Battlepanda: Boys will be boys?


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Boys will be boys?

Lindsay has a very perceptive response to Richard Whitmire's New Republic article on the performance gap between boys and girls at school:
When a gender gap that favors boys, the proposed solutions generally involve changing girls to meet the prevailing ideal. This is usually the most sensible way to approach the problem. Girls are underperforming in math and science? Well, then we should keep up the emphasis on math and science for everyone and push girls harder.

By contrast, when a gender gap favors females, people are more likely to address the discrepancy by challenging the evaluation criteria. American public school curricula have come to place more emphasis on reading comprehension and other verbal abilities. Some educators argue that this shift has placed male students at a systematic disadvantage because girls tend to be better readers and writers than boys. Note that schools deliberately increased the amount of reading and writing in the curriculum because they thought that it these skills were intrinsically valuable for all students.
Exactly. I would also like to add that when girls underperform in maths and sciences, it is much more likely for people to respond by shrugging their shoulders and concluding that that's the way things are. But when boys fall behind, everybody agrees that we have a problem that needs to be addressed.

It's troubling to me that boys are falling behind in reading and writing, just as it is troubling to me that girls are still behind in maths and sciences. However, in both cases, I think it is very important not approach the problem in such a way as to put too much emphasis on the difference between the sexes, which are after all dwarfed by the difference in achievement between individuals. For example, Richard Whitmire suggests introducing comic books formats to present class material. This could be a good idea when implimented in such a way as to help all learners who are more visual engage with the material, but very bad if seen as a way of putting the thumbs on scales in the boys' favor by, say, introducing Batman comics to the English classroom.