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Jewish World Review June 22, 2000 / 19 Sivan, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Consumer Reports

The war against boys --
A MODERATE/LIBERAL FRIEND who sends her sons to a private school phoned me in distress a year or so ago. It seems that her fifth-grader had been subjected to a "gender workshop." Males, the children were told, are violent and abusive, and they get all the breaks.

My friend called the school's principal. "How could you imply that boys are all proto-abusers?" In this case, an apology was issued, and that, says Christina Hoff Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men", is the only unusual part of this tale.

American education, she persuasively demonstrates, has become the playground for a small group of feminist activists (The American Association of University Women, The Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and Professor Carol Gilligan of Harvard) who have successfully hoodwinked the nation into believing that girls are being "shortchanged" by schools. The thesis that girls "lose their voice" and their confidence as they make the transition from childhood to adolescence has been widely circulated.

But as Sommers shows, the "research" commonly cited to support the "girls in crisis" theory is riddled with errors, subject to differing interpretations or missing altogether. Professor Judith Kleinfeld of the University of Alaska has also critiqued the data on the "girl crisis" and come to the same conclusions as Sommers -- girls are thriving.

On the other hand, "the typical boy is a year and a half behind the typical girl in reading and writing; he is less committed to school and less likely to go to college. In 1997, college full-time enrollments were 45 percent male and 55 percent female. ... Girls get better grades. They follow more rigorous academic programs and participate in advanced placement classes at higher rates. ... Girls, allegedly timorous and lacking in confidence, now outnumber boys in student government, in honor societies, on school newspapers and in debating clubs." The list goes on. You may have heard that boys outperform girls in math and science. That is true, but the gap is closing.

Boys are more often suspended. "More are held back and more drop out. ... More boys than girls are involved in crime, alcohol and drugs. ... In 1997, a typical year, 4,483 young people ages 5 to 24 committed suicide: 701 females and 3,782 males."

Under the influence of feminist ideologues, educators across the United States are attempting to defame and discourage boyishness in all its forms. Boys have been suspended for "running during recess." A simple peck on the cheek by a first-grader was interpreted as sexual harassment and the offender suspended. Competition is out. Cooperative learning is in. Derring-do is out. Androgyny is in. In 1998, the Atlanta schools eliminated recess altogether.

Great Britain has noticed the same underperformance problem with its boys, but the British have taken steps to rectify the situation. They've started single-sex schools for at-risk boys (each attempt to do this here has been thwarted by legal challenges from the ACLU and NOW). The results in England are preliminary, but very encouraging.

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The all-boy classrooms in England employ a number of techniques our schools find anathema, including competition, highly structured lessons, emphasis on teacher-led work, strict homework checks and consistently applied sanctions if work is not done. Before entering the single-sex schools, these boys were scarcely reading. In the new classes, they are introduced to great literature through war poetry, classic adventure and sports stories.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the war on boys that Sommers chronicles was to be found in the response to school violence. Feminist thinkers were quick to point the finger at traditional masculine "archetypes." But as Sommers points out, in each case the boys who committed these terrible crimes were not raised in a traditional fashion. Instead, they were hardly raised at all, but rather permitted to run wild by parents, teachers and other adults.

Boys have always been high-spirited, energetic and often harder to control than their sisters. But masculinity itself is not pathological. What boys need is clear moral guidance and healthy outlets for their natural energy and competitiveness.

Sommers is confident that common sense and basic fairness will ultimately prevail, and the mistaken war on boys will be called off. If she's right, it will be in no small part thanks to her wise and timely warning.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate