- Charlotte's Web (girl hero.) Island of the Blue Dolphins (girl hero.) Little House on the Prairie (girl hero.) Harry Potter is banned outright, history textbooks are purged of all stories of bloody battles, and hey let's draw some unicorns today for Earth Day!

My sons are readers, but not because of school. My eldest is passing around "Ice Station" by Matthew Reilly, full of action and gunfire and explosions, and it's being smuggled like a Playboy magazine because the teachers would never stand for it.

The only male teachers who make it into high school are neutered liberal sissies who are little Ward Churchill wanna-be's, delighting in teaching anti-capitalism and "peace" activism.

We need vouchers and we need them now. In the meantime, does anyone know how to apply to Hogwarts?

David said...

Just for the sake of argument, let us consider this state of events as the logical result of the emasculation of the male in American Society.

The recent brouhaha at Harvard, which stirred up the feminists, making one of them physically ill at the political correctness violation by their male president, speaks volumes.

The "touch-feely" curriculums of fluff currently masquerading as education these days bores male students!

A liberal education should not include such classes as:

a. Recreation and Leisure studies;
b. Conflict and Peace studies;
c. Basic massage;
d. Rock Climbing;
e. The Chicano Family;

Consider this partial list of projects on one campus in California:

a. Center for Educational Research and Services;
b. Department of Educational Research and Administration;
c. Reading Recovery Project;
d. Interdisciplinary Spatial Information Systems Center;
e. Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning;
f. Distance Learning;
g. Intensive Learning Experience Program
h. Women's resource center;

Add to this the various counseling, rehabilitation, referral, upward bound/downward bound (made that one up), disabilities and outreach, etc. and victim advocacy groups and you get the picture.

The average white male student is not even allowed to be a victim in all this but portrayed as basically a perp. The programs he would be interested in, computer games, software development, science, math, etc. is discouraged if it can be attached to military activities. So much for ROTC and military recruiting.

It seems to me this sorry state of affairs began in the 70's when men were driven to find their 'inner man' and feminize it.

Whatever happened to Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic and grading on the bell curve?!

I recently met a young boy I mistakenly addressed as "Andy Dude, how are you doing?" in the presence of his mother. She admonished me in front of the boy stating that his name was 'Andrew' not Andy! So much for the male influence on young Andrew!

Ricardo said...

While I know we don't want to leave any child (male or female) behind in the dust, what exactly is it that we're trying to accomplish? Are we trying to make differences between the sexes disappear? There has already been a lot of that in our culture during the last decades, as men have been encouraged to become feminized, and women have been encouraged to become masculinized. I tend to agree with larryk, in that there are natural differences between the sexes. Trying to neuter the differences is a bad idea. This doesn't mean that both sexes shouldn't be taught verbal skills they will need to succeed later on. But it means we should also be encouraging an individuality in expression, rather than conformity to some arbitrary standard set by educators or administrators.

amba said...

My blogger nephew at Stepping Stone is (in a form of heroism, I think, that should be far more ordinary) a male second-grade teacher in a bilingual school in Chicago. He has written a very thoughtful post, inspired by the book Raising Cain, on how schools are now short-changing boys and how he himself, as a former boy, needs to be more aware of his boys' more unruly and physical, but just as effective, style of learning.

One thing I learned from his post that I hadn't been fully aware of and that just broke my heart: recess has been eliminated in most public schools, thanks to the enormous pressure to get test scores up. I don't think they have "gym" any more, either. This means that boys (and girls too, but it's worse for boys) never get to release the pent-up energy that they've had to contain while sitting at their desks -- and this in a culture that complains about kids being overweight "couch potatoes." I just find that so stupid and sad. I'll bet the test scores would benefit from a reinstatement of recess.

HaloJonesFan said...

And, of course, the article obeys the Althouse Law of Gender Studies. According to the article, girls had trouble in school because of institutional bias. Boys have trouble in school because of problems intrinsic to the male gender.

gj said...

David (or should I say "Davey"?) -

what's wrong with having a mother object to your use of a feminized nickname for her boy?

My name is Andrew. Both of my parents were always clear to people they knew that my name was not "Andy."

Is it just that you didn't like being corrected in public by a woman?

reader_iam said...

This topic upsets me so much that I have a tough time commenting on it and simply can't blog about it.

Let's lay the cards out on the table here: parents who inculcate in their children the importance of education, and who provide an environment in which intellect and inquiry can thrive will have a much easier time of it in school. Parents who fail to engender these qualities in their children, either through neglect or incompetence or both will have children consigned to the academic margins.

Dave, this is such a simplistic, overstatement that I don't know what to say. Rare for me, I take it personally, find it offensive, and upon reading it initially, was so angry, I left my computer.

I do know that it is DEAD WRONG in our case, with our exceptionally bright child (not just our assessment), being raised in an exceptionally rich environment, by parents who were both academic achievers and are committed life-long learners.

He's struggling in kindergarten, for all the reasons alluded to in this article. In 5 months' time, he's gone from being excited about school to hating it.

(And he actually demonstrated very early gifts in language, by the way--20 words at 11 months, correctly using "ramshackle," for example, at 18 months, etc.)

But he finds it tough to sit still (in all-day kindergarten) and do the fine motor activities. Punishment for that? Removal of recess. How that makes sense to any rational person with any insight into active 5-year-old boys is utterly and completely beyond me.

Bonnie, I'm with you. I'm seeing it firsthand.

HaloJonesFan said...

gj: When was "Andy" feminized?

And I'd be more offended by the extreme reaction to my attempt at casual familiarity, than to the fact that it was a woman who was doing it.

Although I do admit that if a man had said that to me, my instinctive response would be "kick his ass!" Not that I would, but that would be my first thought. If a woman said it, my first thought would be "crazy broad."

Is that insensitive? Oh, well. Whip me, spank me, 'coz I'm insensitive.

Meade said...

David: I hope Andrew learns to speak up for himself and not rely on his parents to solve all his social challenges, as in "David, dude, doing well, and you? Oh, and, not to be unfriendly, it's 'Andrew.' My mom hates 'Andy.' But (with a big grin) you can just call me "dude."

Pogo said...

Re: Andy vs. Andrew:

The feminized error is an adult female failing to recognize the diminutive nickname as an adults male method of indicating fond recognition of a younger male. It is part of the ancient process by which males become men.

More simply: "Andy, Dude!" means "I, the authority figure male, accept and like you, young man." Nicknaming is a male thing, to be sure. The refusal to permit nicknames for "Andrew" or "Steven" is not uncommonly a gay thing, too. ("It's Stephen, not Steve.") I don't know why.

reader_iam said...

I started reading Dostoevsky at age 9, by the way. In 9th grade, I was reading Dumas, Sartre, and Camus in French. What the heck does that have to do with inappropriate teaching methods and expectations, in the aggregate, throughout the system for boys?

Sissy Willis said...

Pogo is right that "teaching has succumbed to fads on a repeated basis. Some have been deleterious."

The phenomenon is as old as public education theory and practice in America, from its sturdy Emersonian roots in the nineteenth century to its mushy Deweyesque fruits today:

"Don't trust children with edge tools"

ShadyCharacter said...

reader_iam,

now your name makes more sense :)

Ross said...

"Society favors verbal skills" is no doubt true, but society also greatly values (stereotypically male) math skills. And schools these days more than ever value test-taking skills. Gosh, it wasn't too long ago when standardized tests were considered a male chauvinist bastion. When did that change?

Simon Kenton said...

Reader_iam -

The teachers noticed they were not reaching some of the little boys, so my ex-wife got our oldest son (23 at the time) to come in and spend time with them. He began teaching the boys to own their behaviors. "You want to act like a dirtbag, act like a dirtbag. I did it too. So'd my dad. We ALL want to act like dirtbags sometimes. Just make sure you decide to act like a dirtbag, and don't pretend you're surprised when the teachers get you for it afterward." They worshipped him.

And as soon as the teachers realized how important these visits were to the little boys, they began to take them away, as 'consequences' for misbehavior.

