By McKay Osborne. The gap between boys and girls in education and academic achievement is a very real issue–just not in the way that we have been told. For years, several associations like the American Association of University Women (AAUW) have claimed that schools are shortchanging girls and putting them at a disadvantage (Sommers). Upon learning this, many people, including myself, sought after evidence to prove this assumption and came to the conclusion that boys, not girls, are the ones who have the short end of the stick.
But how can this be? Isn’t it true that males are the “privileged sex” and “… are Number One in society…” (Sommers)? As seductive as this sounds, it just doesn’t add up when analyzing the classroom in the real world. After many groups like the AAUW projected that girls were at a disadvantage, the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, a feminist organization, conducted a survey to confirm this hypothesis. 1,306 students and 1,035 teachers were asked a variety of questions about gender equity and what they discovered astonished them. Their data not only disproved this claim, but revealed the opposite was true in terms of gender: “Contrary to the commonly held view that boys are at an advantage over girls in school, girls appear to have an advantage over boys in terms of their future plans, teachers’ expectations, everyday experiences at school and interactions in the classroom” (Sommers).
Not surprisingly, the average boy tends to be a year and a half behind the average girl in reading and writing and is less likely to attend college. Christina Sommers points out that “The Department of Education reports that in 1996 there were 8.4 million women but only 6.7 million men enrolled in college”. The study continued to explain how within a few years, the difference in enrollment between men and women will increase dramatically–and not in favor of men. If those numbers are not convincing enough, here is what the Washington Post said about gender representation: “For 35 years, women have outnumbered men in American colleges. Federal data show that female students became the majority in 1979 and for the past decade have accounted for about 57 percent of enrollment at degree-granting institutions” (Anderson). If this is the case, then there must be a reason why men are trailing behind women.
Where does it begin? The classroom. In our rapidly transforming society, schools have gradually grown impatient with the “unacceptable” characteristics that used to be seen as boyish and normal. A highly respected psychologist, Michael Thompson, rightly observed that “Girls’ behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls” (Sommers). Viewing boys in this light only causes them to perform poorly academically because boys are not the same as girls; they have varying passions and learning styles and are interested in different things. For example, in English, where girls drastically outperform boys, the teachers choose a girl-centered curriculum called “the confessional poet”. According to Christina Sommers, this “classroom ideal” is comprised of “personal narratives full of emotion and self-closure…”. She continues to note that a study produced by the UK discovered that “girls prefer fiction, magazines, and poetry while boys prefer comics and non-fiction” (Sommers). This study also showed that if boys are given reading material that interest them, their reading and comprehension skills will increase dramatically. If we continue to narrow the spectrum to things like fiction and poetry that only interest girls, we will have an increased amount of unmotivated, uninterested boys at no fault of their own.
As we search for ways to help American children flourish, our attention needs to turn away from inaccurate claims about equality and turn towards our underachieving boys. Whether you agree with it or not, our country struggles when our boys suffer. It may seem like boys have no influence in society at the moment, but sooner or later, we will need their help to build a more prosperous country. This will never be possible if we raise incompetent men. As Christina Sommers profoundly acknowledged, “If boys are in trouble, so are we all” (Sommers).