Plastic women vs. cardboard men

Men are scarce on college campuses, writes Richard Whitmire in a USA Today commentary. College-educated women are dominating more career fields — “just about everything but plumbing,” he writes. Women are “plastic,” quick to adapt, some argue, while men are “cardboard.” Whitmire doesn’t think vast economic forces have caused what Hanna Rosin calls The End of Men:And the Rise of Women. He blames kindergarten reading.

Twenty years ago, education reformers pushed literacy skills into earlier grades, assuming an early start  would prepare more students for college, he writes.

So how’s that turning out? At the eighth-grade level, 37% of girls scored proficient or above in writing on a just-released federal test, compared with 18% of boys.

What happened? Educators somehow overlooked the fact that boys pick up literacy skills later than girls. When boys get slammed with early academic demands they can’t handle, they tune out. They assume school is for girls, and they move on to more interesting activities, such as video games.

“If educators adjusted their early-grades literacy practices, a lot more boys would arrive in 12th grade ready to compete in the new economy,” he writes. “What educators have done can be un-done.”

As a reading tutor, I’ve seen dramatically higher expectations for first graders in the 25 years since my daughter started first grade. (Yes, she’s that old.) Kindergarten is the new first grade and some kids — mostly boys — aren’t ready.

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  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Even with my girls, I notice that taking it easy with reading instruction seems to produce better results. Basically, I can tear my hair out pushing phonics in kindergarten, or wait until first grade and have them reading with a minimum of fuss and instruction, and have them far above grade level by the start of second grade.

    Older kids have bigger vocabularies and so can move from true phonics to interesting texts more quickly.

    BUT this only applies to kids who get read to a lot, get the chance to experience and talk about the world, and who have attentive parents who will indulge their interests.

    The problem seems to be that by forcing the interventions which might work for disadvantaged kids on EVERY kid, we’re closing the achievement gap by leaving the middle income, average, white males behind….

    • Well, the issue of a lack of men on college campuses isn’t a new issue, it’s just more visible now.

      Generally, females who graduate from high school are at least 1.5 to 2 grade levels ahead of males who graduate in reading/writing skills, and at least a grade level ahead in math, and sciences. As a rule, women seem to be a lot more serious about their education then men are, and it shows up in terms of study, networking, and other areas of the college experience.

      Women earn more degrees in every field except math, computer science, and physics in college these days then men do.

      Given the lack of preparation that males have when they arrive on campus, it’s not a stretch to say they’re already at a disadvantage, and in a society which tends to devalue men when they’re not working, or being lazy, it’s not surprising that men aren’t seen on college campuses.

      Here is a interesting thought, with more highly educated women, assuming they want a LTR or marriage, it’s going to be much harder in the future to find compatible significant others as a result of a growing educational gap.

      It also doesn’t help that mainstream media keeps harping on the fact that girls/women are at a disadvantage in school, but in reality, it’s boys/men who are falling further behind.

  2. My mother in law taught first grade 40ish years ago. She says that she taught (to kids who had no prior knowledge) colors, shapes, ABCs, numbers, etc…and kids were pretty much all reading at the end of 2nd grade. I have no problem with teaching reading to kids at an early age – I was reading at 4, my son was reading at 5. I don’t think that forcing it (rather than exposing them to it) is helpful, though. I’d think that common sense would suggest the 2-pronged approach of frequent (low stress) exposure to phonics, rhyming, letter of the week, etc that helps with learning to read while their exposure to stories and non-fiction is hands on or being read to.

  3. As a parent of four kids (three boys) who were the youngest in their classes, by as much as two years, I’m not convinced that age is necessarily a large-scale problem. All of my kids learned to read easily, prior to kindergarten, in their Montessori preschools, which taught phonics. With 11 years between the oldest and the youngest, I did notice that schools (particularly ES) became far more touchy-feely and artsy-crafty and the book selections were heavily weighted that way. My daughter didn’t like that approach, either. By the time my younger kids entered the same middle school (with very good reputation) their older brothers had attended, the ES approach had arrived in MS. Normal boy behavior was being redefined as pathological, often requiring medication. Boys began to be seen as defective girls and some of the younger female teachers were explicitly uninterested in boys, with some known as specifically disliking boys. Those practices and attitudes are not conducive to boys’ positive attitudes toward school.

  4. Whitmore needs to check his history. He says educators need to change when reading is taught. In my experience, POLITICIANS and other interested (but not trained) in education have changed the educational standards despite complaints from early educators. Every Kindergarten teacher I know has been complaining about the early reading requirements for years, particularly for boys. Studies in childhood cognitive development have shown us this generalized truth for a while now, but somehow we keep operating under a “more is better earlier” paradigm that doesn’t actually work.

    Educators didn’t overlook how children develop. But those who boss educators around didn’t bother to check with the research before they set the standards. It’s just another example of how everyone who doesn’t teach thinks they know what’s wrong with teaching and teachers.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I don’t doubt what you say about kindergarten teachers. But one group of teachers who have not spoken out against early reading requirements are the teachers unions. And politicians listen to them.

      In fact, I have been disappointed by how little the unions seem concerned about some basic stuff. Administrative support for teachers when it comes to discipline and making sure that teachers don’t have to try to teach kids who are significantly unprepared are two things that jump out at me. In fact, the unions have been positively perverse in the latter, in general supporting overly wide inclusion.

  5. I’m not underrepresented in chemistry! Seriously, in chemistry the number of women studying at the bachelor level is the same as their percentage in the population. The difference comes in graduate school and the workplace. The pipeline leaks and retention is generally poor.

  6. GEORGE LARSON says:

    I am ancient . My recollection of female Chemistry majors was they were all premeds and were not interested in careers as professional Chemists.

  7. Crimson Wife says:

    I’d like to see if the college completion rate is higher for graduates of all-male high schools than for male graduates of coed high schools. My DH went to an all-male H.S. and he speaks very highly of it. He said it was easier to focus on academics without the distractions of girls in the classroom (he went to a coed grammar school K-8).

    We are seriously considering sending our DS to an all-male high school assuming that we can afford the tuition.

  8. “If educators adjusted their early-grades literacy practices, a lot more boys would arrive in 12th grade ready to compete in the new economy,”

    When exactly was this “old economy” in which literacy wasn’t important?

  9. David, approximately 30 years or so ago, a high school dropout could enlist in the military (and MIGHT make a career out of it), or work in blue collar or semi-skilled or skilled labor, and be able to make a decent wage of it…

    Fast forward to 2012…most of the jobs now require solid reading and communication skills, the military won’t accept high school dropouts (must be a GED holder, high school graduate, or have completed 15 credit hours at accredited university/college with a grade of ‘C’) to get a waiver on being a H.S. graduate or GED holder, also a GED holder must have a minimum ASVAB score of 65, whereas the diploma or 15 credit college attendee would need anywhere from 28 to 43 to enlist, depending on the branch of the service.