Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Boys Aren't Alright

I have previously commented on my thoughts on the importance of men, how they are being left behind in a women obsessed society.

When I heard about this article I had to read it. Unfortunately it was behind a subscriber wall. Normally, I just say, oh well, and don't read the article, but the teaser was this:

Ontario's Trent University is proud of its undergraduate focus and small-town feel. On its home page is a picture of a happy-looking Asian guy — a double-minority student. Maybe one reason he looks so happy is that he's got his pick of girls. Trent's gender ratio is 60 to 40 weighted toward the girls, which is typical for campuses across Canada.

So I signed up for the 14 day trial. Since I go to Trent I was very interested in reading the rest:

Graduation rates are even more lopsided, because more men than women drop out. Universities remind me of that Jan and Dean beach song: two girls for every boy.

Do we have a problem? Or is the famous boy crisis just a lot of hype?

A lot of hype, say some. Sara Mead, author of a new U.S. study called The Truth about Boys and Girls, argues that most boys are doing better than ever. And if the girls are doing even better than the boys, so what? “While most of society has finally embraced the idea of equality for women, the idea that women might actually surpass men in some areas (even as they remain behind in others) seems hard for many people to swallow.”

Ms. Mead's study made a giant splash. “Talk of the boy crisis is a diversion,” wrote New York Times columnist Judith Warner. She blames overwrought upper-middle-class parents who push their kids too hard for the alleged crisis. The real trouble with their sons is emotional and behavioural, not academic. Besides, achievement gaps by race are bigger than achievement gaps by gender. The boy crisis is really a crisis of race and class.

The backlash was probably inevitable. The “boy crisis” has boosted a lot of careers and sold a lot of magazines, just as the “girl crisis” did in the '90s. “The ‘boy crisis' offers an attractive way for conservative pundits to get in some knocks against feminism and progressive education,” said Ms. Mead.

So what's the truth?

The truth is, boys have been lagging behind girls for many years, and the gap seems to be growing. Once upon a time, that didn't matter. Now it does. “Basically, boys are flatlined,” says Judith Kleinfeld, director of the Boys Project at the University of Alaska. “They aren't keeping up with the demands of an economy that relies increasingly on highly technical skills.” In one international test of literacy skills, 15-year-old girls in Canada outperformed 15-year-old boys by 30 per cent. Among black kids, girls go on to postsecondary education at twice the rate of boys.

“Many boys, especially working-class boys, get caught in what I call ‘the trap,'” Prof. Kleinfeld says. “They take a high-paying job, maybe even $20 an hour, working the forklift at night at Wal-Mart. Then they injure their backs, have a lot of debt on their truck, and no skills to fall back on.” Not surprisingly, the boomerang generation — young adults who still live at home — is overwhelmingly male.

But Prof. Kleinfeld's research shows that boys of every background have fallen behind. Among the white sons of college-educated parents, reading skills have dropped dramatically. In one national achievement test, 23 per cent of such boys scored “below basic” in reading and writing at the end of Grade 12 (compared with 7 per cent of the girls). This means they can't read a newspaper or simple instructions —and they're the advantaged kids. The test was American. Are Canadian kids so different? I don't think so.

You've heard all the arguments why boys are falling behind, so I won't repeat them. But consider your average high school. This is a place where adolescents are required to sit for hours at a time without squirming, where compliance, neatness, rule following and politeness are rewarded, where males make up the smallest percentage of teachers in 40 years, where adult females drone on about subjects that have no relevance to your daily life, where good literature is anything by Toni Morrison, where normal male competitiveness is interpreted as deviance and horseplay as sexual harassment, and a sizable percentage of the male inmates have been labelled special ed or behavioural from an early age — i.e. deficient. Is it any wonder so many boys think school is hell?

Judith Kleinfeld's right. We do have a problem. And instead of trying to change boys, maybe it's time we tried to change the system.

I excelled in school, my brother did not. He was "diagnosed" with A.D.D. at age 7. We lived in Ottawa at this time. My mother did not want to put him on medication, especially because of what it did to his appetite. But the school eventually won.

When we moved from Ottawa to London my mom neglected to tell the school about it to see if it really was the teach/school or Tyler really needed help. Less than a month in, the teacher called my mom at home inquiring if Tyler had ADD. Problem was he was 7 years old.

The boys aren't alright. Another example of this is my observations and experiences as a coordinator for an exchange program this summer. Usually this program attracts females, usually applicants are 80-85% female. I chose 3 males and 3 females for the exchange. I got 6 females in return. Out of the students I sent, there have been issues with two of them, both male. Their problems are social. When I interviewed them, I didn't believe them to be perfect candidates (my girls were), but they were like your typical teenage boy: a little awkward, weird, unsure of self because of bodily changes.

The two issues that have come up with the boys are their behaviour. One is withdrawn and doesn't interact and the other is nerdy to the point of annoyance to others. Both of these boys have father figures, but I have observed them to be much like thier fathers.

What should be done about our boys? I haven't a clue, but I see there is a problem, and something needs to be done.

Toque Tip: Gay and Right


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