The Report Newsmagazine www.report.ca 12-04-2000
Boys' problems don't matter The education establishment refuses to act on
the growing male-female education gap
Early in the federal election campaign, NDP leader Alexa McDonough
attempted to entertain an Ottawa audience by unleashing a personal attack
on Jean Chretien and Stockwell Day. Noting that both participated in photo
ops to showcase their athleticism, the NDP leader derided the pair for
concentrating on their "macho" images at the expense of sound policies.
Then came her supposed coup de grâce: "It just goes to prove that repeated
doses of testosterone can dull the mind, doesn't it?" Any male making a
similar remark about a female adversary's hormonal imbalance would no
doubt see his political career come to an abrupt end.
But Ms. McDonough's sexist jibe evoked a roar of approval from her
audience and nary a word of criticism in the media. It appears that
anti-male gender stereotyping is as acceptable today as wife-beating jokes
were 40 years ago. But society is now beginning to see what decades of
feminist-inspired male-bashing has done to a generation of young men. From
coast to coast, boys are falling further and further behind girls in a
majority of education-related measurements, from primary reading skills to
university enrolment. And, while some officials are finally recognizing the
problem, little is being done to address it.
"We have created a monster which is very difficult to escape from," says
author Martin Loney of Ottawa. "There is nobody who is going to stand on a
platform and start talking about the problems that face young boys,
especially if it means criticizing the kind of education policies that got
us into this position in the first place."
Those policies have been marked by a feminist-driven agenda that aims both
to boost the number of girls in "non-traditional" courses and to encourage
their success in all areas of study. Moreover, according to University of
Melbourne lecturer Wes Imms (a University of B.C. graduate who is an expert
on boys' education), modern educational practices actually work against
boys' best interests. The result is an educational crisis whose reality in
Canada is being affirmed on a regular basis. In Alberta, for example, a
1998-99 report showed girls significantly outperforming boys on reading and
writing tests, while almost matching them in math and science. In Ontario
last month, Education Minister Janet Ecker released Grade 3 and Grade 6
reading, writing and math results revealing "persistent and glaring
discrepancies in achievements and attitudes between boys and girls,"
according to one news report. Said the minister, "The next step is to ask
why this is occurring and then fix it."
At about the same time, the B.C. Ministry of Education made public the
results of Foundation Skills Assessment 2000, which provides a snapshot of
how Grade 4, 7 and 10 students perform in reading, writing and math. The
Grade 10 writing results, for example, show 77% of girls meeting or
exceeding expectations, compared to only 60% of boys. In fact, girls
outperform boys at all levels in both writing and reading. Last year,
delegates to a B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) convention asked their
staff to examine the problem. The result is a report, made public last
month, entitled "G.I. Joe meets Barbie, software engineer meets
caregiver: Males and females in B.C.'s public schools and beyond." But
while the study recognizes that boys are not performing well in B.C.
classrooms, it focuses on defending the status quo in public education
instead of finding a solution.
"Given the range of factors that reflect, define and describe our lives,
it would be a tremendous oversimplication to say that schools are failing
boys," the report declares. Indeed, it concluded that the system is still
not favouring girls enough: "a stunning amount of gender stereotyping
remains in British Columbia's public education system," it declares. The
question of who, if anyone, is responsible for this "stereotyping" is not
addressed, and neither is the possibility that the sexes may select certain
fields of study over others, not because of stereotyping, but because of
their different natures.
The BCTF report calls for no significant curriculum change to address
boys' needs, but does say that teachers can adopt "a constructivist
approach that treats each child...as an individual." For example, boys
might be given adventure stories to read, while girls are assigned fantasy
stories. Educator Imms asserted recently, however, that teachers should
recognize that boys "prefer to do rather than to listen," and that their
modes of learning are so unique that governments should consider
establishing some boys-only schools.
University of Alaska (Fairbanks) psychology professor Judith Kleinfeld,
the author of "The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls" (published in
Public Interest a year ago), says the education establishment should also
recognize that "you're never going to have [a] 50-50 [male-female split] in
any occupation. And that is because boys and girls have particular patterns
and abilities." Speaking from her experience as a mother of a teenaged girl
herself, Prof. Kleinfeld says parents and educators should stop pressuring
girls to enrol in science, math and other "non-traditional" courses. Not
only might this harm girls, but also, "for reasons we don't understand,
some very serious things are happening with boys."
Furthermore, as more males underperform or drop out, females will begin to
feel the pinch, she asserts. "It means a lack of compatible men for women
to marry. Most women want many things in life--career, success, good
marriage, and they want children...and they want partners who can help
them. But extreme feminism is subverting these goals by creating an
atmosphere where boys think no one cares about them."
Her solution? "The basic point is that we need to give people freedom,
rather than trying to achieve equal numbers," Prof. Kleinfeld says. "The
point is freedom, not social engineering."
Amber V. DeWine
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Fri Apr 12 2002 - 15:15:57 EDT