2/06/2006

Whitmire Responds: Why Focusing On Boys Is Threatening To Some

"Raising questions about the academic slump of boys arouses a curious pushback among some educators (and writers) who fall into the trap of thinking that any effort to help boys will set back girls. But that's senseless paranoia. "

Thanks to USAT's Richard Whitmire for passing along this letter he's submitted to Slate in response to Ann Hulbert's article trying to debunk the notion that boys are falling behind academically (The Backlash Against Boys Begins). Whitmire's article on boys and education was published last month in The New Republic (Boy Trouble).

The full text of the letter, and my previous posts on the topic, are below.

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Here's Whitmire's letter:
Somehow, Ann Hulbert managed to get 1,485 words printed in Slate challenging my Jan. 23 The New Republic article on boys falling behind in school without a single editor pointing out she was ignoring the central question: Why are boys disappearing from college campuses? Just last Friday The Washington Post published a chart showing the freshman enrollments in area colleges: Howard University, 68% female; American University, 65% female; Georgetown University, 56%.

Where are the men? There's no logical motive for them to dodge college. Men who don't graduate from college are at a severe, lifelong financial disadvantage: Last year, men 25 and older with a college degree made an average of $47,000 a year, while those with a high school degree earned $30,000. We guys may not be A-average material in high school, but we're bright enough to calculate how that translates into fewer fast cars and bass boats.

Hulbert concludes that boys and girls are performing roughly the same in school. I have two words for Hulbert: Road Trip! First stop Maine, where next month the state will reveal its lengthy study of why Maine boys have fallen so far behind. Then on to Vermont, where in November Education Commissioner Richard Cate expressed alarm about his state's widening gender gap.

On your way west, schedule quick stops in Illinois and Colorado to study the nation's best indicator of gender gaps, the curriculum-based ACT exams which are given to all students in those states. Pause in Washington State, where in December Gov. Christine Gregoire identified gender gaps as a top priority. On the way home stop by Kentucky where state officials are puzzling over an 18-percentage point gender verbal gap in the top two reading categories. Wrap up in the tour in Maryland where state educators are so upset about gender gaps they're devising a comic-book curriculum for boys.

Hulbert suggests socioeconomic inequalities are the real problem. I have no quarrel with that. But socioeconomic indicators can't explain what's happening between equally disadvantaged black men and black women. Nor do they help explain the recent drop in college attendance among white boys, but not girls, from working class and lower- income white collar families.

Hulbert correctly asks for proof that the global information economy is demanding ever-higher verbal skills (and thereby disadvantaging the boys). Hard to answer that quickly. I recommend looking at an unlikely place where boys used to excel -- state math exams. One study of the Maryland tests concluded the verbal skills required in the word problems were far more demanding than the actual math calculation.

Raising questions about the academic slump of boys arouses a curious pushback among some educators (and writers) who fall into the trap of thinking that any effort to help boys will set back girls. But that's senseless paranoia. I'm the father of two college-age girls. I became interested in this subject after wondering why my nephews and neighbors’ sons always seem to lag behind my nieces and neighbors’ daughters. Something's going on that needs correcting. What's needed is a little less defensiveness and a lot more inquiry.

Richard Whitmire
Previous Posts
Hip Hop Isn't The Only Reason for the Gender Gap
Boy Hype: Is the Standards Movement Hurting Boys?
Fear Of Boys
Making Schools More Effective for (Black) Boys


1 Comments:

Anonymous Cal Lanier said...

On your way west, schedule quick stops in Illinois and Colorado to study the nation's best indicator of gender gaps, the curriculum-based ACT exams which are given to all students in those states.

No reason to go that far. The Internet is a wonderful thing:

Colorado ACT scores

Males outscore femals on Math (20.4 to 19.6) and Science Reasoning (20.5 to 20.0). Females outscore males on English (20.0 to 18.7) and Reading (20.2 to 19.1).

And here's Illinois, where males outscore females on math (20.7 to 19.8) and Science Reasoning (20.7 to 20.1), and females outscore males on English (20.4 to 19.4) and reading (20.7 to 20.0).

It's worth noting that the Science Reasoning test is heavily text-based, requiring a good deal of reading skills. The English test, on the other hand, is largely a matter of grammar rules.

So where, exactly, is the evidence of boys in crisis in these scores?


" Nor do [socioeconomic indicators] help explain the recent drop in college attendance among white boys, but not girls, from working class and lower- income white collar families."

Yes, actually, they do. There's plenty of doom and gloom about the fate of those with only a high school degree, but very little analysis of actual evidence. Male high school graduates make more than women with some college, and almost as much as women with high school degrees.

3:27 PM  

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