Are Boys Discriminated Against in our Education System?
In 2014 I wrote a blog discussing how the US public education system is biased against boys. Originally titled Boys will be Boys, the article opened by citing the incredible statistic that in the US today some 60% of college graduates are female.
My conclusion was that there was a significant problem, and that we will be much better off as a society if our schools will get back to letting boys be boys.
This week I dug a little deeper and after reading through a number of articles and studies, I came away somewhat alarmed. More and more boys are being “left behind” academically, and therefore more and more males are at risk of falling behind socially and career-wise as well.
Most concerning is the boys’ declining literacy, because at the younger ages they generally lag behind girls from a reading and writing perspective to begin with.
And this phenomenon is not limited to the US, but is occurring in Canada, Australia and the UK as well. The only difference is that those other countries have been attempting to address the bias-against-boys-in-schools problem for a number of years already. Not so much the US however.
The Gap in Academic Performance is Growing
And this educational “gender gap” is growing even wider. In fact, girls continue to perform so much better than boys academically that many experts are taking note and calling for changes.
So what is the reason for this widening academic gap between girls and boys, and how can it be corrected?
Efforts to correct bias against girls has hurt boys
During the 1990s, in response to an organized political movement to address a perceived bias against girls in US education, laws and regulations (particularly at the federal level) were written to correct what were believed to be profound injustices.
Suffice it to say that at least a few of these well-intentioned measures had the unintended consequence of working against the boys. (Christina Hoff Sommers has written extensively on these topics, including her best seller, The War Against Boys. Dr. Sommers offers some interesting insights in How to Make School Better for Boys.)
Bias against girls existed but was not what they thought it to be
Ironically, by the late 1990s subsequent studies had proven that much of the claimed bias against girls had been overstated. In fact, many of the earlier claims had been altogether wrong.
What they found instead was that girls had already established their dominance over boys academically.
And they found that the trend was getting worse, with boys falling even further behind, with many males ultimately just rejecting school completely.
The reasons most often cited for the dismal performance of male students in a typical school environment at the younger ages are:
- Boys are usually less mature than girls, physiologically, mentally and emotionally
- As a result, boys generally lag behind girls from a cognitive skills perspective
- Boys also lag behind girls from a fine-motor skills perspective
- Boys are intimidated by girls who are more mature and better students
- Boys can’t sit still for very long and need to be active
- Boys need positive male role models but most elementary teachers are female
- Schools today tend to emphasize subjects girls like but boys dislike
- And so while most girls “love” school, far too many boys hate it
Same-Sex Schools are the Answer for Many
Recently, there has been a movement back to same-sex education environments and, as a rule, students at these schools have vastly improved their academic achievement. (For example, Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, an all-male 6-12 public magnet school in Dallas, TX opened in 2011 and has produced impressive results.)
The reasons most often cited for the improved performance of male students in an all-male school environment are:
- The curriculum is tailored to the boys’ needs, e.g. more hands-on activities
- The teaching approach is tailored to the boys’ needs
- To get to the hands-on subjects they do like, boys will do the reading and writing work they otherwise might not like to do
- The boys are able to be more physically active
- The boys are more comfortable and better able to focus in such an environment
- Discipline is more easily maintained, especially if there are more male teachers
In one respect, boys are very much like girls when it comes to education: they all want to learn. That is simply part and parcel of being human. And so when boys learn and are able to understand something today that they couldn’t understand yesterday, it feeds their desire to learn even more. It feeds their soul.
Unless and until schools are willing to address the widening achievement gap between girls and boys, it will continue to be a serious problem. And it’s bad not only for the boys who are left behind, but also for the US as a nation. Because until the problem is corrected, fewer and fewer US males will be get the type of education needed to compete in today’s ever more competitive society.
And so the challenge is creating an academic environment where boys too can learn, where boys too “love” to go to school. That, it seems to me, is the solution.