Fidgety boys, sputtering economy

Fidgety boys end up as unemployed men, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way, a Washington research group. The gap grows over the course of elementary school and feeds into academic gaps between the sexes.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

In the last 25 years, the portion of women earning a four-year college degree has jumped more than 75 percent and women’s median earnings are up almost 35 percent. Men’s earnings haven’t risen at all, writes Leonhardt. “Men are much more likely to be idle — neither working, looking for work nor caring for family — than they once were and much more likely to be idle than women.”

Some blame the surge in single-parent families for the “boy crisis.” Girls who grow up with one parent — usually a mother — do almost as well as girls from two-parent families. Boys do much worse.

Others say schools aren’t boy friendly. In elementary school classrooms, fidgety boys are expected to sit still and pay attention to the female teacher.

About Joanne


  1. Clearly boys need more physical activity than girls.

  2. Both my DH’s nuns and my old maids/spinsters (both terms were in current use) understood and appreciated boys FAR more than today’s teachers, who seem to see them as defective girls. In addition, cherished classroom practices such as groupwork (run by the most socially adept girls), cooperative learning (ditto), artsy projects, and feminized reading/writing assignments specifically disfavor boys. Where is the blame for the ed schools, admins etc. who have deliberately orchestrated this? Bring back recess, allow boys to read/write about non-fiction, weapons, wars etc. – instead of calling the shrinks or cops. Let boys be boys (you know,the kind who love to play cops & robbers, cowboys and Indians, star wars etc)

    • To be fair, the weirdness about weapons extends to girls. Remember the Hello Kitty bubble gun incident? I have all girls, and already the two-year-old points a water gun at us and says “Pew! Pew!” It’s cute, but our older girls definitely know not to take the water guns to their schools!

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      momof4, you don’t understand. Justice demands (or at least accepts) that males get a taste of what it’s like to be treated poorly because of gender.

    • palisadesk says:

      ..”cherished classroom practices such as groupwork (run by the most socially adept girls), cooperative learning (ditto), artsy projects, and feminized reading/writing assignments specifically disfavor boys”

      This must be a middle class phenomenon, because in more than a dozen schools (all low-SES) in 4 different districts, I have seen these used very rarely. Artsy projects are out of the question (who will buy all that stuff?), group work is confined to specifics like science experiments with limited equipment, and cooperative learning consists of occasional partner work. Students are reading “girlie” books like “Daniel’s Story,” the Redwall series, “Holes,” the “Wimpy Kid” books, “Hatchet,” the Time Warp Trio and many more. I haven’t seen any of this writingf about “my feelings” for years.

      And in those “glory” days of the 30’s, 40’s 50’s — boys had to sit and listen to, yes, mainly female teachers.

      Society has changed profoundly since then, however. Most “good jobs” are far more sedentary and detail-oriented than 50 years ago, and require more people skills than needed in the “old days” to go forth and succeed as a lumberjack, crane operator or even a policeman (who now spends a lot of time filling out forms). Additionally, creeping credentialism now requires students who would be happier in an active occupation, whether that be carpentry or fire-fighting, to complete post-secondary education and pass a variety of (detail-oriented) tests. My mechanic, a genius at his work, never finished elementary school, but his apprentices now have to finish community college and pass a number of qualifying tests to get their license.

      “Feminised” elementary education is not the fundamental problem.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        “Creeping credentialism” is itself a form of “feminization,” since females do better at the things that one is required to do to get a credential. That would be an unfortunate side-effect if those credentials really were necessary to do a good job–but as your statement about your mechanic suggests, they are not.

        • Jerry Doctor says:

          In the vast majority of cases certification and licensing have nothing to do with education or the ability to do the job. They are simply the means by which established businesses keep out the competition by trading political donations for laws and regulations favorable to them. You have to be a licensed beautician to braid hair? Really?

          Right now there is a big fight going on in my city over “ridesharing.” All the cab companies (actually, the cab company with more than one name) are busy bribing – I mean working with – the Public Service Commissioners to keep Luft and Uber out of here.

          Just another example of government picking the winners and losers in the marketplace in order to “protect” us.

      • momof4 says:

        Yes, the practices I described came from middle/upper-middle class schools – and many parents love the “progressive” way. Posters etc. are used because the included spec ed kids can do them, even if they can’t read the book. Movies get used for the same reason – not all kids can read the material.

