January 25, 2006

The War on Boys in the schools

Here's a good letter to the editor in the Washington Times:

The gender bias against boys is even greater than the perceptive article "Academic underachievers" (Page 1, Sunday) suggests. Two factors not mentioned in the article are how students are taught and evaluated.

Consider the neglect of political and military history, which involve the real forces of politics, war and peace. Boys are more interested in these than are girls, but such subjects are downplayed in favor of "social" history. For example, my son's American history class devoted one class period each to changes in women's fashions during World War II and discussion of the battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Consider that when writing is taught, great emphasis is placed on keeping journals and expressing feelings, which generally are more interesting to girls than to boys, at the expense of a gender-neutral emphasis on expository writing and argumentation. Which is more useful in life, the ability to compose paeans to me, myself and I or the ability to set down one's ideas in cogent form?

Consider the importance given to writing throughout the curriculum, even in mathematics and science classes, which favors girls over boys. By contrast, no educator has ever emphasized the importance of teaching mathematics across the curriculum: Sciences courses have been stripped of math requirements, and social studies courses neglect statistical topics and even the use of data to illustrate important demographic and population trends. This emphasis exists despite the fact that mathematics is extremely useful in everyday life and for many careers, while few jobs require the kind of writing that schools stress.

Consider the revised SAT, with its recently added writing section. Writing again is elevated at the expense of mathematics, which is only one-third the total score. Again this shows bias against boys, who traditionally excel at mathematics, and in favor of girls, who are more likely to like writing. Consider the growing bias in favor of using mixed ability groupings, which downplays individual competition in favor of interpersonal cooperation and places a great burden on students to manage each other. Finally, consider grading practices that emphasize student behavior and assignment completion but not test scores. Tests are far better measures of what is learned, but because girls are better behaved than boys, de-emphasizing test scores favors girls over boys.

Unless these deep and pervasive biases in grading and curricula are addressed, boys will continue to lag behind.

Former commissioner
National Center for Education Statistics
U.S. Department of Education

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

No comments: