Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Does Our Society Treat Boys Like Defective Girls?

I grew up with four brothers and no sisters. I have four sons and one daughter. I have worked with Boy Scout groups for decades. Believe me, I understand this boy thing. But our society doesn’t, at least not officially.

The current Newsweek cover story by Peg Tyre, The Trouble With Boys says today’s education situation a crisis for boys. The article starts with the story of a struggling sophomore boy in Salt Lake City whose mother is divorced. Tyre makes the point that this boy’s situation is hardly unique.

Three decades ago as feminism was making tremendous inroads into our culture, it was noted that girls academically lagged behind boys in many areas. That was news to me. All of the smartest students in my class were girls – except for Neal Chambers, but hey, he always wore a dress shirt with the top button buttoned until he finally unbuttoned it toward the end of our senior year. But then you could see the collar of his white undershirt. He was, of course, our valedictorian. But he was an anomaly.

We have spent the ensuing decades refashioning our education system to cater to girls. As girls were catching up with boys, the performance of boys was trending downward. A decade and a half ago, when this was noted, we behaved like C.S. Lewis’ analogy of people running around with fire extinguishers in a time of flood, and we increased our emphasis on catering to girls.

We did this because we were assured that all differences between males and females were mainly superficial, and were the result of socialization. With proper socialization, crude males could become refined as well. As a society we have come to (officially) believe that boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls because we train them to do so. It has been the height of political incorrectness to assert the obvious — that boys and girls are physiologically and psychologically different by nature. Their brains are different. They develop and learn differently.

Boys now fail school at critical rates. We dope up an amazing number of them to get them to behave more like girls so they are more manageable in classroom settings. They are woefully underrepresented on college campuses. Michael Thompson, coauthor of Raising Cain says that we have institutionalized girl behavior as the gold standard and treat boys “like defective girls.” The result of our policies and attitudes cannot be surprising. When it comes to education, boys are in crisis. The Newsweek article reveals study after study that comes to the apparently shocking conclusion that boys and girls are indeed inherently different.

The main problem, Tyre says, is the lack of a good male role model in the lives of many boys. In our headlong rush to secure female independence, we have worked to make fathers irrelevant. Rich Lowery is more succinct about it here.
“What we have witnessed recently — with more evidence of the differences between men and women, and the importance of the old-fashioned two-parent family — is biology's revenge. If we deny what is deep-down in our nature, people get hurt — in this case, the rambunctious boys missing out on the great adventure that is learning.”
Tyre discusses a number of efforts that are now underway to deal with the crisis. Different teaching methods are employed for boys and girls. Teachers are trying out more action-packed methods. Boys without father figures are being paired up with mentors from the community. Some of these programs are having an impact, but it will take many years to reverse the damage we have caused.

Despite this crisis, our society is working hard to promote tolerance to the point of destroying the institution we need most – the traditional two-parent family with both a male and a female role model, where both parents fulfill their responsibilities to each other and to their children. Even as the pop culture regularly portrays men as unfeeling dolts, the tolerance crowd continues to blindly claim that their proposals will not harm the basic institution of our society, but long-term evidence shows that this is not true.

I’m not advocating a return to obviously bad sexist attitudes. My question is whether we can rebound from the damage we have already caused. Unfortunately, it takes 30 years to find out for sure. If the current trend is not reversed we will soon have a generation of powerless, ignorant men. Imagine the whirlwind we will reap from that.

2 comments:

Bradley said...

I agree that boys tend to learn one way and girls tend on the average to learn a different way. I'd hate to see gender segregated classrooms as a rule or gender stereotypes that penalize girls that happen to learn more like boys and vice versa. I think that there are a variety of learning styles and that they can probably be all profitably used in a single classroom. It is a challenging way for a teacher to teach, but it is possible and profitable.

Reach Upward said...

Bradley, I agree that we shouldn't pidgeon-hole children into learning methods based on their sex. The problem is that we have swung the pendulum so far one way that the a number of our children (mainly boys) are being left in the dust, penalized by a system that ignores their needs. This obviously needs to be fixed.