War Against Boys: The boys are losing

The War Against Boys still rages, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in the revised edition of her 2000 book.

The boys are losing, writes Nathan Glazer in an Education Next review. Schools continue to ignore boys’ “distinctive characteristics” and “the gap in school achievement between boys and girls” is “even more substantial and troubling.”

Sommers describes trends in education that hurt boys, including “the
ednext_XIV_3_waragainstboys_coverdecline of recess, punitive zero-tolerance policies, myths about juvenile ‘superpredators,’ and a misguided campaign against single-sex schooling.”

“As our schools become more feelings centered, risk averse, competition-free, and sedentary, they move further and further from the characteristic sensibilities of boys,” she writes.

“The movement to give special attention to girls and their needs was part of the grand drive to equality that has dominated American life and politics for decades,” writes Glazer, a Harvard professor emeritus in education and sociology. “But the drive for equality for the sexes was accompanied by a litigious and bureaucratic fervor that often went beyond common sense.”

Career tech programs that have engaged boys are under pressure to enroll more girls, Sommers writes. Few girls sign up for welding or pipefitting. Few boys want to be cosmetologists or child-care workers.

The Obama administration hopes to use the $1.1 billion Perkins Act to push more girls into “nontraditional” vocational and technical training, notes Glazer.

Sommers points out that in 2010 women made up 64 percent of graduate students in social science, 75 percent in public administration, 78 percent in veterinary medicine, and 80 percent in health sciences. Will that attract the attention of politicians and of bureaucrats enforcing Title IX?

Thirty-two percent of 27-year-old women have earned a four-year degree, compared to only 24 percent of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Let boys be boys

Schools should help boys succeed instead of treating them as “defective girls,” writes Christina Hoff Sommers in Time.

Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068.

“The ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school and in life,” she writes. Boys need help to learn these skills.

Sommers suggests more unstructured play time. Children in Japan get 10 minutes of play every hour. More recess could mean less Ritalin.

To turn boys into readers, teachers should know what boys like. She suggests Guysread.com for “lists of books that have proved irresistible to boys.”

Finally, “work with the young male imagination.”

In his delightful Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, celebrated author and writing instructor Ralph Fletcher advises teachers to consider their assignments from the point of view of boys. Too many writing teachers, he says, take the “confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotion and self-disclosure are prized; stories describing video games, skateboard competitions or a monster devouring a city are not.

. . . Along with personal “reflection journals,” Fletcher suggests teachers permit fantasy, horror, spoofs, humor, war, conflict and, yes, even lurid sword fights.

“If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms, they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind,” Sommers concludes.
Soldier drawn by 8-year-old.
As a perfect illustration of her point, an Arizona school threatened to expel an 8-year-old boy who drew pictures of an armed soldier, ninja and Star Wars character as possible Halloween costumes. His parents withdrew him from Scottsdale Country Day School.

The headmaster told the father the third grader’s art was “highly disturbing.” The headmaster had highlighted words in the boy’s journal he found violent and unacceptable, the father told CBS5.

For example, the boy had written about escaping a killer zombie at a haunted school:

“I’d open the window, but, stand back quickly. Booby-trapped. Shoot the gadget – a rope gun – I’d swing across without getting hit.”

Many of the third-grader’s other journal entries were about saving the earth and protecting humanity.

In one passage, he wrote he’d like the ability to stop an atom bomb and stop bullets.

The headmaster told the father his son was a threat to the safety of the other children.

As Instapundit puts it: When they make you a school principal do they at least pay for the lobotomy?

The boys at the back

“Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in The Boys at the Back in the New York Times.

Elementary teachers give boys lower grades than their test scores would have predicted, according to a study in The Journal of Human Resources. Boys can’t keep up with girls in “attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently,” the researchers say.

. . . one critic told me recently, the classroom is no more rigged against boys than workplaces are rigged against lazy and unfocused workers. But unproductive workers are adults — not 5-year-olds. If boys are restless and unfocused, why not look for ways to help them do better? As a nation, can we afford not to?

In a revised version of her book, The War on Boys, Sommers hits “boy-averse trends like the decline of recess, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the tendency to criminalize minor juvenile misconduct and the turn away from single-sex schooling.”

As our schools have become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, collaboration-oriented and sedentary, they have moved further and further from boys’ characteristic sensibilities.

Male underachievement in school is a global phenomenon. The British, the Canadians and the Australians are experimenting with ways to  help boys do well in school, Sommers writes. That ranges from “boy-friendly reading assignments” to single-sex classes.

At Aviation High School in New York City, students spend half their day learning traditional subjects and the other half on aviation mechanics.

. . .  I observed a classroom of 14- and 15-year-olds focused on constructing miniaturized, electrically wired airplane wings from mostly raw materials. In another class, students worked in teams — with a student foreman and crew chief — to take apart and then rebuild a small jet engine in just 20 days.

The school’s 2,200 pupils — mostly students of color, from low-income households — have a 95 percent attendance rate and a 90 percent graduation rate, with 80 percent going on to college.

. . . “The school is all about structure,” an assistant principal, Ralph Santiago, told me. The faculty emphasizes organization, precision, workmanship and attention to detail.

Aviation High is co-ed, but only 16 percent of students are girls. The school has received the district’s “A” rating six years in a row.

“Vocational high schools with serious academic requirements are an important part of the solution to male disengagement from school,” Sommers concludes.

Ilana Garon couldn’t control a nearly all-male special ed class, until her female co-teacher was replaced by a male teacher, she writes on Ed Week‘s View from the Bronx.