Monday, July 03, 2006

Remember that supposed "boy-crisis?"

Well, finally someone proves this theory is full of shit. Judith Warner, guest columnist through July for TimesSelect, uses her first chance in this most sacred of all printed space to dispel the myth of, Ohmygod, boys are doing horribly in school!

It's been muttered for some time now in feminist academic circles that
the "boy crisis" — the near-ubiquitous belief that our nation's boys
are being academically neglected and emotionally persecuted by teachers
whose training, style and temperament favor girls — is little more than
a myth.
Yessiree. It's been proven time and time again that a teacher, even a feminist-minded one, is still more likely to call on the boys than the girls.

Now a major study has confirmed it. According to "The Truth About Boys
and Girls
," a report from the nonpartisan group Education Sector, most
boys aren't just not failing; they're doing better than ever on most
measures of academic performance. The only boys who aren't — the boys
who skew the scores because they're doing really, really badly — are
Hispanic and black boys and those from low-income homes
Pay close attention to my bolded sentence. The boys who are invariably suffering are the ones who either speak English as a second language or come from an already lagging background economically or educationally.

"But the predominant issues for them," wrote Sara Mead, who based her
conclusions in the study on decades of government statistics, "are race
and class, not gender."
Does anyone need to say this any louder for the Christina Hoff Sommers’ of the world?

"White suburban boys," they wrote in The Washington Post earlier this
year, "are not dropping out of school, avoiding college or lacking in
verbal skills ... among whites, the gender composition of colleges is
pretty balanced. ... In Ivy League colleges, men still outnumber
Did you see it that? Us white folks are doing just fine; it's the persons of black/African American or Hispanic/Latino descent that are lacking due to a system that ultimately favors White Middle-Class Kids to begin with. This is why Head Start and a push to get kids, especially those in high-risk areas, into preschools exist - so they can learn the basics before they get into Kindergarten where, since SOL's have been introduced, it's even harder for a high-risk kid to get a sound grip academically.

A little anecdotal evidence here and it's hearsay since it's a story from my mom, not first hand experience.

She went to help out in my Niece's classroom one Monday a few months back, mostly as a way to check out the teacher. Mom asked Teacher what she could do to help and Teacher pointed her in the direction of an ESL student. This is a 1st grade classroom folks where this kid didn't know English until he started Kindergarten. The Teacher's premise for sending Mom to him was that since he was an ESL student, Teacher thought he was having a hard time and was a "bad" student who needed extra help.

The real problem?

Duh - he was learning English as well as learning about Science and Social Studies! He would end up exhausted by the end of the day but managed to get a B average in the meantime. Also keep in mind this is a very rural school, therefore qualifying as "high risk," and has never passed the SOL's since they became mandatory in 2000. This means Niece's school and that little boy get no money for help thus making them Children Left Behind, a direct contradiction to what Bush supposedly wanted when he signed into law the irritatingly flawed No Child Left Behind Act.

Given these facts — which, when you think of it, were always pretty
obvious — why is it that the notion that their sons are "in crisis" has
persisted among affluent, educated (mostly) white parents and the
similarly privileged journalists, experts and politicians who shape
their opinions?

Blame anti-girl "backlash." Blame media navel gazing. I think, though,
that there's more to it than that.

The notion that boys are in crisis rings true to many middle- and
upper- middle-class parents because it feels true to them. And that's
because these parents are sick of being told that their preschool sons
need occupational therapy because they can't apply stickers with the
right fine-motor finesse. These parents are sick of seeing their
kindergarten boys referred to reading specialists. They're sick of
suggestions that their 9-year-olds have A.D.H.D. if they can't sit
still through school days from which recess has been cut, gym has been
eliminated and even lunch, sometimes, has been all but eradicated to
cram in more hours of test prep.
Exactly. That little boy was not being singled out for his gender, but for his lack in understanding the English language, or more succinctly perhaps, for not being born a White Middle-Class American.

