Missing the point

A new report declares that a “boy crisis” in education doesn’t exist and that both sexes are about equal in their standardized tests scores. At least that’s the analysis of 40 years of these tests by the American Association of University Women, which promotes gender equity for women.

So much for those of us who have doggedly maintained that single-sex education — bitterly opposed by some women groups — is far better in the below high school grades, when boys and girls would seem to learn at a distinctly different pace, one that puts male pupils at a disadvantage. But then our contentions are unsubstantiated by anything other than personal experience, clearly making them invalid. Observations from the parenting and grand parenting of 13 children hardly can compare with certified academic analysis.

The study states that success in school depends more on family income and ethnicity (African and Hispanic Americans do worse, it says) than any sign that female teachers might quite naturally possess traits and skills in exercising their craft that are far more favorable to girls. It is a myth apparently that the verbal and cognitive abilities come earlier to girls, that their attention spans are longer and their understanding of written assignments generally keener than those of their male counterparts of the same age and that boys exposed to male teachers do well.

Those boys who don’t progress at the same speed are, as we all know, “late bloomers.” There is nothing to worry about as the AAUW study of the tests from fourth grade to college shows. Junior as we all know will come along even if he is now fidgeting, pounding on his seatmate, or staring out the window as if in a trance even when not zonked out on some anti-hyper drug. He is just a bit of a dreamer who ultimately will overcome these traits and turn toward math and other scientific disciplines with such fervor as to completely overwhelm any female competitor.

Like boxers, education theorists spend a great deal of their time jabbing and counterpunching one another with tests and studies to build support for their opinions on how to save the public schools. In the process much of what is just plain common sense disappears in a welter of statistics that appear irrefutable, if obvious, but completely miss the point. Boys do catch up, given half a chance. Girls certainly can be superlative mathematicians (my daughter is one), and parental support is obviously vitally important to academic progress. Children of families who can afford books and other educational tools are bound to do better. How startling is that?

But the elusive point is that despite all the stats, separate classes for the sexes are a good idea in theory but are impractical it seems in reality. Why? Because those teaching the boys most likely would be women, not the males that could both understand their charges and provide them with authoritative role models. The public school system from the first to the ninth grades has been the overwhelming domain of women for a variety of reasons. This matriarchal society subconsciously has created an atmosphere, set an agenda and established the standards that clearly favor girls, at least in the early stages. There is nothing sinister about this and they will deny it until hell freezes over. But every parent with a mixed household of children who is paying attention can attest to its authenticity.

Is there a crisis with boys? Probably not. However, there is a need to understand that many, if not most, little boys would do much better in their own element, one that approaches their early learning with an understanding of their strengths. How many boys turn off education early on because they feel inferior to girls who dominate the discussion, get far better grades and move ahead rapidly in their development is anyone’s guess, including the AAUW’s. At the same time, girls would be better off unencumbered by a daily regimen that includes having to wait until junior catches up.

There is nothing sexist in single sex education. It is just a practical solution that probably will never come about in any widespread way. The social interplay between the genders at that level can be accomplished in a variety of ways including recess and mixed activities during and after school. But again this isn’t likely to take place anytime soon, certainly not as long as there are studies like the AAUW’s that miss the point.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)