Something has been nagging at me ever since I read Christina Hoff Sommers' Opinionator piece in Sunday's New York Times. Did you catch it? It's yet another essay lamenting the disconnect between today's school system and, well, the nature of boys.
Her piece, which links declining male achievement with grade school culture, is pegged to a new study that found that, despite the fact that boys do just as well as girls on standardized tests, they are less likely to "get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college."
No previous study, to my knowledge, has demonstrated that the well-known gender gap in school grades begins so early and is almost entirely attributable to differences in behavior. The researchers found that teachers rated boys as less proficient even when the boys did just as well as the girls on tests of reading, math and science. (The teachers did not know the test scores in advance.) If the teachers had not accounted for classroom behavior, the boys' grades, like the girls', would have matched their test scores.
Can we just stop with the "woe be the boys" bullshit? Arrgh.
Before I go on, let me assert my bias straight up. I myself am a girl. My two children are girls. All our pets, save one, have been female. One of my daughters and I wrote a whole book about, and for, women. And if you check the first paragraph of this post, you might surmise -- correctly, in fact -- that while most of you, my husband included, were watching the Super Bowl, I was snuggled up on the couch reading the newspaper. How girl can you get?
And so, yes, I may well be looking at this issue through pink-colored glasses, but what rankles me is the timing of all this tedious "end of men" business. I have no problem with Sommers' point that boys struggle with school, more so than girls, because classrooms are set up to favor kids who can sit still, do as they're told, and work independently, skills that girls tend to develop before boys do. In fact, I agree completely.
But hasn't that always been the case? What creeps me out is my suspicion that the real reason we are so worried about boys of late is the fact that when it comes to college or grad school or scoring the job with the corner office, girls have started to catch up. Did we ever worry about grade school culture when, not that long ago, the majority of college grads were male? No need to answer.
I think back to my grade school days at a Catholic school in San Francisco, where I was taught by no-nonsense nuns who would put the fear of God into God himself. I still remember the names of the class trouble-makers who were sent regularly to the principal's office for mouthing off, who were stuck on the bench at recess, who routinely flunked their spelling tests and, by seventh or eighth grade, were the first to smoke cigarettes and drink beer. Boys, every one. The girls, for the most part, got the gold stars and rarely got in trouble for anything more serious than rolling up their plaid skirts.
And yet, a few years down the line, most of those naughty little boys graduated from college, grad school even, and grew up to be highly successful men, pulling down the big bucks. As for the good little girls? Either married to them or working for them.
My point being, we had no problem with the ways in which schools privileged girls back in the days when we knew that, sooner or later, the boys would grow up to assume their rightful place. But now that girls have begun to hold their own, we wring our hands and kvetch about leveling the playing field.
As if anticipating my riff, Sommers ends her piece this way:
I can sympathize with those who roll their eyes at the relatively recent alarm over boys' achievement. Where was the indignation when men dominated higher education, decade after decade? Isn't it time for women and girls to enjoy the advantages? The impulse is understandable but misguided. I became a feminist in the 1970s because I did not appreciate male chauvinism. I still don't. But the proper corrective to chauvinism is not to reverse it and practice it against males, but rather basic fairness. And fairness today requires us to address the serious educational deficits of boys and young men. The rise of women, however long overdue, does not require the fall of men.
I couldn't agree more: The rise of women does not at all require the fall of men. Where I part company with Sommers, and the rest of the end-of-men contingent, is with the implication that the two are even related.