New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks paints a sobering picture of the state of boys and education today:
A decade or so ago, people started writing books and articles on the boy crisis. At the time, the evidence was disputable and some experts pushed back. Since then, the evidence that boys are falling behind has mounted. The case is closed. The numbers for boys get worse and worse.
By 12th grade, male reading test scores are far below female test scores. The eminent psychologist Michael Thompson mentioned at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few days ago that 11th-grade boys are now writing at the same level as 8th-grade girls. Boys used to have an advantage in math and science, but that gap is nearly gone.
Boys are much more likely to have discipline problems. An article as far back as 2004 in the magazine Educational Leadership found that boys accounted for nearly three-quarters of the D’s and F’s.
Some colleges are lowering the admissions requirements just so they can admit a decent number of men. Even so, men make up just over 40 percent of college students. Two million fewer men graduated from college over the past decade than women. The performance gap in graduate school is even higher.
Some of the decline in male performance may be genetic. The information age rewards people who mature early, who are verbally and socially sophisticated, who can control their impulses. Girls may, on average, do better at these things. After all, boys are falling behind not just in the U.S., but in all 35 member-nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Boys are falling behind on every measure, on every level, in every country in the world. Where are the protests? Where are the lobbyists? Where is the outrage?
Brooks gives a reason why this might be, and with it a possible solution:
Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.
The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don’t fit the ethos get left out.
Brooks’ question is a good one: Why is it that we keep trying to change boys to fit the educational system instead of the educational system to fit boys?
And the solution doesn’t even sound difficult — add teachers, curriculum and programs with enough diversity, enough consciousness and enough understanding of how boys best learn so that the boys can truly do their best.
This needs to get done, now, by people who care. How could we possibly forget about the boys?
photo of handsome lads smiling by shutterstock