Boys raise their hands more. They dominate discussions. They are continually the largest voices in academia. Most have heard these statistics for years. There’s truth to them. Most of it has its roots in a string of studies published in the early 90’s which explored the plight of American girls in the education system. These studies found real issues in the way that girl’s experience school. Girls were called on less, had less self-esteem and were less vocal in discussions.
You’ll notice however that something is lacking. That oh so important facet of education. Achievement. All of these studies left out that one key element and for good reason.
You see the conclusion that we were short-changing girls relied almost exclusively on these “soft” data points. A study dedicated to self-esteem and who raises their hands really only tells you those things. Extrapolating usable data from “who raises their hand” is almost impossible. It’s just guessing. It is likely a symptom of cultural ques and upbringing that may certainly be a symptom of problematic attitudes, but not directly rooted in the education system. It may even be biological differences. It’s very difficult to tell.
As these studies were overwhelmingly funded and conducted by well-meaning womens empowerment groups such as the AAUW, the final conclusions left out some glaring data. Most of the data was never peer-reviewed, much of it was even conspicuously missing.
In 1998, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch was quoted in The New York Times: “The AAUW report was just completely wrong. What was so bizarre was that it came out right at the time that girls had just overtaken boys in almost every area. It… was like calling a wedding a funeral.”
Now, 20 years later the numbers have played out and Ravitch was correct. Yet the narrative has remained unchanged in the public sphere.
The facts are these.
In 2017, 72.5 percent of females who had recently graduated high school were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, compared to 65.8 percent of men.
57 percent of college attendees are female
Boys are 30 percent more likely to drop out of primary school
Boys receive 72 percent of suspensions
They make up 62 percent of special education classes
AP classes are 60-65 percent female.
Girls outperform boys in every level of schooling. They get more A’s, they get more degrees. They are less likely to act out and are less likely to be punished when they do.
As is often the case, the lowest income bracket is hit the hardest.
Of course this doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of systemic emotional issues. Women attempt suicide at a higher rate than men.
In 2015, there were 1,537 suicides among males and 524 among females aged 15 to 19 years. It’s a trend that been increasing since the 70’s. Women attempt more often and report higher levels of depression. But its men that finish the deed. We’ve encouraged girls to seek help, but neglected to correct the toxic attitudes that keeps young men from seeking treatment.
When one group is under-reporting an illness, the deaths become the most accurate counter.
It’s almost never talked about. Instead we get a push for girls in STEM. It’s not unfounded. In fact the lack of girls in STEM, entrepreneurship and business nearly completely explains the wage gap, which almost completely disappears when controlling for career choice and maternity (which is a problem).
But that’s not a problem of education. It’s a problem of interest. Girls are not as interested in these fields as men. Now we could argue that this comes from systemic attitudes and pressures that women are brought up into and so learn interest in non-stem fields. That’s an argument that perfectly valid. The argument that education dampens the success of women is demonstrably false.
It may even be that women prefer to work in interpersonal careers while men tend towards working with things; an idea that is corroborated by early childhood studies. In which case the question we should really be asking is: why are we assigning such a different value to those types of fields?
It’s not new. Studies outlining the failing education of men have been conducted time and time again for years. We’ve know about the “reverse” gender gap in education for at least 30 years and it’s only gotten worse. So why does America have this glaring blind spot? Are we so used to empowering women and hearing about the patriarchy that we dismiss our young boys? Do we believe on some level that it isn’t real? Do we believe that men somehow had this coming?
We need empowerment. We need a new and positive identity. When people look at deadbeat dads and gang violence and suicide rates, will we talk about male fragility? Are we passing judgement onto men, instead of raising men? Will we blame their male-ness? Will we decide that men are the violent ones? Will we decide that our boys are just more likely to rape? Will we accept our sons might shoot up a school? Will we begin to ask the real questions?
Did we fail our boys?
Did we leave them behind?