Boys: Second-Class Citizens in the Classroom?

Apparently, when it comes to education in New York, boys are “second class citizens.” Or at least that’s what Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys and the recent article “Are There More Girl Geniuses,” thinks.

Before we start shedding tears for our disadvantaged brothers and sons, let’s take a look at the indicators of such a disparity. The author points to a recent New York Times article that notes girls make up–are you ready?–56 percent of kindergarteners in gifted programs in NYC. Clearly, there is some kind of mastermind behind this giant conspiracy to rid the world of educated men. And while the article does state that some programs have as many as three-fifths girls, it also admits that overall the New York school system is 51 percent male.

And why is this selection process, that leads to such a HUGE disadvantage for guys, completely unfair? Because girls are able to sit through the standardized tests that determine their admittance! They have longer attention spans and better verbal skills than boys (which the author claims the tests are heavy on). So girls do better on the tests and get accepted more frequently.

So, the author seems to imply, standardized testing is an unfair way of determining what students should be selected for gifted programs because they don’t evaluate a child’s intelligence correctly. Unless they prove that boys are more intelligent than girls. Yes, though Hoff Sommers decries standardized testing that “favors” girls, she points to another standardized test as a means of proving that, “A fair selection process should produce more boys than girls in a gifted and talented program.” Yeah. More. Now, why is that? Because one standardized test conducted in Scotland in 1932 showed that while girls had a consistently high level of intelligence, boys were more likely to be off the charts brilliant… as well as more likely to be “mentally deficient.”

So standardized tests are a great way of proving intelligence based on gender. Unless they favor girls.

Much of this article made me want to bang my head against a wall repeatedly. We are expected to worry because after hundreds of years of exclusively educating boys they are no longer the majority of what we consider “gifted” students. Her argument seems to be pretty blatantly sexist. Nowhere in the article did she mention a desire for “equal” educational proportions, but she sure did explicitly mention that it’s only “fair” for boys to be the majority. And girls being the majority? Complete blasphemy.

Also, the author is completely hypocritical about standardized testing. So standardized testing is okay if it proves what you want it to prove (boys are smarter) but when it happens to favor girls then it’s bad? As she states, “the capacity to remain seated for a long test does not reliably measure brilliance, but requiring pre-K children to do it is a sure way of securing more places for girls than boys in a gifted program.”

Hm. Well. It’s just my personal opinion, but I think that one’s verbal skills and ability to concentrate are not completely irrelevant to the educational process and a child’s ability to succeed. I personally think the use of standardized tests is stupid (let’s just say colleges reviewing my SAT math score may wonder if the left half of my brain does, in fact, function). There must be a better way to evaluate five-year-olds (or anyone). But really, you can’t have it both ways: either it’s an adequate determinant of intelligence, or it’s not.

But then, the author’s closing statement really seals the deal:

The developing gender gap in the gifted programs of New York City does not signal that girls are smarter than boys. Rather, it exemplifies how well-intentioned government officials and educators can disregard boys’ needs and abilities and unwittingly adopt policies detrimental to boys’ well-being. It is a small part of the long story of how American boys across the ability spectrum and in all age groups have become second-class citizens in the nation’s schools.

Maybe there is another way of looking at this–one that doesn’t pit the genders against each other. Maybe there are more girls in these classes because those girls actually DESERVE to be in those programs, not because of their gender, but because of their individual intelligence levels.

Here are the facts: out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls. Eighty-two million girls in developing countries who are now between the ages of 10 and 17 will be married before their 18th birthdays (obviously interfering with their education). So, maybe instead of worrying about the American boys who can’t get into gifted programs in their schools and have to settle for a regular education, we should be worrying about the millions of girls (and boys) who aren’t able to go to school at all.

Just a thought.

Reprinted with permission from The Fbomb.

Photo from Flickr user woodleywonderworks under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. grrlgenius22 says:

    The sad fact is that this potential as mentioned above is gets off left for other 'traditional' pursuits. In the tech field, female enrollment in engineering and math degrees has plummeted to the lowest it's been in 20 years! Let's address how we keep these superstars options that have to do with more brainpower:
    http://ramblingsofagrrlgenius.wordpress.com/2010/

  2. Women's eNews ran a commentary about all the hoo-hah over this a little while back

    Left Behind? Actually, More Boys Take 'Gifted' Test – http://womensenews.org/story/education/100614/lef

  3. Dr. Cristine Wylie says:

    The reason she is alarmed is because the distribution of girls does not match known dimorphic curve data.

    Boys are represented in the top and bottom of the performance distribution curve. If the proportion of girls in the top percentiles is not matching, this is something that needs to be addressed right away. Now we must also understand however that boys and girls develop differently at at different paces. When the boys get older their representation in gifted classes may fall into line more with the known gender dimorphic curve. They may not be anything to worried about.

    I know the President of Harvard University was forced to resign when he mentioned this same data. He was then replaced with former Women's Studies Department Head Drew Faust and 50 million was dedicated to hire and promote women only. What needs to be understood however is that there is more of a preponderance of girls in the middle of the distribution while boys are also represented at the bottom.

  4. Christina says:

    "Maybe there is another way of looking at this–one that doesn’t pit the genders against each other."

    Excellent point! I hate it when people like Hoff Summers turns a legitimate concern (like boys falling behind in schools) into essentially a competition between which sex is better- boys or girls. That doesn't ultimately help anyone. Maybe we need to completely re-evaluate how we educate children to make it as fair as possible for everyone? Chucking standardized tests could be a good way to start!

  5. Any specific sampling of kids at an individual school will not necessarily match the dimorphic curve for intelligence. From what Dr. Wylie says above, maybe the schools can retest and screen for more children at a later age. Besides, girls in the population continue to improve on these test scores. Even though more boys than girls are testing into the highest range of IQ tests, there are simply fewer individuals at that range.