Bonny -

We did what we could, but I never made much money and still don't. We got the kids in a Waldorf school for as long as we could afford it. They recognized the kids had bodies which had to be reckoned with before they could learn, and set them doing vigorous dances, and brisk walks when the whole class was rowdy, and had recess twice a day. Vouchers would have been a big help in those years. But I don't see how we get them past the NEA, the Democrat Party, and the judiciary.

dave -

Yeah yeah yeah, all we commenters here at Althouse read 3 or 4 languages daily; and startled even broadminded teachers with what we were reading when we were 11 (Homer's Illiad, though in translation, and Joyce's Ulysses); and were having our kids read the Hobbit to us when they were 6. The male commenters are even willing to acknowledge the superior communication skills of the sex who says, "If you cared at all you'd know what's wrong." But it's barbaric to subject one sex to 12 years of an environment that is degrading and tormenting, and it's debilitating to the society we live in to condemn ourselves to fostering and accepting less than the best we can get from the male half of us.

reader_iam said...

ShadyCharacter:

It's twist on on "I think, therefore I am," based on something a friend said to me in ... 9th grade, oddly and appropriately, enough.

And I've calmed down now. Sorry for my rant.

It's just a heartbreaker when it's your own child involved and you feel utterly frustrated and essentially helpless to fix the situation, at least mid-year. I'm not much of a cryer, but I've shed more tears over this situation than almost any I can remember.

Btw, vouchers aren't necessarily the answer. My son is in an expensive private school (moving to public next year). There's no easy panacea.

PatCA said...

There is a gender gap, and I see it at the university level, from male students being told specifically not to apply for programs because white males have no chance of being accepted, to an entire department dedicated to notions of "male oppression," Women's Studies--an institutional absence of positive feedback for males.

From elementary school forward, we demand that every kid be prepped for college. Why? Bill Gates famously dropped out of college to start his little company. My contractor has a BA in Russian History and Literature. A good auto mechanic makes $100,000 a year in CA.

A job is a job; it provides money and some sense of self. Liberal arts prepare one for an entry level cubicle in corporate America. I'm with Camille Paglia, who thinks the answer is to revalorize the trades, not to stuff every square peg into a round hole. Men should be free to choose their future, too.

Selesai said...

"An anti-white male bias known as "diversity" and "multiculturalism" has undoubtedly affected the desire and ability for at least one group of boys to succeed. (How could such a message not do so?)"

I find it really interesting that any attempt to focus on someone OTHER than the white male (which, I would successfully argue, has been the case for the majority of history) is automatically seen as a marginalization of him.
Similarly, that "feminine things" (a category to which I would object anyway) necessitate emasculization is another short-sighted, simplistic interpretation.

No one wants boys to do "worse" in school, but perhaps now you understand how African American families have felt for so many years. And it's clear something needs to be changed, but whoever thinks the world is all of a sudden "all about girls and girl stuff" just because boys in certain tests are doing worse than they had been previously is completely and utterly ignorant.

Juan Paxety said...

I attended high school in the 60s in a town that segregated students by sex. It was widely discussed by students, parents and teachers that teaching methods differed widely at the two schools - some teachers even commenting that they had rather teach boys and others girls. The boy's school had mandatory ROTC, emphasized personal discipline and focused on teaching by doing things. The girls school taught more by discussing the subjects.

Now, 40-years later it looks as though the two methods worked pretty well. Maybe it's time for a return to something similar.

ShadyCharacter said...

Selesai writes (tellingly): "No one wants boys to do "worse" in school, BUT[!!!!!] perhaps now you understand how African American families have felt for so many years."

Gotta love the "but". It's clear that to at least a certain extent, Selesai sees some value in boys getting the short end of the stick. If nothing else, it's a good lesson for them of how horrible their daddies (or granddaddies) treated women back in the day...

reader_iam said...

I should also say that I don't think the answer is to go back to "the way things used be," either.

The flip side of son's experience, to a degree, is my own, who was schooled at a time when not only did the educational establishment introduce "new math" techniques every couple of a year, but when girls really were often discouraged from pursuing math and science, etc. There were, indeed, consequences from that to which I can personally speak (and about which I have blogged, just a few days ago).

So I'm not suggesting throwing out wholesale what we've learned about educating girls.

Pogo said...

Selesai said "No one wants boys to do "worse" in school, but perhaps now you understand how African American families have felt for so many years."

Well, if we boys have all learned our lesson that marginalization and hegemony are debasing and bad for people, it was all worth it, huh?

I quite disagree. A dispassionate view of our schooling results would instead suggest that we want very much for boys to do worse. That was the whole point behind the feminization of school, wasn't it?

And seeing how the exclusion felt by blacks has not been a good thing for anyone, the schadenfreude you express in the progressive decline of boys via a similar mechanism is deplorable. I hope you meant otherwise.

AlaskaJack said...

Wanna get 8th grade boys really excited about ancient Greek history, follow this lesson plan:

Lesson 1: The Battle of Thermopylae; Lesson 2: Who were the Spartans, who were the Persians? Lesson 3: Were the Spartans betrayed? By whom and why? Class discussion: What is treason? Lesson 4: How Spartan society trained its warriors. Lesson 5: The differences between Spartan and Athenian societies. Class discussion: Which society would you rather live in?

Would this lesson plan work for girls? Probably not.

David said...

gj; I enjoy the company of intelligent women and men equally. I further enjoy opposing points of view whether from a male or female.
The military reinforced what my parents taught me in that it doesn't matter who is in the foxhole with you as long as he/she can shoot straight.

This mother made it clear to me that she did not want her son to bond with a male figure. She did not see the eyes of her son light up when I addressed him as a young man whose opinion I valued. He immediately looked down when she corrected me.

Rudyard Kipling in his famous poem IF wrote:

"If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same...you'll be a man, my son."

I would add, "or a fine young woman."

I was raised on the Hardy Boys series and my wife was raised on Nancy Drew. Albert Payson Terhune followed with his emphasis on dogs and their relationship with humans.

Dave is correct, in my opinion, about the influence of parents on their children regarding education. Let each child learn at their own rate. Many times a child fails because of relentless pressure from the parents real or imagined.

amba said...

This has nothing to do with multiculti political correctness. It affects boys across all racial and ethnic groups, as my nephew Matt is finding out as a teacher of Latino kids.

***

The refusal to permit nicknames for "Andrew" or "Steven" is not uncommonly a gay thing, too. ("It's Stephen, not Steve.") I don't know why.

Because God didn't create Adam and Steve, silly!

Slocum said...

it's difficult to believe we need to change things to cater to boys, especially when the primary complaint about the boys seems to be that they aren't motivated to work as hard as the girls.

Ann's obviously trying, but isn't yet what Stephen Colbert would call an 'it getter' on this topic. Of *course* if you modify an environment to make it, by design, more comfortable and compatible for one subgroup (girls) and less comfortable and compatible for another (boys) -- as has been done in K12 education in the U.S. in recent decades, the disfavored subgroup may well display alienation and decreased motivation. Duh!

Incompatible? How? Well, a prime example is right in front of our eyes:

"Increasingly, teachers ask students to keep written journals, even as early as kindergarten. What gets written isn't polished prose, but it is important training, say teachers, some of whom rely on the book Kid Writing, which advocates the use of writing to teach children basic skills in a host of subjects. The teachers are only doing their jobs, preparing their students for a work world that has moved rapidly away from manufacturing and agriculture and into information-based work."

Bullshit!!!! Information-based work DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN WRITING ENGLISH PROSE and it especially doesn't necessarily mean diary-style writing about feelings and daily-events. Physicists, engineers, etc are, in fact, notably better paid in our information-based economy than English majors, BUT little boys aren't ever going to get to be scientists and engineers if they are discouraged long before they get to that point by having to do things like...keep a diary.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

slocum, colorful and correct!

In the business world people must make decisions based on experience, wisdom, hail mary, and, in some cases, blind luck! Then comes the tricky part where you act like a man and take responsibility for your actions if they fail or let someone else take credit for the success.

I think a study of the Peloponnesian Wars should be required reading for boys and girls. The success of the one group affected the success and happiness of the other group.

What does a woman really want in a man; John Tesch/Barry Manilow or Dirty Harry?

Coco said...

"Physicists, engineers, etc are, in fact, notably better paid in our information-based economy than English majors, BUT little boys aren't ever going to get to be scientists and engineers if they are discouraged long before they get to that point by having to do things like...keep a diary."

And they won't be lawyers either (writing is what lawyers do!) - and they make considerably more than scientists and engineers. So go exclaim BULLSHIT!!!! somewhere else. (I know my retort is bullshit but its as logical as yours which is the entire point).


