"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, February 4, 2013

Boys and Girls Are Different

As every even marginally intelligent adult realizes.  

But not our school system, which continues to expect boys to behave like girls -- be neat, tidy, organized, quiet, attentive, meek, passive, rule followers -- instead of the sloppy and disorganized (but creative), loud and bored (because they have more nervous energy), aggressive (because... well, just because they're boys), rule-breakers and mischief-makers.   Christina Hoff Sommers, who has been writing about the "war on boys" for years, reports from the frontlines in the NYT over the weekend:

Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college. Why? A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys.

The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.

No previous study, to my knowledge, has demonstrated that the well-known gender gap in school grades begins so early and is almost entirely attributable to differences in behavior. The researchers found that teachers rated boys as less proficient even when the boys did just as well as the girls on tests of reading, math and science. (The teachers did not know the test scores in advance.) If the teachers had not accounted for classroom behavior, the boys’ grades, like the girls’, would have matched their test scores.

As our schools have become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, collaboration-oriented and sedentary, they have moved further and further from boys’ characteristic sensibilities.

I've seen this first-hand in our own family.   The Regular Son was essentially targeted by women teachers in his parochial school because he was... well, loud, aggressive, bored, creative, funny, and, yes, sometimes angry.   He was also the smartest kid in the school, and everyone knew it.   But he didn't get the best grades, and the teachers didn't like teaching him, and the result was a debacle that is only now resolving itself as he is an honors student in a (not by accident) all-boys high school.  

I'll give you an example.   For years the female teachers would criticize him for drawing in class instead of paying attention to whatever it was he was supposed to be doing.   As a kid he drew all the time -- he went through a dinosaur phase, then a cheetah phase, then a phase where all he drew were World War II fighters.   The teachers hated it.

Now he's 15 and does this sort of thing in his spare time instead of playing video games:

Wouldn't a good school with good teachers support and encourage excellence and, to use a precise word, obsession, in young men?  It's the obsessions of young men that become the great achievements in human civilization, not just in art, but in science and business too.   But our school system seems designed to try to squash them instead.  

A marginally competent plaintiffs lawyer could probably create a class-action lawsuit focusing on the discrimination against boys in schools across America.  

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