        “Feminized ed” doesn’t have to be a problem – as I said, my DH and I spent 8 years under all or mostly (me) women teachers – but they liked and understood boys. Ed schools seem to do nothing to increase their students’ understanding/appreciation of boys, who usually are significantly different from girls. Tomboys like my DD also suffer under many women teachers . I remember one MS teacher who was very up-front about not liking boys – and they reciprocated (as did my DD)

        I’m with you on the over-credentialism. My old maid teachers were Normal School grads (1 yr post HS) and none of my DH’s nuns had any kind of degree. In his work with preschoolers, Englemann trained non-college-grads in his Direct Instruction, with very good results. Montessori certification, not any academic degree, was required for my kids’ preschools. My excellent mechanic also doesn’t have a degree – just some CC courses when he computerized his business.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          A great irony is that the logic of Girggs v. Duke Power would make credentialism illegal. The black-white schooling difference is as great as the black-white IQ test difference.

          In Griggs (1971), the Supreme Court said that since blacks, on average, scored worse than whites on IQ tests, the tests operated as “built-in headwinds” for black people.

          “But Congress directed the thrust of the [Civil Rights] Act [of 1964] to the consequences of employment practices, not simply the motivation. More than that, Congress has placed on the employer the burden of showing that any given requirement must have a manifest relationship to the employment in question. … History is filled with examples of men and women who rendered highly effective performance without the conventional badges of accomplishment in terms of certificates, diplomas, or degrees. Diplomas and tests are useful servants, but Congress has mandated the common sense proposition that they are not to become masters of reality.”

          Since then, the law has developed to say, (I exaggerate–slightly) no test meets that burden of proof but all schooling requirements do. Which, to exaggerate again, means that schooling requirements are the most powerful enemy of black job seekers today.

          Perhaps that’s not an exaggeration.

        • palisadesk says:

          ” In his work with preschoolers, Englemann trained non-college-grads in his Direct Instruction, with very good results”

          Can you be more specific? Engelmann did not train “non-college grads” in his preschool program (unless you are referring to the preschool children themselves), whose results he documented in a number of academic articles and a book co-authored with Carl Bereiter. His staff in the preschool programs were not yet Ph.D’s but they were already “college grads.” Since I am unusually conversant with Engelmann’s work, I am puzzled by your reference.

          • momof4 says:

            I wish I could remember. I think it was in an article I read recently – about a Baltimore school that still uses DI – but the preschool (which may not be an official part of the ES) doesn’t require certified teachers – just DI training. 30″ of math and 30″ of ELA each morning is the academic part of the day – the rest is pretty typical play, read-alouds etc. II think I’m right because it caught my eye as being unusual. The school is/has been doing much better than traditional schools, with the same student demographics. It may have been i one of the original DI groups during Project Follow Through.

          • Palisadesk, I’d love to hear more about your exposure to/experience with Engelmann’s work. It caught my attention many years ago when I was training to be a first grade teacher — given the children I was working with, it made sense. Never had the opportunity to see DI up close in the district I worked in — have followed some of the controversy since then — could you arrange with Joanne to post your thoughts?

          • palisadesk says:

            EB, I’d be happy to tell you more; if you have something specific in mind, why don’t you contact Joanne and if she thinks its a good idea she can contact me. But meanwhile, I have posted a lot about my experiences with DI at the Kitchen Table Math blog; if you go there:
            and enter in the search box at top left, palisadesk and DI, you’ll get a number of different posts relating to DI. A rather heartwarming one is this one:

            There is so much to be said about Engelmann’s work and its applications I wouldn’t know where to begin.

          • Thanks, Palisadesk. You’ve filled in some gaps for me.

  3. Boys lag girls by at least 5% in every high school diploma category in NY State, according to NYSED’s website, for the latest year available, 2008.

    ime schools are not boy friendly. It’s a truth here that the quieter male twin always gets picked for the honors program, while the outgoing twin is stuck in reg. ed.

  4. By the time a male graduates from high school (if he manages to do so), he is usually at least 1 to 2 grade levels behind in reading and math, compared to females.

    Griggs vs Duke Power is judicial activism at it’s best, along with Plyler vs. Texas, in which a 5-4 court (with strong dissention from Sandra Day O’Conner) said that it was illegal to withhold a public (K-12) education from students, based on their immigration status (legal or illegal).

    My brother and I graduated before the decision could have the impact it is having today on kids.


  5. Boys were born to slay dragons. To socialize them, they need answers to the question “what are boys for?” that place before them goals that both honor their nature and link them to the world’s real work, which is mainly domestic. Being a willing breadwinner provided a path to nobility for millions of ordinary men, and it was possible to pursue that goal informed by chivalry, which was an incandescent answer. We’ve tossed it all away, but have nothing to put in its place. One must work hard to improve one’s test scores doesn’t do the trick. Girls are easy and gaming provides occasion enough for heroism.

    They will, of course, find ways to express their masculine nature, but it’s not apparently going to be a schoolish way.