"An anti-white male bias known as "diversity" and "multiculturalism" has undoubtedly affected the desire and ability for at least one group of boys to succeed. (How could such a message not do so?)"

Which one group of boys are these? All white boys? Including the great majority of them who attend schools that are predominately (and for upper middle class and above white students - usually very predominantely) white? So all white 5 year old boys have a decreased desire to succeed because of the very concept of "diversity" - even the ones who attend schools and are otherwise surrounded almost entirely by other white 5 year olds? Illogical.

A number of your other hypotheses, Pogo, do make sense to me though.

Paddy O. said...

couple of thoughts to throw out there.

As regards to emphasis on verbal skills, I dare say this isn't new to our generation. Indeed, if there had been an emphasis on computational skills recently this is a historical aberrance.

The history of the world has been built with skills of writing and rhetoric and artistic contribution, well that and warfare. I think a survey of great literature would show there's not a gender gap in men's ability to write or communicate well.

To say that an emphasis on writing and communicating, that one time hallmark of an educated person, is the source seems off track. Would that anyone in our era write as well as men and women did prior to the 20th century.

Societies have always favored the verbally adept, and history isn't exactly awash in male oppression.

I also suspect there is bias in our early education settings because of the bias still apparent in the higher education settings. While women professors and PhDs are increasingly common, this is a fairly new movement.

This means that the context in which teachers are trained is reacting to one situation, which is entirely different than where the teachers will work. However, because the teachers of teachers are still, in essence, overcoming the gender gap they teach teachers to overcome that same gender gap, which then creates an imbalance of focus towards girls rather than boys.

Related to this is the reality that Baby Boomers especially tend to react to their own childhoods. Everything is viewed through the lenses of their developmental experience, thus if they found gender bias as a 6 year old in the 1950s and 60s, they fight to overcome their developmental challenges by addressing the same issue in this day. That this day is different is not seen or understood. This is true not only in education but across all sorts of societal issues. Baby Boomers are still trying to overcome their own childhoods and adolescence. Thus they fight a gender bias which, even if research suggest otherwise, they know exists.

Finally, I think boys, and thus men, are reacting to the strong women's movement of the last twenty or thirty years. Rather than fighting it, however, boys and men are saying, "Well, if you want to work so much, go ahead. I'll just sit back and hang out." Men, not having anything to prove, will give way to women who still feel they do have to prove something to soceity.

I think this latter point is an issue of ambition, not education or intelligence. If the dream of the feminist movement has been to drive women into work, the dream of men has been to not have to work anymore and spend time going fishing instead.

Coco said...

"I think a study of the Peloponnesian Wars should be required reading for boys and girls."

Off-topic, but Donald Kagan's recent book on this subject is great - very accessible for the layperson and even teenage student.

Selesai said...

"Gotta love the "but". It's clear that to at least a certain extent, Selesai sees some value in boys getting the short end of the stick. If nothing else, it's a good lesson for them of how horrible their daddies (or granddaddies) treated women back in the day... "

And yet you would be wrong. I apologize if you misunderstood my use of the word "BUT," which was not designed to qualify the first phrase but to demonstrate that it's not only boys who are doing or have done "worse" in school, but other groups too, and yet there is a lot more outrage over "boys" doing badly than there has been over those other groups.


"A dispassionate view of our schooling results would instead suggest that we want very much for boys to do worse. That was the whole point behind the feminization of school, wasn't it?"

No. The point behind feminization of school, if you could call it such, which I don't think you can, was to even the playing field when it was obvious girls were doing badly and boys were doing very well. It is likely that until those efforts were made, the exact nature of the differences between boys and girls in the classroom weren't known. So to suggest boys doing badly was an intended result of the "feminization of schools" is untrue. It also is an ignorant and paternalistic view of the feminist movement in general.

"And seeing how the exclusion felt by blacks has not been a good thing for anyone, the schadenfreude you express in the progressive decline of boys via a similar mechanism is deplorable. I hope you meant otherwise. "

I expressed no schadenfreude (kudos to you, another big word that makes you appear uber-intelligent); in fact, I was suggesting that if "people" are going to get so bitchy and huffy about boys doing worse in school, maybe they should be equal-opportunity bitchers. Oh, but unless you're one of the poorer or Black or Latino parents in such a situation, you don't care, do you?

peter hoh said...

I used to be a male elementary teacher. No, I didn't have a sex-change operation. I transitioned out of teaching when I had kids of my own.

The gender disparity among elementary teachers is a significant issue. If college faculty were as male as elementary faculty is female, we'd never hear the end of it.

I'll estimate that men make up 10 to 20 percent of elementary classroom teachers. That's 2-3 male teachers in a k-5 school of 3 sections per grade level (18 teachers overall). And most of these men are teaching at the upper grade levels.

The experience of men who teach in elementary schools needs to be talked about. I'm glad that Amba's nephew is blogging about this. I was in my 5th or 6th year teaching before I attended a workshop for men in elementary education. It was the first time I was in a roomful of male teachers. Someday I'll run across my notebook from that session and blog about it.

We were private school teachers, so most of us had not majored in elementary education in college. Most of the guys came to elementary teaching from nontraditional routes. Nearly all of our female colleagues had followed a very traditional path to their jobs.

A male teacher is important for boys. It's also important for girls. Especially for the girls who are not girlie-girls. Some my favorite female students were described as too rowdy or too talkative or just plain wild by some of their previous teachers, all of whom were female.

I was the first male teacher for nearly all the students I taught. There were a few girls who were intimidated by the idea for the first couple of days each September. Overcoming this anxiety was an important step for them, and I was happy to play a part in that.

Having a male teacher was a big deal for some of the kids, but I don't know how much this was because of my gender and how much it was because of my personality. Not that the two can be separated.

I was the teacher with a snake for a classroom pet. I was the teacher who would toss a football at recess. I was the teacher with the cool science gadgets. I was the teacher who taught chess. And while it's true that a female teacher can do those things, at my school, that was me.

And I was also the teacher who asked (at a faculty meeting) why the boys were supposed to just have an extra recess while the girls were having that "special presentation about growing up." That led to the first ever "growing up" class for 4th grade boys at the school. I hope that has continued.

As for keeping a diary or journal -- don't make that a gender issue. How it's presented and the expectations around it may create gender issues. School is not entertainment, and it shouldn't be tailored to suit every kid's preferences. Note-taking and writing and recording observations are important skills.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Something on both sides here. That schools favor girls is not a new phenomenon. Read Tom Sawyer and Little House On The Prarie for evidence of that. Girls were certainly favored when I was at school 1958-75. As it dawned on them in the late 60's that their success in the training environment didn't seem to be translating into success outside of school they began to get angry -- but that's another story.

If girls were ever discouraged from taking math and science at my schools, they ignored it. I think people are confusing what was said in popular culture with some sort of institutional resistance. My highschool and college girlfriends were often math and science geeks, as I was, and they often claimed that The Man was holding them down, but I never saw anything but fawning praise for them. I learned not to point this out.

It was good for me to learn that life isn't fair, and it was good for my sons as well. That the system is stacked against them may actually be good for the most able boys in the long run. We do seem to sacrifice a lot of other boys on that altar, however. Most female teachers do prize the sitting still, paying attention, fine-motor skills of girls. If anyone is doubting this, you haven't raised sons. Girls average a half-letter grade higher throughout school, make the honor roll twice as often as boys, and the high honor roll three times as often.

The bias became even more obvious when we adopted two teenage Romanian boys. The second one in particular has had a difficult time adjusting.

With all that as caveat, it pays to remember that it is your job to educate your children. You just farm parts of that out to the schools. We made fresh decisions every March where our boys would be in school come August, and there were always tradeoffs. What the school is not going to provide, you have to supply yourself. You have to go into conferences every year and spin to the teachers how you want your child to be seen. Letting them know the strengths and weaknesses you've identified takes a lot of pressure off a teacher, who has to evaluate with each child, each day: is this a problem I have to absolutely get on top of, or should I let this go? Knowing that your child is hardworking but will lie, or spacey but brilliant, helps them sort this out. Otherwise, they have to try to fix everything in everyone at once.

My four boys were all in public schools and Christian schools, and two also had homeschooling. All have plusses and minuses. It's your kid, it's your call.

