Friday, March 25, 2005

The Real Gender Gap

I like the JohnnyBlog to be fresh and exciting, so I hate to reference old material. (Didn't you just analyze a football league that has been dead for four years? Yes, shut up!) But I saw a link to an excellent article on an away message this evening. In it, David Brooks talks about a general change in campuses nowadays, but I really just want to focus on one excerpt from his piece.

Instead, their conversational style is a reflection of the amazing self-confidence of the women on these campuses. The single most striking--if hard to define--difference between college campuses today and college campuses 20 years ago is in the nature and character of the female students. They are not only self-confident socially. They are self-confident academically, athletically, organizationally, and in every other way.

There are far more women than men enrolled in America's colleges. In 1997, women earned 25 percent more bachelor's degrees and 33 percent more master's degrees than men, and that gap widens every year. In general the women carry themselves with an appearance of ease that must have been matched only by that of the old WASP bluebloods when these schools were oriented around their desires. Twenty years ago, if memory serves, it was mostly us men who performed the role of seminar baboons--speaking up and showing off our knowledge, just as today it is mostly men who fill the op-ed pages with ideas and pontifications.

Listen, don't cry for me, I'm doing fine as a young man in this day and age. I did not get any special encouragement growing-up nor did I get any real discouragement either. I have just soldiered on, doing the best that I can. I am not asking for any help or sympathy.

However, anyone who thinks that women are the only ones being shortchanged by the education system are fooling themselves. Men are dropping out more often in high school and are much less likely to go on to college than women. A small handful of his male counterparts might dominate the billionaire CEO category, but does this do the regular guy working minimum wage jobs any good? The fact is that the visibility of a few successful men gives policy makers an excuse to ignore what is going on with boys today. We shouldn't let anecdotal examples misguide us.

So why is this happening? It seems too convenient to just say that's the way it is and that women are just on the whole better at school than men. If the situation was reversed, people would be calling it a travesty. Instead, powerful women focus on their past difficulties getting to where they are because of their sex, ignoring the fact that things have already swung the exact opposite direction, and keep on favoring girls at the expense of innocent boys who did nothing to them.

Simply put: the women who are in control of the agenda now, grew up in the 60s and 70s when women were mistreated both in the classroom and in the office. I do not deny that fact. Their perspective is skewed by this experience and I cannot blame them for this. I cannot, though, accept that their myopic goals are shortchanging the education of today's boys.

Example: Women are more-likely to get in college than men. However, the SAT was just changed to increase female scores. Why do they need an advantage when applying to school when they already outperform men in obtaining bachelor's degrees?

All right, fine, you say, there's a problem, but how do you expect we fix it?

My proposals:

1. We need more male teachers. Having a good male role model is crucial for a boy's development. We cannot change the high percentage of single-female-run households that exist now, but we can try to fill in the gap by encouraging more men to teach.

2. Stop pussifying boys. Boys and girls are different. Not one sex is better; the two are just different. Boys will roughhouse, won't be quiet all the time and won't talk about their feelings non-stop. Deal with it and make sure they have constructive outlets for this behavior. Stop cutting gym class to squeeze in another hour of math. Boys need physical activity. That's just the way it is. The more they enjoy school, the more they will keep on wanting to go there. It is as simple as that.

3. Start spending some more time exposing young men/boys to careers where they need a college diploma. Taking your child to work shouldn't be limited to your daughters, nor should career-day favor one gender over the other. We should work harder to find creative ways to get both sexes interested in a wide variety of careers.

4. Consider splitting up classrooms by gender some of the time. Boys and girls learn differently, so we need to accept this while ensuring they learn how to work well in mixed-gender environments.

Let me conclude by saying that this whole male v. female beef thing is idiotic. We need each other, and we both have our pluses and minuses. If you cannot see that, you need to grow up and look around. Playing zero-sum games when it comes to education is wrong. Helping one gender over the other is childish and destructive. We are all on the same team here. I only advocate that we look to help both and not ignore the less-fortunate men and boys currently struggling in school. Let's not be blinded by our prejudices or our desire to do it with the hot girl majoring in women studies.

I'm talking to you too, Maureen Dowd.

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