One hears often now that boys flounder in school, drop out, generally perform less well academically than girls, and don’t go to college. A certain amount of this commentary comes from women who seem quietly to enjoy the spectacle. Given that women control the schools, this might suggest that, if they are not actually causing the problem, neither are they in a hurry to do anything about it. Other people worry that the comparative superabundance of female college graduates will have no one to marry: While men will marry down, women won’t. Regarding all of which:
The cause is not that boys are stupid. Boys have higher average scores than do girls on standardized tests, for example, and at the high end are far ahead of the girls. Putting it straightforwardly, the very smart are predominantly male, particularly in mathematics, and the exceedingly smart, almost entirely so. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to think it fair. But it is a fact, and everybody in the field knows it.
Consider. The maximum score on each half of the SATs, both verbal and mathematical, is 800. You have to be, or had to be until the tests were recently dumbed down (recentered, I meant to say, recentered.), quite bright to score an 800. In 1999, when I checked because I was writing a column, 1611 girls in the country scored 800 on the math section; 4815 boys did. Verbal? Girls, 2828; boys, 3087. The male average on the math SATs was 531. The female was 495. That’s not a trivial difference. Verbal scores? Males 509, females 502. The latter difference is slight and probably attributable the larger numbers of girls taking the test. The difference in math scores isn’t.
This embarrassing disparity has been widely known at least since the publication of Camilla Benbow’s paper in 1980 from Johns Hopkins. It remains despite alteration of tests (for example, National Merit) specifically to improve the scores of females, despite recentering of the SATs to make women and minorities look better at the high end. So what is the problem?
Whatever it is, it is new. I graduated in 1964 from a mediocre high school in rural Virginia. Demographically it was a bit of a curiosity. Many of the students were children of scientists and navy officers from Dahlgren Naval Weapons Laboratory, and the rest rough country kids. There was no discrimination by sex in the curriculum, incidentally: All in the college track took two years of algebra, a year of plane geometry, and a year of solid and trig, for example. If your parents had gone to college, you went to college, regardless of sex. All the kids of educated parents graduated, and almost all of the others. The exceptions were a few truly witless boys (boys predominate at the low end of intelligence too).
There was no boy crisis. The girls made better grades, the boys better scores on standardized tests. There was no yawning gap.
In short, girls haven’t come up. They have always done well in school. Boys have gone down. Why?
I can guess. Boys are churning wads of energy. They are physical and competitive. They want to climb things, test themselves, jump off of things, explore, drive fast, fight, behave like damn fools, and sack cities. In later years this energy may serve them well, but not yet. School is hellish for them, with its year after year of sitting, bored out of their skulls, while some drone babbles. It is worse for the bright, verging on child abuse. They hate it. I did.
Girls are more orderly, patient, accept rules with less resistance, and do their homework. They have better handwriting and cut pictures from magazines to paste into projects. They finish assignments on time. In general girls are easier to deal with, certainly for the female teachers who now are almost the only teachers.
Now, 1964 was very different from today. Families were intact. I do not remember a single kid whose parents had been divorced. There was therefore a man in the house. Adolescent boys are wild men. A man can control them. A divorced woman often has a hard time controlling daughters.
There were men in the schools. We had a hard-eyed male principal, Larry Roller or, as we called him, Chrome Dome. You did not screw with Roller. He could, and would, expel on the spot any boy who seriously transgressed. (Girls just didn’t commit expellable offenses.) This of course meant that he almost never expelled anyone: We were teenagers, not suicides.
Discipline was not harsh. The boys clowned in class and engaged in pranks (I may know somewhat of this), but we knew where the limits were. There were a goodly number of male teachers, which helped us know the limits.
Further, parents would back up the teachers without question. If I had said, F**k you to a teacher, the French Foreign Legion would have been my only choice. Facing my father would have been — how shall I put it? — unproductive.
Boys need someone who can control them until, in a few years, the internal controls are in place. Women can’t do it. Therefore we have police in the schools, and we drug boys into somnolence with amphetamines. Parents, instead of even trying to control their kids, will litigate.
Boys cease to be students and become problems, so teachers don’t like them.
Further, in the schools today we have feminization, feminization, feminization. Instead of treating girls like girls, and boys like boys, all are expected to be girls. It doesn’t work. Boys by their very nature like to roughhouse. They like contact sports. You don’t have to force them to play football. They are competitive. Women don’t understand this, and what they don’t understand, they outlaw. Today estrogenated school after estrogenated school bans dodge ball as too dangerous, outlaws tag (They get too rough, meaning too rough for Mrs. Teacher), and insists on groups games led by a caring adult.
It is hideous for boys. Everything they are, it isn’t. Ohhhhh, let’s have a caring non-competitive game . If he is really bright, with an IQ north of 150, he will decide that his teachers are idiots, which most of them are, and withdraw. There will be a price for this one day.
You want to end the boy crisis? Easy. Give boys male teachers who understand boys and care about them. Women do neither. Let them compete. It’s how they are. Encourage them to burn off energy in the gym. Reward achievement, not pretty projects. Turn them into men, not transvestites.
Nahhh, never happen.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be.