Tristram said...

For me, the true solution to this is so un-PC that it is unlikely to ever pass public muster:

Single sex schools. Teach boys in ways that reach boys, teach girls in ways that reach girls.

It is hardly a conincidence that after changing the teaching pattern from male friendly to female freindly (no malice intenced in the terms) that the relative success has changed.

Sadly, what will probably happen is some half-assed not really good for girls or boys method that can stupify everyone equally.

Troy said...

Coco... I agree 100% re Kagan's book on the Peloponnesian War. Victor Hanson's new book is the perfect companion to it as he gets into the nitty gritty about HOW the war was fought, the Athenian plague, etc. A War Like No Other by Victor D. Hanson.

I think the Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/maturin novels should be required reading for early high school boys also (ironically my Mom turned me onto them and my Provost's exec. asst. (Lynette) loves them as well.

Elizabeth said...

I wonder when I'll begin getting these under-motivated boys in my freshman classes. Thus far, at a public university, my male students (with the exception of athletes, sadly) are enthusiastic, motivated, and generally, more often better writers than the majority of their female classmates. By that I mean, they have a voice, a sense of self that comes out in their prose. It's a struggle every semester to get Brandy and Jennifer and Tiffany to write something non-generic. Sometimes, it takes a month for me to tell them apart. I think this is a failure of mine, professionally, but I have to wonder if, at 18, these girls aren't more comfortable blending into a pack.

Slocum, by the way, engineers and scientists write, and in my experience editing, they write well. The same attention to detail comes through on paper.

an entire department dedicated to notions of "male oppression," Women's Studies- No, Women's Studies focuses on women. The Male Oppression Department is a whole different thing. I'm not sure what they teach there.

One thing I notice with my 8 and 12-year-old nephews is that they can sit still an inordinantly long time if they have a Playstation control in their hands.

Slocum said...

As for keeping a diary or journal -- don't make that a gender issue. How it's presented and the expectations around it may create gender issues. School is not entertainment, and it shouldn't be tailored to suit every kid's preferences. Note-taking and writing and recording observations are important skills.

Well, keeping a journal, in my experience with my kids, has always been a people-and-feelings exercise (presumably preparing the student to someday write their memoir about their dysfunctional family). No teacher ever presented journal writing to my kids as the equivalent of, say, a lab notebook.

Similarly, in writing there was always a heavy emphasis on types of writing students were least likely to do as adults (short stories, poems, plays).

What's more, mathematical, mechanical, and logical thinking are also critically important skills, but I've yet to see anyone implementing a 'mathematics across the curriculum' program to prepare students for our knowledge based economy. My experience with female elementary teachers (even very good ones) is that expecting them to do anything new in this area produces first a blanching response followed by an "Of course, we would have to be send for professional development training before we could do anything like that."

Elizabeth said...

Math across the curriculum could be effective and useful. Science, too. These subjects should be integrated rather than seen as discrete studies that only those with some interest should delve into. One author I really enjoy, Neal Stephenson, manages to create great human stories that build on history, religion, politics, economics, science and technology, and math. Reading him made me want to understand calculus.

Pogo said...

Selesai said, "So to suggest boys doing badly was an intended result of the "feminization of schools" is untrue."
I suspect, as you say, it was an unintended consequence. It's harm was the equivalent to a malign force aiming to cause injury to boys, however, so, the difference is semantic. And the difference certainly doesn't excuse the maltreatment; that's merely attempting to evade responsibility ("Sorry I drove drunk and killed your brother, sir. I didn't mean it.")

"It also is an ignorant and paternalistic view of the feminist movement in general."

In my experience, every disagreement with an old-school feminist results in that comment. I know more about the feminist culture than someone ought to; I don't care to repeat its errors any longer.

Re: schadenfreude "kudos to you, another big word that makes you appear uber-intelligent"

Sorry. It's quite an elegant term that seems to have no simple common English transaltion. But I do love words, so, my apologies for waving my hegemony all over the place, breaking all the fragile china.

Re: "Oh, but unless you're one of the poorer or Black or Latino parents in such a situation, you don't care, do you?"

An interesting assumption and ad hominem attack wrapped in one. I'll have to ask my Latina sister-in-law, my black sister-in-law, my black cousin, and my daughter's current black boyfriend about that. Gosh, maybe I'm really a racist but I don't know it, like some Marxist false consciousness or something. Oooooo ... creepy.

Nah.

Harkonnendog said...

"And, of course, the article obeys the Althouse Law of Gender Studies. According to the article, girls had trouble in school because of institutional bias. Boys have trouble in school because of problems intrinsic to the male gender."

Nice!

ShadyCharacter said...

Selesai writes: " I apologize if you misunderstood my use of the word "BUT," which was not designed to qualify the first phrase but to demonstrate that it's not only boys who are doing or have done "worse" in school, but other groups too, and yet there is a lot more outrage over "boys" doing badly than there has been over those other groups."

First, let me thank you for your gracious non-apology for my ignorance. That's a neat deflection formulation I'll have to work into my own conversations. All this time when someone misunderstands something that I've said or written, I've assumed I should have expressed myself more clearly, but now...

As to your substantive point (are you going to give me a hard time for using the word "substantive"? It's got a lot of letters...), let's deconstruct the sentence at issue:

"No one wants boys to do "worse" in school, but perhaps now you understand how African American families have felt for so many years."

Any reasonable person reading this would have to conclude that you acknowledge a problem, boys doing worse, but nonetheless find a silver-lining (that is, something positive about the situation that you approve of), a positive life-lesson for all involved.

TidalPoet said...

Shady was kind to you Selesai - this quote made me laugh a bit though:

"and yet there is a lot more outrage over "boys" doing badly than there has been over those other groups."

What other groups are we speaking of? Blacks? That whole civil rights movement non-withstanding, (ever heard of Brown vs. Board of Education) are you actually suggesting their has been more outrage over how poorly white male students are doing in school than their is over how poorly black students are?

What about the Hispanic population? If your logic holds true, we'd be teaching Polish, Norwegian, and Czech to our incoming white students from foreign lands - yet that isn't happening, is it. Instead, Spanish is tought in schools while English is treated as a lepper language.

Your comments were heavily weighted with a "now you see how it feels" attitude, instead of admitting it, you were coy. That seems a tad disingenuous.

(word: reqfy, almost rubify)

SteveR said...

Aren't I lucky. I was raised way back when boys got the edge, married a woman, smart no matter what, and now I have three daughters reaping the benefits of the modern system. I need to teach them to look for a man whoi is "smart no matter what".

wfriqgd: Hmm I have used that word but not in polite conversation.

Joan said...

This comment thread makes me appreciate my kids' charter school even more than I had been, which was a lot. They have a fantastic curriculum, 3 recesses a day, PE at least 2 or 3 times a week, and they focus on responsibility and character development through things like making the kids record their assignments daily, etc. It is possible to find good, even great, schools, but I guess it all comes down to luck.

Or maybe not. My husband and I researched school districts and individual schools before deciding where we'd live once it became obvious that our family had outgrown our first house. We had many choices, but I've yet to hear anyone describe a school that offers as much as my kids'.

Peter Hoh: Bless you and all men like you. One of the best things about my kids' school is that one of the kindergarden teachers is a man, and with any luck he'll still be there when my youngest starts K in the fall. For boys especially, having a male teacher is a relevatory experience.

I'm another with a positive experience of journalling. Many boys detest writing -- the physical process of it, not the making-up-stories part -- and keeping a journal gives them much-needed practice. Kids spend so much time on computers these days that they simply won't learn to write properly unless you make them, and until bluebooks are computerized, it's going to be very important that kids can write legibly.

Aspasia M. said...

Well, my beloved niece is having trouble reading at a more advanced level, so the gender debate about literacy does not seem to fit my personal situation. My niece loves math and science, so perhaps her individual learning differences are more "boy-like."


It seems to me that schools need to emphasize reading comprehension skills for grades 4th through 8th. While the schools have concentrated on teaching the basic decoding skills, the more advanced skills have been neglected. These students are less likely to stick out as needing extra help, because they can read at a basic level.

Some kids will develop these skills on their own through independent reading. However, many children need to be taught those more advanced literacy skills. Independent reading sessions in elementry schools are not sufficient to teach these children how to gain that fluency in literacy.

bearbee said...