  6. As a mother of a girl and a boy, and an active parent in both their classes, I am well aware of the differences between the sexes and the ability to focus according to the age of the child. Neurological research shows how their brains develop differently and at different times – specifically the left hemisphere (or analytical side of the brain) which becomes active in girls between the ages of 7-9 years and in boys between the ages of 9-11. Similarly, the corpus callosum which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, and permits real comprehension of what is being taught, begins functioning in girls between 9-11 and in boys between 11-13.

    So I would agree that our current education system favors girls because of its passive and non-interactive approach. However, as a social activist and filmmaker I am all too aware of how women are, and have been, second class citizens for centuries. What is lacking is the recognition of the need for both kinds of intelligence and a balanced perspective representing the feminine and male world views.

    A recent study at OHSU in Portland, researchers studied embryos in an attempt to better understand the higher mortality rates of males, starting in childhood and continuing into adulthood. They discovered that male embryos developed at a faster rate as compared to female embryos, who took their time developing each system before moving on to the next stage. The researchers proposed that the slower pace gave girl babies a stronger constitution for fighting off childhood diseases, whereas the faster development of the boys left their bodies weaker against diseases. Perhaps that is why boys are more likely to have adverse reactions to vaccines and suffer from attention deficit syndromes.

    For me the bottom line is we need both men and women running the world. Our current mind set of short term results over sustainable growth is a testament to the lack of a true feminine perspective in all aspects of society.

  7. No matter what we like to think, males and females are now separate socio-political and socio-economic classes that are in direct competition with each other. This is why females have separate and secular representation in government. The good news is that females are winning but it has not and could not have been done without using male biology and male biological imperatives against them.

    Marriage itself is a telic of the patriarchal social order and is on a continual decline.40% of all births in the U.S. are to single women. It is important that we continue the resource provision construct that allow women to be independent. This includes welfare to single mothers, women only loans and scholarships, Affirmative Action in college and business hirings ,as well as forcing the male to provide resources to women and our children after divorce.

  8. "It is important that we continue the resource provision construct that allow women to be independent. This includes welfare to single mothers, women only loans and scholarships, Affirmative Action in college and business hirings ,as well as forcing the male to provide resources to women and our children after divorce."

    How does sponging off another (person/government/whatever) "allow women to be independent". Independence means paying your OWN way, not forcing someone else to do it. And, BTW, those government dollars – come from people like ME, who does support her own DAMN self! And, who would like you to do the same.

  9. pizzaman3044 says:

    Boys are being left behind in class because of the nature of the system. Sitting in straight lines, raising your hand, sitting still for three hours to take some awful state-mandated test, and listening quietly to other students as they talk is not part of the male nature. The ratio of male to female teachers is horribly skewed, and boys have few male role-models in school, and some if not most don't have one at home either. This may contribue to the fact that for every 100 girls ages 18-21 in jail there are 1430 boys locked up. In our push to educate women (which is a good thing!) the pendulum has swung too far. I am a senior in high school, I am a boy, and I witness other boys being left behind by a system that is angled towards women and away from men at the most basic psycological level. Get the liberal poop out of your eyes and watch, because this problem is only going to get worse.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Interestingly enough, this article reveals a sexist bias in the author.

    Let me explain. If the statistics were to show that it were males (instead of females) that took up 56% of the gifted programs, critics everywhere would probably make the argument that there is systematic discrimination which favors males or makes it more difficult for females to succeed. Some might respond to these accusations by saying that "males are just smarter than females, and therefore they deserve to be overrepresented in the gifted programs". This is exactly what the author of this post has said, except the positions of privileged are reversed. Of course, the critics would then respond that arguing males are better than females is sexist, which, when used to justify disparity between the genders, it is.

    The author fails to realize that she, in some respects, is just as bad as those whom she dislikes. Using the justification that "girls are just smarter because they try harder" to explain why girls seem to be doing better in school is no better than saying "guys are just more successful because they try harder" to explain the income disparities between men and women.

    Both are totally wrong, and both sentiments get us farther away from a more equitable and fair society.

  11. Anonymous! says:

    “Maybe there is another way of looking at this–one that doesn’t pit the genders against each other. Maybe there are more girls in these classes because those girls actually DESERVE to be in those programs, not because of their gender, but because of their individual intelligence levels.
    “So, maybe instead of worrying about the American boys who can’t get into gifted programs in their schools and have to settle for a regular education [...]”

    Your dismissive conclusion stings! The disparity is worth some attention, even if it’s a favorite topic of someone as classy as Sommers.

    I’ll avoid making a bad analogy w.r.t. race, but if you assume that there are only trivial intellectual differences between boys and girls (unless I’m misinterpreting Hyde and Fine), then it’s puzzling to read a report about a gifted education program that is 56% female. The NYT article you cited also reported other awful information: there is a 3:1 f:m ratio at La Guardia High School (where they teach performance art and dance and flowers n’ shit) and boys are a majority in the ULTRA TECHNICAL SCIENCEHAMMER high schools. Gendered socialization is awful! :-( ((

    Organizations like the AAUW give me hope, at least (even if the fine folks at the AAUW are doing their best to claim that there’s no “boy crisis”)–here’s a snazzy quotation that I keep handy so that I don’t bash my head against a wall when I read bio-deterministic justifications for gendered disparities or completely inane comments that overstate the significance of neurological research (“the corpus callosum”–the crockus!):
    “[...] the AAUW’s own position (1998, 1) is consistent and unequivocal: ‘when equity is the goal, all gaps in performance warrant attention, regardless of whether they disadvantage boys or girls.’”
    (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~eandersn/sommers2.html)

    (Oh no: I’m two years too late!)

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