An excerpt from: How to Make School Better for Boys
CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS
In the U.S., a powerful network of women’s groups works ceaselessly to protect and promote what it sees as female interest. But there is no counterpart working for boys—they are on their own. This contrasts dramatically with constructive, problem-solving approach of education leaders and government officials in Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. The British have their parliamentary “toolkit of effective practices” for educating boys—while Americans have the National Women’s Law Center’s Tools of the Trade: Using the Law to Address Sex Segregation in High School Career and Technical Education.
The reluctance to face up to the boy gap is evident at every level of government. In Washington, President Obama established a White House Council on Women and Girls shortly after taking office in 2009, declaring: “When our daughters don’t have the same education and career opportunities as our sons, that affects…our economy and our future as a nation.” On the other hand, the proposal for a Council for Boys and Men from a bi-partisan group of academics and political leaders has now been languishing in Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s office for two years.
Similarly, in Maine, the Portland Press Herald ran an alarming story about the educational deficits of boys—reporting that high school girls outnumber boys by almost a 2-1 ratio in top-10 senior rankings, that men earn about 38 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded by Maine’s public universities, and that boys both rich and poor had fallen seriously behind their sisters. But the director of Women’s Studies at the University of Southern Maine, Susan Feiner, expressed frustration over the sudden concern for boys. “It is kind of ironic that a couple of years into a disparity between male and female attendance in college it becomes ‘Oh my God, we really need to look at this. The world is going to end.’”
Feiner’s complaint is understandable but seriously misguided. It was wrong to ignore women’s educational needs for so long, and cause for celebration when we turned our attention to meeting those needs. But turning the tables and neglecting boys is not the answer. Why not be fair to both? Great Britain, Australia, and Canada are Western democracies just as committed to gender equality as we are. Yet they are seriously addressing their boy gap. If they can do it, so can we.