Recently I received the following email from Bill Frist who as majority leader I copied when I appealed to the White House on an unrelated issue. The email recognizes our increasing deficiency of talent in science and engineering but fails to recognize that unless something is changed in primary and secondary schools to motivate boys as well as girls addressing college grants is of limited benefit and we will continue this scary decline:

"I write to share good news with you about a new student aid initiative that represents a dramatic step toward promoting math and science education and ensuring America’s economic competitiveness in the future.

We know that China and India are generating scientists and engineers at a furious pace while America lags dangerously behind. Study after study calls for the government to act to address this problem. Passage of this program represents real action.

The new student aid program I created is called a SMART Grant. SMART Grants will provide $4000 per year to Pell Grant-eligible students who maintain a 3.0 GPA and major in math, science, engineering, technology, or foreign languages critical to national security during their third and fourth years of college. That means a Pell Grant-eligible student will obtain up to $8000 in additional assistance toward the cost of college if he or she chooses to major in those fields. These funds will incentivize more students to major in these time-intensive studies and help America produce the workforce it needs to compete in today’s global economy.

The bill also provides Academic Competitiveness Grants to first and second year students. $750 will go to first year students who complete a rigorous high school curriculum, and $1300 will go to second year students who complete a rigorous high school curriculum and maintain a 3.0 GPA in college. President Bush and Chairman Boehner (R-OH) deserve praise and credit for their leadership on these grants.

I have attached a chart that summarizes the tremendous college savings students can achieve through the SMART and Academic Competitiveness programs. SMART Grant recipients will save up to 75% on their college education!

The SMART and Academic Competitiveness Grants are authorized at $3.75 billion over five years and are paid for with program savings included in the budget deficit reduction bill approved by the Senate this morning.

These grants will help sustain America’s global legacy as a land of innovation, imagination, and initiative. I invite you to spread the word – please tell students, teachers, parents, and community leaders about SMART and the difference these grants will make to America’s students and the country as a whole."

Benjamin S. said...

Separate the boys from the girls? I would have been miserable. Even today, few things give me as much anxiety as an all-male environment.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Elizabeth, I think we are describing something similar. The girls who write but write with excessive caution -- no spark, no voice -- are doing what has been rewarded since kindergarten. It was an advantage for them then, but it becomes a disadvantage later in life, when the rules change.

I will overstate the case significantly for purpose of making my point. What you are seeing is the girls who were socially promoted because of certain skills useful for teachers with large classrooms, but not useful for students. The boys you are seeing are the ones who learned there is more than one way to skin a cat -- a more useful skill, but one that is discouraged in younger grades.

Some of those Tiffany's will adjust, BTW.

Elizabeth said...

AVI,

That makes sense. One response I get from a Tiffany when she gets a C is "but what did I get wrong?" She's been rewarded, as you say, for cautious compliance. It's a challenge for me to be a better instructor for these young women. I tend to get along well with young men, maybe because I grew up with four brothers. Interestingly, the female students who I find are most motivated and often the more interesting writers are student athletes. Perhaps they're more used to having to test their limits.

Elizabeth said...

Benjamin, that was my first thought in response to Ann's post! Separate the boys from the girls? Well, they wouldn't like that much, would they?

ShadyCharacter said...

elizabeth wrote: "Separate the boys from the girls? Well, they wouldn't like that much, would they?"

I don't know about that. Some might not - the most popular and precocious kids who get on well with the opposite sex. But in elementary school and especially middle school, I'd imagine most would appreciate a repreive from those distractions and worries. Just my opinion...

Elizabeth said...

Shady, I'm being lighthearted, you're being angsty. I freely acknowledge there are benefits to time away from the opposite sex. I'm a lesbian, for goodness sake. I'd like to think, though, that boys and girls can learn together.

peter hoh said...

I second what Assistant Village Idiot wrote. From what I can tell, gifted and talented really is a code for compliant and well-behaved. I don't know if this has to do with class sizes entirely. The mandatory tests don't measure "spark," and thus there is no incentive to encourage it.

peter hoh said...

I second what Assistant Village Idiot wrote. From what I can tell, gifted and talented really is a code for compliant and well-behaved. I don't know if this has to do with class sizes entirely. The mandatory tests don't measure "spark," and thus there is no incentive to encourage it.

amba said...

One thing I notice with my 8 and 12-year-old nephews is that they can sit still an inordinantly long time if they have a Playstation control in their hands.

Videogames are a paradox. They're played sitting, but they involve a lot of action and violence. It's like "isometric recess." You'll see boys putting a lot of body English into them, too. They're like "The Matrix" -- the mental component of action distilled from the physical. Unfortunately it's not a good substitute. As a martial arts student, I suspect that the chemistry of actual fight and flight is not dispensable. I imagine videogames build up a lot of adrenaline/testosterone "charge" that demands to be discharged.

37383938393839383938383 said...

It is true that most college students are now women. But:

By BEN FELLER, AP Education Writer
12 minutes ago



WASHINGTON - Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.

Those are the sobering findings of a study of literacy on college campuses, the first to target the skills of students as they approach the start of their careers.

More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

"It is kind of disturbing that a lot of folks are graduating with a degree and they're not going to be able to do those things," said Stephane Baldi, the study's director at the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science research organization.

Most students at community colleges and four-year schools showed intermediate skills, meaning they could perform moderately challenging tasks. Examples include identifying a location on a map, calculating the cost of ordering office supplies or consulting a reference guide to figure out which foods contain a particular vitamin.

There was brighter news.

Overall, the average literacy of college students is significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Study leaders said that was encouraging but not surprising, given that the spectrum of adults includes those with much less education.

Also, compared with all adults with similar levels of education, college students had superior skills in searching and using information from texts and documents.

"But do they do well enough for a highly educated population? For a knowledge-based economy? The answer is no," said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent and nonpartisan group.

"This sends a message that we should be monitoring this as a nation, and we don't do it," Finney said. "States have no idea about the knowledge and skills of their college graduates."

The survey examined college and university students nearing the end of their degree programs. The students did the worst on matters involving math, according to the study.

Almost 20 percent of students pursuing four-year degrees had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the service station. About 30 percent of two-year students had only basic math skills.

Baldi and Finney said the survey should be used as a tool. They hope state leaders, educators and university trustees will examine the rigor of courses required of all students.

amba said...

From what I can tell, gifted and talented really is a code for compliant and well-behaved. How ironic, given the fact well documented fact that bona fide geniuses like Einstein were almost to a man and woman rebellious and mediocre in school.

Slocum said...

Math across the curriculum could be effective and useful. Science, too. These subjects should be integrated rather than seen as discrete studies that only those with some interest should delve into.

Yes--a few of the books I'd love to see used in high schools:

Guns, Germs & Steel -- Diamond
The Making of the Atomic Bomb -- Rhodes
Song of the Dodo -- Quammen
Longitude -- Sobel
T Rex and the Crater of Doom -- Alvarez
Uncle Tungsten -- Sacks

Those last three make geography, geology, and chemistry into great adventures. Why we continue to teach the way we do is a complete mystery to me. But this form of writing is read nowhere in our K-12 schools. In English, it's all fiction, in other courses, it's all textbooks.

One author I really enjoy, Neal Stephenson, manages to create great human stories that build on history, religion, politics, economics, science and technology, and math. Reading him made me want to understand calculus.

Yes, exactly, and the mathematics of cryptology.

lindsey said...

"Even in math, the emphasis has shifted away from guy-friendly problems involving quick calculations to word and logic problems."

Which is probably a big reason why everyone seems to be doing worse in mathematics. Do you think they've ever thought of teaching math and also having a logic class? Logic is the one big class I wish they'd had in high school. It's also astounding to me that with all the talk about instilling critical thinking skills, no one thought to teach logic?

Slac said...

Ann,

What's the solution? The article offers little other than the importance of acknowledging that there is a problem. Well, there's a suggestion high school textbooks be made into comic books to help boys. If the problem really is as bad as this article makes it sound, shouldn't we consider separating the boys from the girls?

I know the solution! I know the solution! Okay. Let me settle down. Ahem.

So, Einstein was named by TIME as "Person of Century," and he is of course a cultural paradigm for creativity and intelligence.

And he dropped out of school when he was a teenager because he wasn't motivated.

And he's male.

Am I getting everyone's attention? Okay!