Many dads recall that when they were in school, they were restless,
sometimes turbulent, sometimes aggressive, sometimes disruptive in
class. When they channeled their energy into the workplace, they
thrived — and they don't want their sons pathologized, or girlified,
for the sake of big-size classroom control.
I can't stand the idea that making our boys sit down, shut-up, behave and to respect their teachers when they're talking and trying to teach them stuff they will inevitably need and/or use the rest of their life is "girlifying" them. Why is it we teach girls to sit pretty and mind their manners but not boys? What makes boys so special they get the "boys will be boys" excuse but girls are admonished?

I sympathize with much of this. But what I don't see happening among
parents who complain that their boys are being disserved by educators
is a calling into question of their own complicity with high-pressure
schools that demand way too much of their sons.
I don't sympathize with it at all. Call me un-empathic if you will, I don't care. I get the "boys will be boys" or "he's a boy all right" or "he's all boy" response when I tell other less sociologically aware parents that Peanut got rough with some other boys in school, talked out of turn or disrupted the class for the bazillionth time. (Thank goodness his teachers, thus far anyway, haven't used that excuse and have made him behave or pay the consequences.) And it drives me absofreakinlutely bonkers.

Talk of the boy crisis is a diversion. It draws attention from the real
reasons so many white suburban parents sense that their sons are in
trouble. Those reasons aren't academic; they're behavioral and
emotional. Researchers have found in recent years that anxiety,
depression and self-medicating through drugs and alcohol are
disproportionately on the rise in rich communities, as kids seek escape
from excessive pressures to succeed.

This isn't unique to boys. Girls in these communities are showing an
increased incidence of eating disorders (female athletes are in
particular trouble on that score), and also a disturbing rise in
escapist behaviors like binge drinking and cutting. Experts say girls
are showing crisis signs for the same reasons as boys: because they're
stressed out, overextended and pushed beyond the limits of normal human
endurance. But since girls' forms of acting out tend to be
self-destructive rather than disruptive and often coexist with
excellent academic performance, they often pass under the radar.
It's been proven time and time again that boys are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD than girls simply because the symptoms manifest themselves in different ways. If this is the first you've heard of it, you haven't been paying close attention.

I've been saying this for a while now: boys explode, girls implode.

And I think it's because they're taught to handle their feelings differently based on gender alone. It's all the supposed hard-wired stuff we hear so much about. Girls are taught that anger is a bad thing, that striking out or raging against the machine is something girls just don’t do. We are taught to sit pretty in our girly dresses and mind our manners. Henceforth, boys are excused for their raping and/or pillaging behaviors because that’s "just what boys do". This excuse allows boys the opportunity to express themselves in whatever way they want as long as they don’t cry or in any way shape or form act like a girl. I think what the boys in this world need is a good dose of “girlifying” so perhaps they will grow up to be more emphatic, adjusted and well rounded adults who learn not to perpetuate the actual problem but to fight it at the source.

The notion that there's a universal boy crisis is expedient for
well-off parents in other ways as well. Talk — about anti-boy
discrimination, about boy-only learning styles — is cheap. Doing the
things necessary to address the real crisis among black, Latino and
rural and poor city boys isn't: it requires money for smaller classes,
better-trained teachers and more support. I'm not sure that white
suburban taxpayers are eager to pay the price. But I do know that if we
can get past gender turf battles, we might be able to address what's
really going wrong with our nation's kids.
Exactly. What I'd like to see is a genuine attempt to make sure no child is truly left behind. And that, my friends, might have to wait until we get a Real President in office.

(Judith Warner, the author of "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" and a contributing columnist for TimesSelect, will be a guest columnist through the end of July.)

So I ended up posting the whole column, but in snippet form. I couldn't pick out any one place that was more important than the rest because the whole article is the point well made; I just added my $.02 worth.

As for that study Warner cited? Here ya go. (Warning: *.pdf version)