Educating Boys

33149866 I had lunch last week with a friend, who was fretting about her son. He was having problems staying focused in class and had too much energy to sit still at a desk for six hours a day. Even with affirmative action programs for boys, girls still outnumber the boys on college campuses.

Do schools prefer girls? Do teachers reward students who sit still and have neat handwriting and have good verbal schools — characteristics that tend to skew female?

In The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers made the claim that schools and society are trying to feminize boys, with the result that too many boys end up being drugged up on ADHD meds or just dropping out of school. It's a plot.

Others make the point that even if girls are outperforming the boys in school, men are still outperforming women in the workplace. They dominate upper management of companies, academia, and Congress. So, what's the problem?

I can go either way on this one. What do you think?


13 thoughts on “Educating Boys

  1. I know at least two very successful male philosophers (neither of whom I am married to) who are extremely high-energy and highly productive scholars. They are both athletic and both have about 2-3X the output of other scholars. One is rather fidgety. They both have super athletic, high-energy kids. Coincidentally, both sets of kids are being homeschooled. Now that I think about this, I’m very curious what the two philosophers were like as boys and how they did in elementary school.


  2. I think a change in environment can make a big difference in the sort of work a child can do. When my 7-year-old daughter is doing spelling homework, I let her choose how many words she’s going to do at a time. For each word she writes neatly, she can have one minute of free time. She’ll often do just one word at a time. The whole process is time-consuming, but she stays happy, alert and motivated and the work gets done. We do something similar for math homework, maybe 2 minutes free time per page. I can do this sort of accomodation at home very easily, but it would be unmanageable at school.


  3. My sense (from talking to researchers) is that the very top elite colleges have no trouble finding qualified boys, but that all other colleges struggle. I don’t think that boys have changed much, or even that the way schools respond to them do (all this touchy feely stuff about how boys need to run around, get their aggression out, are just naturally little buggers, is new to schools — in our day the kind of behaviour that is now thought to be natural to boys was severely repressed — the difference is that parents cooperated in its repression while, perhaps, alos allowing outlets like walking to and from school instead of cooping them up in cars all the time). If men still dominate the upper management of companies when my current students are 50 I’ll eat my hat (if I have teeth, which is unlikely now I think of it).
    Aren’t you going to post about game theory and hooking up culture (which is what that NYT piece is really about). Go on, give us a treat.
    I really, really, think you are underestimating the social revolution we’re about to go through.


  4. You think, harry? hmmm. Thinking about it.
    I’ll have to come back to the hooking up culture post. That would be terribly fun, but I’m nearly done with a downer disability post. Hooking up on Wednesday then.


  5. “Aren’t you going to post about game theory and hooking up culture (which is what that NYT piece is really about). Go on, give us a treat.”
    Yeah, that’s the part I noticed. I also thought the sorority/fraternity culture of southern schools was playing a significant role in the experience of the random sample (i.e. otherwise known as the 4 people who were friends or friends of friends of the NYT reporter), though not mentioned in the article.
    I have an active and wiggly boy. But, I don’t see him having any problems in school.


  6. Good (to both things).
    I meant to add — the seachange is in the ways that parents and schools both treat girls. My sister (41) went to a girls-only school in England, and was told, straight out, by her math teacher that girls can never be good at math (she then double majored in math and philosophy at an elite english university and got the english equivalent of a 4.0). That might happen in a prvoincial school still, but not in the kind of school she attended, and not in the vast majority of schools. Girls are encouraged by both schools and teachers to acheive academically, and they respond accordingly. (My school, which was (obviously) different from my sister’s, encouraged the respectable working class girls who o attended to acheive, but their families encouraged them to get out and find work as quick as possible: several of my female friends left at 16, with stellar academic qualifications which would have ultimately walked them into selective colleges, took secretarial jobs, got married and had kids. Their equivalents today walk into selective colleges. (This is the Uk, but the story is the same in the US).
    Actually, Goldin and Katz observe that a skewed female-male ratio in college was long the norm in America, until the late 50s. But the future we’re going back to is a very different one…


  7. I’ve lately been noticing that in a number of 19th century novels, you see a lot of the immature male that has trouble finding his place in the world. This critter comes up a number of times in Jane Austen (like Wickham from Pride and Prejudice) and also in Bleak House (Richard who wants to go to sea, to be a doctor, to be a lawyer, etc.). In Bleak House, Dickens blames Richard’s education (which taught him only to compose elegant Latin verse), but I suspect that the problem is more universal.


  8. My 69 year old father assures me that back in his day, boys were expected to sit still and pay attention in school, and it wasn’t considered “feminizing”. I’m with harryb in that the difference is that girls are encouraged educationally (and they weren’t in my mother’s day). I’m not convinced that women are going to dominate the corporate world in the next 50 years; where I live, there are still some people getting used to female breadwinners. They still think women who enter nontraditional arenas are “stealing a man’s job”.
    (oh yeah. I’ve heard versions of that directed at me…”some poor man can’t support his family because you’re out here!” My response is “I left behind two minimum wage jobs to take this one….he can have those. If they were good enough for me, they can be good enough for him.”)
    I also think there’s still a strong realization on the part of young women (and old women!) that we have to be significantly better at what we do in order to get a portion of the credit that men do. And….a woman typically has to have a bachelor’s degree to earn what a man with a high school diploma does.
    More men than women are choosing apprenticeships in the trades, vocational education, and military careers, as well as higher-paid civil service jobs like the police and fire department. That doesn’t grab the headlines, though.


  9. Well, I think one of the things happening is that people are conflating the behavior of 6 year olds with college students. My male college students can sit still (very well–the problem is getting them to wake up!). What they can’t do very well is follow directions or do the work. Almost all of the male students who are failing (and it is disproportionately male) are failing not because of poor ability but because of behavioral issues–won’t do the reading, don’t hand in the papers, can’t come to class. I also see a number of under-achieving smart guys who should be getting As, but are settling for Bs and Cs due to video games and a party culture.
    After teaching since the mid-90s, I would say this is a more recent phenomenon and there is also a class element to it–my students are mostly lower-middle to working class. I don’t know what happened (although I am defnitely not blaming feminism), but it is very hard to convince a significant number of my male students to just do the damn work.


  10. I am a female physics teacher in high school.
    I do have more male students than female (about 3-5 times more).
    Girls tend to write neatly, pay attention during class and not to forget homework.
    Boys tend to chat a lot during the class, jump up and down, make a lot of relevant and irrelevant questions,”forget” homework and do exam with a quite intelligible handwriting.
    It is harder to be the boy’s teacher BUT there are usually MUCH better students.
    Boys test my nerves but I enjoy them as students as much as the girls.
    European teacher


  11. I think what La Lubu said is important. For a woman to have a decent job it usually takes at least a bachelor’s degree, whereas more guys go into a trade or the military (still very male-dominated arenas).
    Also, I remember reading that Goldin & Katz paper and it stated that having a lot of women in college is nothing new – the 1950’s were an anomaly. However, one BIG difference is how many college-educated women were teachers. Of the class of 1970, it was *fifty-five percent* – that is, *more than half* of the women with jobs were teachers. I’m willing to bet that most of the rest were social workers, nurses, librarians or secretaries. What we’re seeing now that’s truly a revolution is the number of educated women NOT in the “caring” professions. Working-class women as main breadwinners? Not new. Educated women in the feminized professions? Not new. Educated women as doctors, lawyers, project managers, engineers? Much more new and much more revolutionary. Stay tuned!


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