Let's hear what he has to say about school.

"One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year... It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."
- Albert Einstein

One might think, erroneously, "oh that was over 100 years ago," but what has changed? Einstein was against compulsory education ("coercion") and administering it through a social justice perspective ("sense of duty"). Those two concepts have not diminished. They increased during the 20th century.

We celebrate Einstein as the smartest man of our era, yet we're strangely silent in answering his views on how to get smart.

Einstein recognized that compulsory style education is wrong and found it revolting. It's time we recognize the same.

Kev said...

"Physicists, engineers, etc are, in fact, notably better paid in our information-based economy than English majors, BUT little boys aren't ever going to get to be scientists and engineers if they are discouraged long before they get to that point by having to do things like...keep a diary."

Unless, of course, the diary is called a blog. Hmmm... ;-)

The funny thing is that these same little kids who hate writing journals in elementary school will put a lot of time into their Xangas once they hit middle school. (Not that I'm necessarily suggesting that we turn blogging into an assignment; most kids would hold back a lot if they knew that their teacher was reading their blog--missing the irony of the fact that it's posted on the World Wide Web--and I wonder if every teacher would have the patience to sift through the inevitable misspellings and lack of capitalization in order to grasp the young bloggers' content.)

Oh, and re Andrew/Andy: I don't know about the gay angle, but I always thought it was some sort of suburban/preppy thing. I teach everything from sixth-graders through college sophomores, and I've taught exactly one Andy and one Steve, but a ton of Andrews and Steven/Stephens.

bearbee said...

"Separate the boys from the girls? "

Why do we start out with a one size fits all curriculum? Rather than separate boys from girls, starting in kindergarten have dual curricula.....one that is designed top heavy in math and science, the other designed top heavy in literacy based disciplines. Children would gravitate to interests and/or be tested for aptitude. I assume more boys than girls would end up in math/science.

Practical?

joewxman said...

"needs to be more aware of his boys' more unruly and physical, but just as effective, style of learning."

Seems to me your male child needs to be medicated (or should i say drugged?)

Your male child can't sit still? Time for meds to make him conform!

Long live the feminization and stepfordization of our boys!

profgore said...

I think that it has to do with the lack of competition within the classroom. Classes often favor cooperation (which girls excel at) over competition (which boys love).

A friend of mine cited an example of his son in first grade: The teacher had a book reading contest, and whomever read the most books won - period. He said his son read constantly over a two-week period, and ultimately won the contest. He also said he hasn't seen his son read a book since then (he's now in high school).

I do also think it has to do with the homework emphasis, but goes a little deeper than what I've seen in this article. If homework is counted as 75% of your grade, and tests (which are ultimately a demonstration of what you actually know) are only 25%, than boys are set up to fail. Boys enjoy competing (which tests in a way help do), and are more likely than girls to question the teacher about an inane homework assignment. If you demonstrate an understanding over some material, by doing a problem once, what is the point of making them turn five other assignments over the same material? We emphasis production (homework) over knowledge (tests).

Here's the attitude I've seen among boys: if I score 98% on the test (well above most of the girls), which shows I understand the material really well, then don't turn in my homework, I fail the class, yet I've demonstrated that I know more than most of the class. And you know what? They're right. In my college classes, I count exams as 85% of the final grade, and find that boys score equally high (or higher) than the girls.

Judith said...

"The way early childhood education is taught now is like most older classrooms, which is starkly different than how things were in the past which focused on play and hands-on oriented activities (also the things that boys are much better at)."

Only for the last 50 years or so. Tell me classrooms in the 18th and 19th c. focused on play and hands-on activities. I don't think so.

But children didn't go to school for as many hours on end, and when they came home they had to do chores which required physical activity. Girls and boys.

Richard said...

I am an instructor in a university computer science department.
One of the big issues the last few years in the field was trying to change the introductory curriculum to make it more accessible/interesting to women, a worthy goal. All the obvious "fixes" involve reducing the mathematical flavor and going to mor e "practical" (as defined by women) problems and group work (which guys tend to hate when forced). It is the height of stupidity to think that in moving toward woman-friendly instruction that the results might not move *away* from man-friendly instruction.
And for the field of CS this raises the valid question... if the content is changed too much, is it really computer *science* anymore? Has the difficulty been moderated at the cost of re-defining away the heart of the discipline? In making things more woman-friendly (with the male downside noted above) is what is left really computer science any more?

Sad thing is, the introduction of the more touchy feely approach, particularly in group work too soon, has meant we now have a problem with students entering the middle course less well prepared int he fundamentals -- too many learned they could muddle through on the group's coattails -- or the brighter kids were demotivated by the leeches.

In general boys are motivated by competition. Smarter boys enjoyed the competitive aspects of schooling-- we don't want the less capbable/incapable to "feel bad". But now its frowned upon. Any wonder they are less motivated?

It's funny, and pathetic, how the PC doctrine is that men and women are the same, except where women are better. It foolishly rejects the corrollary that there might after all be some areas in which men are better (statistically speaking of course). Or if it is grudgingly accepted that men are stronger in some area, that that area is unimportant.

Judith said...

I've blogged about this topic frequently, so I just added another one, linking to this posts and the comments.

Ken Pierce said...

As far as the home environment being the real problem (what a simplistic comment that was):

I have eight children, four biological, four adopted. Two of the adopted children have special needs, and one was adopted just before turning eighteen and has no experience in American public schools. Three of our children are boys, five are girls. My parents taught me how to read when I was three and I eventually graduated from Princeton with honors; my wife graduated from Rice. We home-schooled our first four until my oldest daughter was in sixth grade and my twin boys were in fourth, and when they went into public school (as a result of chronic illness on their mom's part while I had a job that involved 250,000 miles of travel per year) they tested well ahead of their grade levels.

There is now, four years later, an absolute chasm in performance between my boys and my girls. The worst thing -- bar absolutely none -- that I ever did to my boys was put them in public school. I don't know how to express the thousand subtle ways schools cater to girls instead of boys, but this seems to me to be significant: when I was in school, periodically boys would get into fist-fights, and then after a nice big dust-up was had by all and a nose or two was bloodied and the participants had to stay in at recess for the next five days, all was back to normal. But today you're looking at automatic expulsion, bang, you're gone.

It just seems to me that public schools in general have a mindset that reduces to "testosterone is evil." And then we're surprised that boys don't do well in public school anymore?

Richard said...

I *absolutely* agree with 100% of what profgore said about competition, and the declining value of tests (with that inherent competition of more objective scores) compared to more drill or out and out busy work.
In my programming courses I teach for engineering I have 70% of the grade from the exams precisely becasue that is the only means I have of accurately knowing what the individual student truly knows.

The individual projects still have a certain amount of collaboration, that even when it doesn't rise to the level of cheating, can hinder their ability to learn to stand on their own two feet.
Having too much of the grade, at least in intro courses, on work done outside of class only sevres to encourage cheating.

A different angle... my second grader is 99 percentile in everything, started speaking at 7 months, but isn't as good a speller as he should be. Why? Part of the theory in encouraging all of the journals and creative writing is that correcting spelling errors would squelch the kids' writing. So they're missing some valuable feedback.
And class spelling bees are few and far between -- and the downside of not making the weak ones feel bad is not providing positive reinforcement to the better ones.
Bah.

bearbee said...

"I think that it has to do with the lack of competition within the classroom. "

From time to time I hear teachers mention not grading work to avoid children having self esteem issues. Is this accepted thought?

Ken Pierce said...

I might add that when profgore does his impression of a boy saying basically, "If I know the stuff, why do I have to do the homework?" he is pretty much giving a direct and often-heard quote from my 13-year-old Kegan, who is in constant danger of failing classes because he will do homework and then not get around to turning it in -- and he considers it an outrage and an injustice that the school would even consider failing him, when he does perfectly well on the tests, for no better reason than that he didn't get around to turning in the homework. Isn't the point (he argues) to learn the stuff?

I keep pointing out to him that he will discover in the real world that no job is finished until the meaningless paperwork is done and that he might as well get used to it, but still, profgore's comment rings resoundingly true.

M. Simon said...

I read recently that the gender gap is widest among minority students.

So I guess all the multi-culti folk who infest our school systems are not living up to their beliefs.

BTW anti-intelectualism was quite prominent in the 50s and 60s when I went to school. They used to call Adlai Stevenson an egg head. It was not complimentary.

