So much for the boy crisis

Scripps Howard News Service

So much for the “boy crisis,” at least the one posited by right-wing women. Boys do indeed have academic weak spots. So do girls, in other academic arenas. But a new study by Education Sector, a Washington-based education think tank, reveals that during the past three decades, boys’ test scores are mostly on the rise, more boys are going to college and more are earning BAs. So what’s the problem?

Conservative women claim feminists created an artificial “girl problem” that helped push girls so far ahead of boys academically, they make the case boys are falling fearfully behind. They also charge feminists have so deprived boys of testosterone by feminizing education, boys are being feminized into oblivion. Feminists conversely claim that centuries of cultural attitudes that viewed women as chattel are not overcome in a few decades, and girls still lag scholastically in ways that translate into lower earning power when they become women. Maybe each side has a point.

The Washington Post notes that this new survey uses federally funded data garnered since 1971 to show educational inequities are more a matter of income than of gender. “Although low-income boys, like low-income girls, are lagging behind middle-class students, as a gender, boys are scoring significant gains in elementary and middle school and are much better prepared for college, the report says. It concludes that much of the pessimism about young males seems to derive from inadequate research, sloppy analysis and discomfort with the fact that while the average boy is doing better, the average girl has gotten ahead of him.”

So much for Christina Hoff-Sommers’ anti-feminist polemic, “The War Against Boys.” And for the attitude exemplified by this quote from the Independent (read: conservative) Women’s Forum’s Web site: “Naturally the elitoes are pooh-poohing the ‘boy crisis’ _ because it interferes with their victimologist view that the real ‘crisis’ facing boys is that they’re not enough like girls. So now, with study after study showing that boys are dropping out of school and skipping college at alarming rates, and that feminized, girl-friendly classes in grade-school and high-school (sic) might have something to do with it, we have (authors) Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Chase Burnett asking in the Washington Post: ‘What boy crisis?’ “

Once again I find myself in the messy middle of the boy-girl academic crisis and the secondary battle it has spawned over single-sex education in public schools. I wish conservative women, who support single-sex public schools, would stop attacking feminists, who do not. Is feminist ideology perfect? Of course not. Neither are feminists. But this woman-versus-woman war created by anti-feminists is more than a bit unseemly. And “feminism” is hardly the powerhouse its female enemies make it out to be.

Feminists, on the other hand, should recognize the pathways they’ve opened for girls have helped girls progress. They should not fear taking a public stand for boys once in a while.

I prefer the take of family physician and psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax. He occasionally steers into the “nutty” column (to wit, teachers should yell at boy students, but not at girls) and is more often quoted by the right than the left. But at heart, Sax comes across as an academician who has shifted his position on the real or imagined gender education crisis from the “boy” column, somewhat toward the middle.

I’d like to think research and experience have taught Sax that girls and boys are wired differently and therefore face divergent educational foibles. He supports some single-sex education in public schools, but advises the final decision should be left to parents: “For that reason, and others, single-sex education in public schools must remain voluntary for the foreseeable future. Parents, in consultation with teachers, must make the final determination of whether the single-sex format is right for their child. In the public sector as in the private sector, allowing parents a choice between coeducation and single-sex education is likely to yield the best results for all children.”

Truce, please! The girl-boy wars are hereby declared over.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)