Last evening while sitting around the dinner table with my mom, spouse, and a couple of my siblings, we discussed some of the scrapes my brothers and I had during our early school years, both in the classroom and after school. Most were, in retrospect, humorous. Some involved minor harm to others’ property; some involved minor cuts and bruises; none would qualify as felonious. Today, many decades later, there is no doubt similar transgressions some would result in suspension, or even expulsion from school, and maybe even arrest and detention. And yes, any number would have, in our present day brave new world, resulted in the same fate meted out to poor Alex in my previous post.
Apropos to my most recent essay is an article by Christina Hoff Sommers published today in the Dallas Morning News. Ms. Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a dissident feminist, and, of all things, a libertarian Democrat. Wasn’t sure there was such a thing.
Since we have a War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on Guns (however mind-boggling that may be), and War on Women, I suppose Ms. Sommers is permitted to postulate that there is a War Against Boys.
That indeed is the title of her book, first published in 2001 with a revised edition to be published later this year – now to be subtitled How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men. I have not read the earlier edition, but her current essay entitled “When Boys Lag at School” appears to be is somewhat of a precis of the revision. Ms. Sommers finds statistics that show, though boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests in primary and secondary schools, they are far less likely to get as good grades. The reason for this appears to be that grades have a non-cognitive component, which might fall under the collective heading of deportment. Teachers tend to reward the attentive, cooperative, and even passive behavior of girls and penalize the inattentive, distracted, and somewhat obstreperous behavior of young male students. This results in factoring the students’ deportment into substantive course grades. (Back in my day we had a separate grade for deportment, or conduct, which was — I admit — often my lowest.)
Well, why not? After all, schools is a place for learning real life skills, such as cooperation and civility, as well as those which are strictly cognitive. “[T]he ability to regulative one’s impulses, delay gratification, sit still and pay close attention are the cornerstones of success in school and in the workforce” Ms. Sommers rhetorically posits. She answers that unproductive workers are adults, not five year old boys. Boys who are restless and unfocused should receive the same help that girls did when their lagging behind in math and science was recognized as a problem.
How much of boys seemingly inherent restlessness and similar characteristics is biological as opposed to cultural is subject to endless, and probably inconclusive debate. The fact remains that it exists. Grading down in substantive disciplines like reading, writing, and arithmetic for general attitude or behavioral deficiencies is not the answer. For one thing, admission or exclusion to enriched secondary or higher education programs is based primarily on grades. Performance on standardized tests is secondary. While most boys seem to grow out of the aforementioned undesirable behaviors, some do later than others, and for those chances for advancement could well be foreclosed.
But there are those who maintain that, anyway, men have had an advantage in post-secondary education for centuries. Isn’t it at time for the boys to get their comeuppance?
The short answer is no. As Mohandas Gandhi is often quoted or paraphrased, an eye for and eye ends up with the whole world blind. We have seen the problems caused by constant back and forth retribution. Even the supposedly benevolent affirmative action policies have been more successful in causing resentment in the disfavored group, not to mention eroding confidence in the actual ability of individuals perceived to be in the favored one. Ms. Sommers “can sympathize with those who roll their eyes at the relatively recent alarm over boys’ achievement” but “reverse chauvinism” is not the answer. “The rise of women, however long overdue, does not require the fall of men.”