===================

I played a lot of word games with my kids. Started as soon as they could talk. Puns. Using words in unusual ways. etc. We have a name for it in my family - "stupid dad jokes".

My #2 Son is an honors student at the University of Chicago in Russian literature.

The gender gap starts at age zero. By age four when the schools get them it is too late.

You can't fix the problem of unmade brain connections in school. It has to start at home.

Why NCLB can't work

Or this comment I made at Chicago Boyz

There is at this time no standard process for improving achievement.

My first mate who works as a teacher's helper tells me how teachers solve the problem given the mandates and that it is a pocket book issue: they cook the books. Students who lower the averages are encouraged to quit school. They have other tricks as well.

NCLB is a sham.

In fact what is going on represents the usual Soviet response to increased production quotas.

Sorry to burst you alls bubbles.

========================

The schools can't fix the problem. It has to start at home.

Which means we have to teach parents how to educate their children.

J E Zanon said...

Regarding the down turn in performance of male students. Societal changes enforced carelessly through various media outlets? Homer Simpson (idiot) Perhaps the beginning? Or maybe The head of the Bundy family on Married with Children. Maybe Fox was the worst at the beginning. Take a look at the current run of the Luann comic. You see it everywhere. Man = idiot. Woman = even handed intelligent controlling influence. Innocent enough? but in the end a harmful stereotype?

me said...

Making school better for girls (and consequently worse for boys) by emphasizing verbal ability, de-emphasizing competition, promoting group work, etc. were good ideas, but have gotten totally out of hand. Adding one or two assignments using group work is useful to promote cooperation. Making every assignment group work promotes one person doing all the work and everyone else copping out. Counting class participation, behavior, etc. into the grade helps reward people who are trying hard, but being able to pass a class while failing tests is pathetic. How can students learn ANYTYHING if simply giving out honest grades and correcting homework are seen by some as hurtful to self-esteem? I really don't get it. Getting a bad grade should motivate people to try harder. I graded for a prof. a while ago in school, and I actually read and article where they encouraged teachers not to correct in red ink because seeing alot of it made students just want to give up. Give me a break. If they're that fragile can they handle life in teh real world???? I think this problem is partly a product of lefty ideology gotten out of hand, but also of pure laziness and stupidity in our teachers. Giving someone a bad grade is HARD (everyone who gets one thinks its somewhat unfair); giving constructive criticism is HARD; talking to students is HARD; why not just everyone an A and stop worrying about it?

bearing said...

Fabulous discussion. I lean towards Bonnie's evaluation --- that the trouble boys have is largely a result of a women-controlled educational complex. I don't think there's necessarily a conscious bias against boys, but surely if there were more men involved in the system there would be a little more understanding of what boys need: rough play, freedom to wiggle, exciting literature, etc.

I'm homeschooling my first son (5 years old), and the next child is a son, too. I wish I knew of some resources that could help me avoid making a lot of the same mistakes --- I've never been a boy after all, and though my dh is involved, the day-to-day work is mine. I already catch myself snapping "Sit still!" far too frequently...

I'm not worried about there being too little math and science in their curriculum --- my husband and I are both engineers. I'm more concerned about the fact that I can get easily irritated by all the naturally boyish wiggliness, kwim?

bearing said...

And another thing:

Kudos to the men here who work or have worked as elementary school teachers. I mean it.

Now, you tell me: If we can spend so much time, effort, scholarship money, etc. on encouraging girls to go into science and engineering --- and I am not necessarily disparaging this practice, seeing as how I was a beneficiary of those efforts as a teenager --- why can't we spend some time encouraging men to go into elementary education?

ISTM that de-feminizing el-ed would be a big step in the right direction.

bearbee said...

Perhaps these frustations with public education should be directly communicated to Congress:

Senate-
Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development

House-
http://edworkforce.house.gov/members/109th/mem-edr.htm>Subcommittee on Education Reform

Steven said...

I'd have been more miserable in an all-boy elementary school than I was in real life. In second and third grade all my friends were girls. Trouble was, come fourth grade, the girls decided it was "weird" for me to hang out with them. Which, of course, it was.

However, truly odd ducks like me aren't going to fit into any standardize educational system, simply because it's not economically or physically feasible to have separate specialized facilities for people like me, and moving the system as a whole to accomodate me would result in a 95% dropouyt rate.

It is feasible to separate boys and girls, and due to the differnces between the statistical means of each sex, separation and a degree of educational method specialization may quite well be viable.

bearbee said...

House
Subcommittee on Education Reform

Hector said...

THE WAR AGAINST BOYS, by Christina Hoff Sommers (2001), analyzes the education gender gap in depth. Sommers has two main points. The first, which Sommers supports with exhaustive evidence and authority, is that the girl self-esteem crisis, which has fueled many education and parenting fads in the last fifteen or so years--all that REVIVING OPHELIA (Mary Pipher, 1995) stuff--is a lie perpetrated primarily by Carol Gilligan (IN A DIFFERENT VOICE, 1993) and others. Sommers demonstrates that there is no empirical support for the idea that in early adolescence, girls suffer a crisis in self esteem that risks cheating them of their educational and societal dues--as Gilligan, Pipher et al. contend.

Sommers's other main point (not so well supported) is that educators are either refusing to acknowledge or actively working hard to suppress the wonderfully boyish qualities boys have a tendency to exhibit. Schools, in her view, are trying to feminize boys. In support of this thesis, Sommers cites some troubling anecdotal evidence--a teacher who has the kids in her sixth grade class make quilt squares of "the women we admire"--that sort of thing.

As a parent with grade school and college age children, I would have to say that I haven't detected the feminizing effort among teachers in my children's schools. Most of my children's teachers have seemed to appreciate the differences between boys and girls and have tried to offer projects and curricula that appeal to both sexes.

Has anyone considered whether some of the gender gap in education is attributable not to something going wrong with boys, but, rather, to something going really well with girls? Perhaps in a world that gives girls and boys the same opportunities in education, after a two or three generations, girls are destined to outpace boys--at least in certain areas. According to Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, NO EXCUSES (2003), Asian-American students outperform European-American students on just about every standardized test. I doubt anyone suspects the Asian-Americans students' superior performance is because teachers are somehow teaching to the Asian-Americans at the expense of the Euro-Americans or trying to Asia-fy the Euro-Americans.

Just a thought.

Jim C. said...

Selesai said:"I find it really interesting that any attempt to focus on someone OTHER than the white male (which, I would successfully argue, has been the case for the majority of history) is automatically seen as a marginalization of him."

I find it interesting that you have reversed the issue totally. The marginalization is real, not just "automatically seen". The questions are exactly how and why.

"Similarly, that 'feminine things' (a category to which I would object anyway) necessitate emasculization is another short-sighted, simplistic interpretation."

Calling this "short-sighted, simplistic" does not prove it's wrong. It's really just name-calling.

"No one wants boys to do 'worse' in school,"

I'm sure this is simply untrue. Some people actually do. I suspect you're one of them.

"but perhaps now you understand how African American families have felt for so many years."

It's been accepted by liberals that it is in fact racism. By this comparison, you have apparently admitted that the similar failure of boys is due to deliberate discrimination by so-called liberals. Q.E.D.

"And it's clear something needs to be changed, but whoever thinks the world is all of a sudden 'all about girls and girl stuff' just because boys in certain tests are doing worse than they had been previously is completely and utterly ignorant."

Since the phrase you quote, i.e., "all about girls and girl stuff" doesn't appear in this post or the article, I'll assume it's just your own summary of attitudes you perceive. In that case, you've really erected a strawman.

What's clear is your less than honest attempt to dismiss the issue.rm

Maureen said...

I'm just going to say a few things:

I hated group work in school.
I placed first in the American Mathematics Competition at my high school as a junior.
And I'm pretty sure I have a uterus.

So if some of you are going to go on this little road of pretending that all males and all females line up neatly in little boxes, maybe standardized test scores will rise--but the real geniuses of the 21st Century will be found from Europe, Asia, and other places where statistical aberrations are nurtured.

Ann Althouse said...

Maureen: I don't see where anyone in all this discussion has said that. We've been talking about generalities, with the understanding that individuals fall outside the curves.

