marilyn at deliberate.com
Sat Dec 4 07:45:59 CET 2004
Fri Dec 3, 6:17 AM ET
Op/Ed - USATODAY.com
Girls are taking the nation's colleges by storm.
They're streaming to campuses in greater numbers,
earning better grades and graduating more often. The
same phenomenal success shows in high schools, where
girls dominate honor rolls, hold more student
government spots and rake in most of the academic
So says a just-released report from the U.S.
Department of Education (news - web sites).
Impressive. But the real news is tucked into the
deeper, darker corners of the report. Boys are doing
miserably, and nobody knows quite why. On measures
ranging from writing ability to the likelihood of
needing special education, boys are flat-lining - or
The phenomenon is most serious in inner cities, but
it's evident in even the wealthiest school districts.
And it's not confined to the United States. The same
trend is turning up throughout the industrialized
The impact could hardly be overstated.
College-educated people earn twice as much as high
school graduates. If boys can't get to the good-jobs
starting line, which these days is a bachelor's
degree, they won't get a chance to use their natural
competitive skills in the marketplace.
And when fewer men earn college degrees there are
fewer partners whom educated women find desirable to
marry. That's a debilitating social phenomenon
African-American women have struggled with for years.
The problem has already grown so severe that three out
of every four private colleges (an informal estimate
from admissions directors) quietly practice
affirmative action for boys, favoring them over girls
in admissions to get near balance.
Yet for most educators - from kindergarten on up - the
problem is invisible. Any teacher looking for national
research that might define classroom solutions won't
find any. They don't exist.
The small group of experts who research the problem
only now is beginning to trace its outlines.
It isn't so much that schools have changed in ways
that hurt boys. It's that society has changed in ways
that help girls.
Increasingly, success requires verbal skills, which
everyone agrees come more naturally to girls.
Industrial-age jobs that required minimal verbal
skills are disappearing, replaced by information-age
jobs that range from filing insurance claims to law.
Even in technical fields, verbal skills are at a
premium. An auto mechanic or TV repairman now needs to
master complex technical manuals.
School reformers eventually spotted the need and
reacted strongly, setting standards and writing tests
that demand verbal skills. The SAT and ACT required
for college applicants, for instance, now have an
This puts boys at a huge handicap, and schools haven't
begun to adapt.
One hint of the inadequacy can be found in research
done by Michael Gurian, author of Boys and Girls Learn
Differently. He surveyed the course offerings of
schools of education throughout the country. His
discovery: 99% of universities and teacher colleges do
not offer a course on the biological differences
between how girls and boys learn. So teachers enter
classrooms unprepared to turn boys into successful
Other factors also come quickly into play, setting off
a downward spiral that looks something like this: At
home, dads read to their daughters and throw footballs
to their sons. In elementary school overwhelmingly
female teaching staffs naturally teach in ways that
connect better with girls. Fidgety boys are quickly
defined as suffering from reading disabilities. In
middle school, teachers - still unattuned to the boys'
disadvantages - take no action to correct swelling
That brings boys to the pivotal ninth grade, the first
year when they run up against the heavily verbal,
college-track curriculum that school reforms demand of
most schools. And the boys flounder.
The trend holds through the remaining school years:
Girls shine; boys fade.
Some responses suggested by researchers appear easy.
Assign boys books that they find more appealing, for
example. And bring them along gradually, so they don't
But in the end, the problem runs much deeper. It
surely won't be fixed until educators first come to
see that it exists.
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