This is a tough review to write, but it needs to be told. A decade ago, I was serving as a parent representative on a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools committee to evaluate the local elementary school. I was a “plant” because I had been a classroom teacher for some twenty years, as well as being the mother of two students in the school. Despite what I knew about education, I learned a great deal from the experience. The other parent rep made an astute observation, which I will no doubt misquote due to the years which have passed, but he said, “I see a lot of boys in the community and none of them are interested in school. Something needs to be done.” And a light went on in my brain. Okay, as an English teacher, I knew that many of the males in my classes had not had much fun, but that is because boys like math and science better, right?
Wrong. Boys, or at least a majority of them, don’t like anything in school. Or they only like one or two classes, such as physical education, shop, or ROTC. That means many, many hours of misery. Worse, it means that boys either drop out of school or graduate with such poor skills that they don’t make it through college. Nowadays, colleges are 65/35 female. The never quite ending recession has shown how vulnerable marginally educated men are to long term unemployment. Years ago, boys had a better chance in school than their female counterparts, but those days are long gone. Now, it is boys who suffer. But why?
Since I first was made aware of the depth of this problem, by that fellow parent, I have read some articles and a few books about the gender gap in education. Although it is now considered flawed, I view many of the points raised by Christa Hoff Sommers in her book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Boys, as factors. Or, as my favorite talk radio personality puts it, “the wussification of America.” When having a tool such as a penknife results in permanent expulsion from school, boys are clearly being emasculated by the system. But, the gains by girls are taking place in other countries, where boys can still be boys, so the feminization of education is clearly not the only issue.
A newer take on the problem is Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind by Richard Whitmire. Instead of putting the blame on the rise of female leadership in education, reporter Whitmire suggests that the push toward early literacy leaves boys behind the more verbal girls, and those boys are turned off to education before they become ready to read. This book is quite readable; instead of being written for a scholarly audience, feature reporter Whitmire uses real people to illustrate the statistics which are troubling to anyone who cares about the male half of the population.
Lest any readers of Pam’s Pages think, who cares? I will offer some reasons to care. The days when a man could work with his hands and not be especially literate are waning. If our daughters are to have a mate worth marrying, in terms of intellect and in terms of earning power, then we need educated males. Of course, that argument won’t work for some, so consider this: When males can’t earn a living, they may turn to crime. The number of males in prison seems to reflect that, doesn’t it? Most of us would not be in favor of an education system which produces criminals. If you think that is overstating the matter, just do a web search for the phrase “school to prison pipeline.”
How can we address this problem? As Whitmire goes to some length to explain, the education system needs to acknowledge that there is a problem. By and large it does not. Thus, I propose a simple first step to do that. In my state, all sorts of test stats are reported in the newspaper. By law, these figures must be printed in local newspapers, but there is no breakdown by gender. So, I am going to write to my local representatives and ask that this small change be made to our state’s laws. The best way to solve a problem is to get started, and this problem must be put before the public. Reporting the scores of boys and girls side-by-side should show the general public that there is a real problem to be addressed.
The more I read, and the longer I serve in education, the more I realize that society may think that boys are being bad, instead of recognizing that they are being short-changed by the megalithic education system. ’Tis sad.