I hated group assignments too. I was also often the only girl that got in trouble for misbehaving in class along with the boys. (It mostly had to do with resisting the teacher's authority, wanting to have fun, and thinking that rules should have reasons.)

Wacky Hermit said...

Like Maureen, I'm a woman who's "into" mathematics. I have a graduate degree and never once, in my entire education or career, did I EVER hear anyone say anything discouraging to me because of my gender. In fact, I got exactly the opposite treatment: I was encouraged to grow as if I were some sort of delicate orchid that needed constant nurturance. A few years ago I went for a job interview. The (female) director started off the interview by congratulating me on being a woman in a predominantly male field.

I hated that. If you want me to teach in your math department, it ought to be because of what's between my ears, not what's between my legs. That's what "equal rights" for women is truly about.

The fact remains that we still offer plenty of extra programs to encourage women in fields like mathematics, and a lot of effort goes into cultivating our girls. Our boys, though, are left to scrounge for whatever attention is left over. This is not just a boy/girl problem: the lack of ability grouping in public schools makes the better students have to scrounge for the attention of the teacher, who gives her attention to the worst students in the class. But leaving boys to scrounge just because they're not our precious girls, that bothers me more than leaving the bright to scrounge, because it's highly sexist.

I definitely think girls ought to get an education-- in fact, I belong to a religion (LDS) whose leaders have flatly stated that if only one parent is to have an education, it ought to be the mother-- but they ought to compete on a level playing field with boys. If the outcome isn't equal, that's just how it is. No amount of tilting the field against the boys is morally right.

Slac said...

Ann, all perfect reasons.

The Socratic method doesn't have a gender bias, does it?

I just saw this study today about using the Socratic method to teach binary arithmetic to a third-grade class.

http://www.garlikov.com/Soc_Meth.html

"There were 22 students in the class. I was told ahead of time by two different teachers (not the classroom teacher) that only a couple of students would be able to understand and follow what I would be presenting. When the class period ended, I and the classroom teacher believed that at least 19 of the 22 students had fully and excitedly participated and absorbed the entire material."

Doesn't surprise me!

bearbee said...

Academic underachievers

Slac said...

So, uh, does anyone think Einstein and I are on to something?

I sense a whole lot of people fighting an itch to baby boys back into school - they're so "disadvantaged" and "neglected." Doing that, however, is likely to make things worse.

Fausta said...

Just last Thursday I was saying that I dare to speculate that the brains of technologically-talented people learn in ways that are not addressed by current school curricula. I will go even further in my speculation: the decreasing number of Americans in graduate schools of science and engineering will continue to decrease if public schools continue on this excessive reliance on verbal skills.

While the schools might feel that they're doing their jobs "preparing their students for a work world that has moved rapidly away from manufacturing and agriculture and into information-based work", they are missing the forest from the trees: Technology-oriented societies depend on science and math skills, not simply on the reading/writing of information.

Slac said...

No one else thinks that freedom might have the power to let valuable skills surface in the people who have them?

sarnac said...

Although this debate seems to be about gender, it is more accurately about divergent brain function.

The entire category of linguistically adept, highly social, artistic, obedient types (right-brainers) do very well in our school system, sitting still while reading, writing and listening all day. While this category may be almost all female, the reverse does not necessarily hold.

The category of left-brainers, less linguistically adept but better at the relationships of things than people (thus understanding numbers, objects, science, etc) is tactile, operational, interactive with what they learn about rather than each other.

Schools do not have the enormous scale to create the environment for huge numbers of independant learners to all (separately) interact with everything while being guarded and managed under adult supervision.

As a result of elementary practicality, schools do badly by the independant tactile learner who must be simultaneously motivated to self-educate and to not individualistically interfere with the group-learning of the right-brainers the school is actually designed to cater to.

The most extreme individualists are the people schools do the worst by and to. While full autistics (who are generally at a genius-IQ without the ability to communicate it) are just dumped with the Down's Syndrome low-IQ types, the near-autistic kids are frequently the genius-freaks that the teachers cannot cope with.

Parents of gifted children with social aloofness in school: please ... consider that your child may be neuro-wired differently than the other kids and may not be suited to a social-learning environment. Let them get their social contact outside their learning environment and preferably teach them yourself or get together with other parents of non-social learners for joint micro-classes.

If you are a parent in this category, please google and read up on "Aspergers" ... even if your kid is not an Aspergers neurovariant, he (ASpies are typically male as the genes for the social neural cluster "mirror cell" brain-complex are on the X chromosome (females have a spare set, making it very unlikely to have this oddity)) may benefit from tricks and methods that parents of ASpies use to teach their kids.

Fundamentally this is relevant to the present discussion because the scale of development of this particular neural element determines how social you are and thus how group-oriented or how individualistically oriented you are ... and thus how well one does in school.

Schools are biased not "towards girls" as much as "towards socially-minded people" and since girls have double-reinforcement of their mirror-cell neural structure (used to understand, internalize and "grok" how other people are feeling, thinking and reacting), girls have a vastly higher understanding and empathy level for those around them, work better in groups, and manage their interactions better.

A girl with one mirror-cell gene cluster not meshing with the other from the other X chromosome may be less socially-minded than a girl with both at 100% efficiency and thus may be more of an individualist. (In other words, she'll seem to be more social-like-a-boy.) A girl with both gene clusters non-functional (incredibly rare) will be as much as ASpie or an Autie as any ASpie male. (My wife happens to be an ASpie, as am I.)

(It is also relevant to know that this is a continuous spectrum, with various levels of social comprehension, and that kids definitely start learning to cognitively compensate as they mature. Also, like all other neural-wiring conditions, the younger you recognize an oddity, the more you can interactively rewire the child's brain by situational education and explanation.)

Parents all need to recognize that the social-capacity spectrum has tremendous breadth in the "neurotypical" range, and understanding this will help you to realize that your girls will typically understand what bothers other people and care enough to stop it while your boys are just not necessarily wired the same way or may not have finished yet developing that part of their neural structures. (Male and female brains develop at divergent rates in various substructural areas. I do not know enough to explain this in useful detail.)

Rather than drug your boys into a stupor because their neural development is dissimilar to the girls of the same age (and the school demands peace and quiet), parents should strongly pursue homeschooling or some form of joint-homeschooling with others in similar positions.

Many brilliant kids are completely turned off of academics unnecessarily because they are forced to attend schools that cater to a mind-state divergent from theirs before they are cognitively developed enough to handle conpensating for the skillset they were not born with. A non-social genius forced into social school environments may despise school and do horribly, and either not attend or do badly at the university level (which is all that really matters to the adult world), whereas the same kid may do remarkably well by skipping Elem/Mid/High-school-hell and being self-and-parent-educated at home, getting their social-development in smaller, more managable doses and being introduced to calmer, less confusing, easier-to-read adults, preparing for the university and adult world at large.

Remember, school & education are not really about the data and raw stuff crammed into someone's head but is really about developing the person's mind from thinking simplistically into thinking robustly in orderly and rational patterns. A diverse education is not about diverse memorized datasets but about the capacity to think in advanced, complicated paradigms, beyond binary logic and into polydimensionality. Part of this comes with age, but much of it comes from nurturing and exercising the mind, which only the kid in question can do themselves. They must be induced to _want_ to do so.

Schools nowadays fail to induce that desire to self-improve in many of our best, brightest, most intellectually divergent students, largely because they are so intesely maverick.

marcus 531 at yahoo_com

soufie77 said...

Boys' and girls' innate aptitudes have not changed since the 1970s.

In contrast, the methods of assessing educational achievement have undergone radical changes which have detrimental to the representation and encouragement of boys' performance. Don't believe me? Take an old O level paper and compare it to a fresh A level paper.

There is a strong case to be said that criteria for achievement are becoming increasingly feminised, rewarding time investment, diligence and obedience, rather than more traditional criteria reflecting innate aptitude, such as competitive intellect, independent innovation, scientific intuition and complex abstract thinking.

This not only disadvantages boys, but gives girls a disproportionate expectation of performance in the cutting edge of the real world, where innate aptitude becomes much more of a factor.

Related to this, it would be hard to avoid the sizeable discrepancy between the performance of girls in education, and standards of their subsequent performance at work, even excluding the cohort of women who are "distracted" by family or child care. It would be difficult to attribute this kind of fall off in performance to pervasive "glass ceiling" sexism in any great measure.