The War Against Boys: Chapter 1, Part II (Pg. 33-44)

August 18, 2010 | NeW Staff

In the second-half of chapter 1, Sommers repeatedly proves her point that in fact boys are at-risk not girls. Sommers brings study after study to her readers attention, each one documenting the advance of girls and the decline of boys:

“It is very hard to look at the school data on adolescents or the most recent data on college students without coming to the conclusion that girls and young women are thriving, while boys and young men are languishing.”
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) commissioned another study, this time focusing seriously on gender and academic achievement:
“In 1995, perhaps in reaction to criticism–from an increasing number of unpersuaded scholars–the AAUW commissioned a more serious scientific study of gender and academic achievement. That study, The Influence of School Climate on Gender Differences in the Achievement and Engagement of Young Adolescents, by University of Michigan professor Valerie E. Lee and her associates, was released without the fanfare the AAUW usually lavishes on such publications. This is not surprising. Lee’s study strongly suggests that earlier reports of a tragic demoralization and shortchanging of America’s schoolgirls have been greatly exaggerated.”
Lee’s study found that girls were not failing, they were in-fact more engaged than their male counterparts, they were more prepared for school, had better school attendance records and showed positive academic behavior:
“Lee’s temperate conclusions, in research sponsored by the AAUW, were based on U.S. Department of Education data and were fully consistent with the findings of Hedges and Nowell. But they are at odds with the disturbing picture that the AAUW earlier so successfully sold to the American public and Congress. Lee concluded, ‘The public discourse around issues of gender in school needs some change . . . Inequity can (and does) work in both directions.’ As far as I have been able to ascertain, Valerie Lee’s responsible and objective study was not mentioned in a single newspaper.”
Two years later a study was funded by Metropolitan Life Insurance Comany entitled, The American Teacher 1997: Examining Gender Issues in Public Schools. MetLife supported this study as a part of its American Teacher series. Their findings amazingly contradicted the girls at-risk theory. The researchers found:
“‘Contrary to the commonly held view that boys are at an advantage over girls in school, girls appear to have an advantage over boys in terms of their future plans, teachers’ expectations, everyday experiences at school and interactions in the classroom.'”
Even though the American public has been shown over and over again that boys are the ones at-risk, we seemingly ignore the evidence. Britain, on the other hand, has an engaged interest in the decline of their young men:
“Britain has no Carol Gilligan, no Mary Pipher, no AAUW. It is therefore unsurprising that in Britain the plain truth about male underperformance has been reaching an informed and concerned public. For almost a decade, British newspapers and journals have been reporting on the distressing scholastic deficits of British schoolboys. The Times of London warned the prospect of ‘an underclass of permanently unemployed, unskilled men.’ ‘What’s Wrong with Boys?’ asked the Glasgow Herald. The Economist referred to boys as ‘tomorrow’s second sex.'”
Sommers continues her admonishment of the American public for ignoring the problem:
“It is time the American public learned about the findings that supersede and contradict the accepted view that girls are academically weaker than boys. Because the British public is well informed about its boys, British schools have a significant head start in programs designed to lift boys out of the ‘disillusioned’ category and to deal with their chronic underachievement. We have much to learn from their initiatives and even more from their healthy, commonsense approach to what they rightly see as a serious national emergency. For the time being, however, the academic problems of American boys are invisible.”
In closing, Sommers points out that some are taking notice of the boys’ decline, however, they are not trying to simply build and support our young men, instead they are trying to re-invent them:
“The belief that boys are being wrongly ‘masculinized’ is inspiring a movement to ‘construct boyhood’ in ways that will render boys less competitive, more emotionally expressive, more nurturing–more, in short, like girls. Gloria Steinem summarizes the view of many in the boys-should-be-changed camp when she says, ‘We badly need to raise boys more like girls.'”
Discussion Questions: What should the American public do to stop the decline of young men? Should we follow in Britain’s shoes? What do you think of Gloria Steinem’s viewpoint?
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