Christina Hoff Sommers’ seminal book The War Against Boys is coming out again with new material. In a piece this morning in the New York Times, Hoff Sommers offers a preview of one the important issues that will be addressed in the book: male underachievement in school.
If the excellent play (the article takes up most of the front page of the Review section) and arresting art work in the Times are any indication, the new War on Boys is going to be every bit as big a deal as the original was. At the time, Hoff Sommers was widely attacked for daring to notice a phenomenon we'd rather not see. Now, twelve years later, it is harder to close our eyes.
Although boys do as well or better than girls on standardized tests, Hoff Sommers notes, they do less well in school: they are less likely to get top grades or to take advanced placement courses. Boys go to college at a lower rate than girls. Why is this?
Hoff Sommers cites a new study that finds, as she has argued, that boys do less well because of behavioral issues. Boys are more raucous than girls and teachers take this into consideration when grading. In other words: boys are likely to behave like boys. Hoff Sommers writes:
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.
A few decades ago, Hoff Sommers writes, when it became clear that girls needed more opportunities, society accepted the challenge and adopted measures to help. Shouldn’t we do the same for boys? Given that this question is now unavoidable, The War on Boys is going to be more relevant now than it was a decade ago:
In a revised version of the book, I’ve changed the subtitle — to “How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men” from “How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men” — and moved away from criticizing feminism; instead I emphasized boy-averse trends like the decline of recess, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the tendency to criminalize minor juvenile misconduct and the turn away from single-sex schooling. As our schools have become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, collaboration-oriented and sedentary, they have moved further and further from boys’ characteristic sensibilities. Concerns about boys arose during a time of tech bubble prosperity; now, more than a decade later, there are major policy reasons — besides the stale “culture wars” of the 1990s — to focus on boys’ schooling.
As Hoff Sommers makes clear, we all have a stake in this matter. A global economy means that the nations that produce the best, most educated workforces, will be the most prosperous. We can’t let the boys down for the selfish reason that we want to prosper in a global economy. But we also owe them the same chances we have created for girls.
I urge you to read this piece, which offers some ideas on what can be done to prevent more young men from falling by the wayside. Most interesting is Hoff Sommers’ visit to a boy-friendly school.