Soundoff: Society abandons boys

The gender disparity evidenced in Coupeville High School WASL scores is representative of more than a local or state trend, but a national one as well. In May 2003, Business Week magazine had a cover story entitled, “The New Gender Gap.” It is a sobering read for anyone who has children, male or female.

Nationwide, high school student leadership is overwhelmingly female. College applications and admissions favor females, and the gap is widening. For more than 30 years, our academic and cultural focus has been in raising girls up - a worthy goal, but one which has been pursued with little or no concern toward raising up boys as well. The result has been that while our girls are becoming more confident and competent, more goal oriented and disciplined, our boys are overwhelmingly moving to the rear. Boys lack social, culture or academic environments that encourage them to succeed.

The disparity comes from a two-pronged bias that favors girls. First, the focus on equipping girls for the future has not been matched by an similar effort toward boys. The fact that Coupeville High School would take girls, but not boys, to a college career fair is indicative of that bias. The academic community has concerned itself with providing girls with a vision for the future while assuming boys will find their own way. Statistics are now making it clear, boys are not finding their own way.

The second bias is reflected in the content of the WASL itself. We increasingly measure academic achievement from a perspective that favors females. We are no longer satisfied with a brilliant grasp of mathematical theories, functions and applications, we want an explanation of that understanding. While all girls and all boys are obviously not the same, boys do tend to be more spatial in their thinking and girls tend to be more verbal. We no longer recognize the academic and leadership talents of boys unless they can present them from a verbal and relational perspective that tends to be more common to and more comfortable for girls.

Ironically, while we are creating a crisis of academic and leadership failure among American boys, the rest of the world is quickly overtaking us in these same areas. Many college and university science departments are now staffed largely by men and women educated in other countries. These people have learned in rigorous academic environments that encourage real creativity, real learning and real knowledge. They have not been required to demonstrate strong personal communication skills before they are deemed worthy of learning more advanced math and sciences. Conversely, in this country, we often find that people like Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Steve Jobs only found the freedom to pursue real intellectual genius after they left academia.

We are entering a time when women will out educate and out earn men by increasing margins. This has far-reaching ramifications for our society, particularly as more young women desire to stay home to raise their children. Our sons must be challenged, encouraged, pushed, prodded and persuaded, until they take hold of their own more mature visions of manhood. Because our schools are the primary source of influence and authority in our children’s lives outside of the home, they play a vital role in this process. The current social culture for boys often values “coolness” over competence. Leadership skills, academic achievement, community service, and even athletic success are virtually AWOL in many boys’ view of success, and our schools are often doing little to effect a change in this thinking.

If we are to see a change in these alarming trends, we must find a way to raise the standards of achievement for both boys and girls. One gender cannot succeed by putting a brick on the head of the other. The past decade has brought sweeping change to public education, as private schools, alternative schools and homeschools have forced the public education establishment to acknowledge that one-size does not fit all. Those lessons must now breach the walls of the traditional public schools themselves. At the same time, the community must play a part in creating a culture that expects and allows for success from all of our young people, male and female. When the city and the U.S. Navy accepted high school interns, both parties benefited. When our recreational sports teams allow reliable teens to coach and referee, everybody wins. And when as a community, we begin to look for opportunities to help our girls and our boys grasp a vision for accomplishment, achievement, leadership and service, our community is richer, and we play a vital role in securing the future for the next generation of women and men.

Lynne Vagt of Oak Harbor is the mother of eight children, six of whom are boys.

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