Boys Are At The Back Of The Class

Boys are lagging behind girls in school; on average, they get worse grades, take fewer advanced classes and are less likely to graduate. To find out why boys are taking a back seat in education, host Michel Martin speaks with Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of ‘The War Against Boys.’


MARTIN: Well, you raise the point in your piece that this has particular consequences for Black and Latino boys who have been a focus of a lot of attention by educators recently or sort of kind of by people who are observing this. Not just educators, but anybody who really cares about, you know, this issue. Why do you think it seems to have a particular effect for Black and Latino boys? Any thoughts?

SOMMERS: Well, I think that a lot of these little boys – well, it’s White boys too. If we look at suspension rates, it’s all boys. It’s 70 percent of the kids who were suspending are boys and there’s been just an exponential growth in the number of kids suspended since the 1980s, and a disproportionate numbers of children of color.

But there’s simply an intolerance for high spiritedness among little boys and maybe the teachers come to the classroom – it’s understandable that they prefer children who sit still. Girls are better at paying attention, sitting still, and so it’s just that boys are going to suffer and I think African-American or Latino boys, from all the data we have, suffer most acutely from simply intolerance of antics and high spiritedness and misbehavior.

MARTIN: How do you respond to people who say that this is actually – it’s not that boys are being discriminated against, if I can use that? I know it’s a heavy-handed term, I’m just going to use it for now. But this is really more of a corrective, that girls were largely shut out of education for really most of our history and that history is just catching up and that it’s just leveling the playing field. How do you respond to that?

SOMMERS: Right. I’m somewhat sympathetic to that because I can understand someone looks at the history of education where women were so long the have-nots, and finally women are getting ahead and suddenly people are complaining about the boys. Where were the complaints when women were behind? Very good question. But I say this as someone who became a feminist many years ago because I did not appreciate favoritism and male chauvinism. But the answer to favoritism and male chauvinism is not to turn tables and practice it against little boys and men.

It’s basic fairness. And I think that our schools have done a lot to meet girls halfway, to strengthen them, specifically in math and science. Why don’t we try that with boys, strengthen their reading and writing skills, make school more fun, engage them. And I’m not saying – we’re not going to be able to turn them into girls. There have been efforts to try to transform gender and liberate them from their masculinity.

Most of these have not worked. What seems to work are lots of examples we have from the British where you channel that energy. You channel that sort of hyperactive spirit toward good ends.

Listen to the interview HERE: 

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