America’s neglect of its young men, specifically its failure to address the gender gap in education, may be hurting its international competitiveness. That’s the implication of Christina Hoff Summers’ excellent new piece in the Atlantic.
We’ve known for some time that more girls are going to college than boys, but the disparity actually begins much earlier in life. Primary schools are set up in ways that put boys at a disadvantage from day one: boys are often punished for being restless and competitive in class or wanting to play games outside, despite the fact that this learning style is better suited to males than the quiet, static learning that dominates the American classroom. This probably contributes to the fact that boys are less likely to graduate high school and even less likely to receive a bachelor’s degree. Given that a college degree has become a near-requirement for obtaining a high-paying job, this is a serious problem.
Fortunately, there are some ideas to address this issue, particularly in the area of vocational education. Hoff Summers points toward one particularly promising example in Massachusetts:
Massachusetts has a network of 26 academically rigorous vocational-technical high schools serving 27,000 male and female students. Students in magnet schools…take traditional academic courses but spend half their time apprenticing in a field of their choice. These include computer repair, telecommunications networking, carpentry, early childhood education, plumbing, heating, refrigeration, and cosmetology. As Pathways reports, these schools have some of the state’s highest graduation and college matriculation rates, and close to 96 percent pass the states’ rigorous high-stakes graduation test.
Blackstone Valley Tech in Upton, Massachusetts, should be studied by anyone looking for solutions to the boy problem. It is working wonders with girls (who comprise 44 percent of the student body), but its success with boys is astonishing.
As Summers notes, there is considerable institutional resistance to such programs, in part due to misguided concerns that it privileges male education at the expense of girls. Meanwhile, this approach is already making headway in a number of other countries:
Young men in Great Britain, Australia, and Canada have also fallen behind. But in stark contrast to the United States, these countries are energetically, even desperately, looking for ways to help boys improve. Why? They view widespread male underachievement as a national threat: A country with too many languishing males risks losing its economic edge. So these nations have established dozens of boy-focused commissions, task forces, and working groups. Using evidence and not ideology as their guide, officials in these countries don’t hesitate to recommend sex-specific solutions. The British Parliamentary Boys’ Reading Commission urges, “Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading material that will appeal to disengaged boys.” A Canadian report on improving boys’ literacy recommends active classrooms “that capitalize on the boys’ spirit of competition”— games, contests, debates. An Australian study found that adolescent males, across racial and socioeconomic lines, shared a common complaint, “School doesn’t offer the courses that most boys want to do, mainly courses and course work that prepare them for employment.”
These countries are a step ahead; they’re actively looking for ways to solve the problem, while many of the education establishment in the US don’t even want to acknowledge it. For America to stay competitive, it will need to ensure that its young men are getting the education they need to thrive in the workforce. We should be following the progress of these programs abroad and looking for ways to imitate those that have the greatest impact.
[Punished child image courtesy of Shutterstock]