The question of male achievement in schooling is not new – and neither is the concern about it. A friend recently sent me a link to a firebrand article by Linda Laframboise from 1996.
The tone is unnecessarily incendiary, perhaps, and lots of statisticians could argue that the within-group differences in boys’ performance indicate that gender is not to blame. But I include this here because as a teacher of boys some of it resonates well:
Roll back the red carpet for boys
How come when girls fail it’s society’s doing, but when boys fail it’s their fault?
The Globe and Mail
7 March 1998, p. D6
Every now and again, in random bits and pieces, we run up against the fact that being male isn’t the red-carpet experience much of recent feminism would have us believe.
Young males are more likely to be physically abused by their parents, to drop out of school, and to face unemployment than their female counterparts. Between the ages of 15 and 24, they take their own lives five times more frequently. As adults, males are more likely to be homeless, more prone to alcohol and gambling addictions, twice as likely to be robbed or murdered, nine times more likely to be killed in an occupational accident, and go to their graves six years earlier (on average) than their sisters.
Yet so attached are we to the view that the patriarchy has designed the world for the benefit of males that these truths fail to sink in. Although headlines would scream and alarm bells would ring if the opposite were the case, inequality isn’t an important social issue when males are being shortchanged.
Talk about youth suicide, for instance, and you’ll be informed that what really deserves attention is not the appalling number of dead male bodies, but the fact that girls say they attempt suicide more often than do boys.
The latest example of this “who cares? they’re only guys” mentality are reports that girls are outperforming boys in school. In 1996, six out of ten high-school honours graduates in Ontario and British Columbia were female.
Even though girls were besting boys a decade earlier (in 1986, 53 per cent of Ontario honours grads and 57 of those in BC were girls), the 1990s have been replete with media commentary telling us it’s girls who merit our concern. In 1994, Myra and David Sadker’s book, Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls, appeared. A year later, Michele Landsberg wrote a column in The Toronto Star titled “School sexism so routine it’s almost invisible.” A news story, also inThe Star, about the higher-than-average Montreal drop-out rate implied we should be concerned about this phenomenon partly because “45 per cent of dropouts are young women.” Despite being in the majority, the boys weren’t worth mentioning.
When girls do worse in maths and science, when they don’t sign up for skilled trades or study engineering, we say its the system’s fault. Their parents aren’t encouraging them sufficiently, the schools are male-oriented and unwelcoming, the boys are harassing them, and the larger society is sending them traditional role-model messages.
When boys do poorly, it’s their own fault. Even though they’re children, all the responsibility gets loaded directly onto their meager shoulders. In a recent Globe and Mail article (“Where the Boys Aren’t: at the top of the class” – Feb. 26), educators tell the media that “too many boys don’t seem to be even trying,” and blame “a boy culture that celebrates bravado, lassitude and stupidity.” Rather than ask boys for their input, the reporter instead interviewed girls who criticized the boys’ study habits.
The fact that masculinity and intellectualism have always been an uneasy fit (football players get dates, bookworms don’t) doesn’t even make it into the conversation.
The idea that boys may be confused about whether or not they should excel, since feminism has drawn a straight line between female oppression and male achievement, isn’t discussed.
The fact that elementary schools are dominated by female teachers who scold and punish boys more frequently than they do girls, and that boys suffer from more learning disabilities, isn’t mentioned.
The notion that educators, parents, and governments have spent the past 15 years ignoring boys, so it’s little wonder that they themselves have become complacent about their performance isn’t considered.
Girls are victims of circumstance and boys are masters of their own fate. Girls are moulded and manipulated by social pressures; boys are immune to the world around them and make conscious choices. Girls get to blame everyone but themselves; everyone gets to blame boys.
Wasn’t feminism supposed to be about abolishing double standards?