Gender Gap

Education Next Issue Cover

Are boys being shortchanged in K–12 schooling?

By and

12 Comments | Print | PDF |

Spring 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 2

Video: Richard Whitmire talks with Education Next
Podcast: Audio excerpt from Richard Whitmire’s “Why Boys Fail”


Debates about gender and schooling have taken a surprising turn in the past decade. After years of concern that girls were being shortchanged in male-dominated schools, especially in math and science, there has grown a rising chorus of voices worrying about whether boys are the ones in peril. With young women making up close to 60 percent of college students, critics like Richard Whitmire, former USA Today editorial writer and author of Why Boys Fail, worry that today’s schools—with their emphasis on order, sitting still, and passive learning—are much better suited to girls than to boys. Other authorities, such as Susan McGee Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and principal author of the 1992 AAUW report How Schools Shortchange Girls, reject such concerns and instead contend that ingrained sexism and gender roles continue to hamper K–12 schooling for both boys and girls. What does the evidence say? And what does all of this mean for policy proposals like single-sex schooling or teacher hiring? In this forum, Whitmire and Bailey sort through these questions.

Education Next: What’s the evidence that boys are doing less well in school than girls?

Richard Whitmire: Dropout and graduation rates, grades, and many test scores show boys faring poorly compared to girls (see Figure 1). But I prefer a simpler measure. Students need at least one year of post–high school study to survive in today’s marketplace, the goal wisely set this year by President Obama. In truth, they should complete two years of college. When that level of achievement is broken out by gender, men are faring badly. They go to college at lower rates and then graduate at lower rates. Let’s take Minnesota as an example. The (St. Paul) Pioneer Press just published an article on the gender gaps in that state. As of fall 2007, degrees earned by gender were bachelor’s: 58 percent female; master’s: 69 percent female; PhD: 53 percent female. Nationally, 58 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees and 62 percent of those earning associate’s degrees are female.

For the most part this is happening because K–12 schools are shortchanging boys. Far too many boys drop out before earning a high school diploma. Worse, too many boys who do make it through high school are either unprepared for or unmotivated to do college-level work.

The conventional wisdom that women need a college degree more than men was true at one time, but is no longer. Economists at both the College Board and the U.S. Department of Education agree: men and women may earn different average salaries, but they get almost exactly the same percentage bump-up in earnings for each degree earned.

Those manufacturing jobs that men could secure with only a high school degree have been slipping away for years. In the current recession, that trend picked up speed, with more than 80 percent of the layoffs involving men. Now more than ever, men and women have equal needs to earn degrees past high school, but far more women than men are getting that message.

Susan McGee Bailey: Clearly, all our students need strong preparation for the demands of a high-tech, global world, but international data such as those provided by TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) show U.S. students of both sexes performing in a mediocre fashion in comparison to their counterparts in other industrialized nations.

Focusing on the lower college completion rates for boys and blaming K–12 educators is too easy. First, the much smaller college-enrollment gap compared to the larger degree gap raises questions about college. College enrollments have been increasing for both young women and young men since the 1970s, but the increase for young women has been larger (see Figure 2a). In 1972, 53 percent of males and 46 percent of females enrolled in two- or four-year colleges immediately after graduating from high school; in 2007 the comparable figures were 66 percent of males and 68 percent of females. Women now outpace men in BA, MA, and PhD completion, but are significantly behind men in MBAs and earn law and medical degrees at slightly lower rates than men. Studies suggesting that men and women get the same benefit from a degree obscure the critical reality that women still earn less than men at every level (see Figure 2b).

During the past 20 years, discussions of educational equity have often fallen into an either/or paradigm in which one group of students has been singled out as the only group needing attention. Dropout rates illustrate the dangers of focusing too narrowly. Dropout rates have been declining for both girls and boys, with the rate of decrease greater for girls as a group. But simply looking at gender differences is not enough. Rates vary considerably by race, ethnicity, and social class, and large numbers of girls as well as boys leave school before earning a high school diploma (see Figure 3). Educators are rightly focused on ensuring high-quality instruction, developing new and improved curricular materials, and creating more engaging school environments. But educators alone cannot address the multiple factors that influence students who drop out, nor can they conduct the kinds of community outreach that can help young people find alternative routes to completing their education.

20102_52_authorsEN: Is it all boys who are struggling or particular subsets of boys (like poor minority boys)?

RW: That’s the challenge raised by those who question whether boys are in trouble: this is all about income and race, not gender, they argue. It’s true that the gender gaps are especially sharp in urban areas. In July 2009, the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University released a study that tracked the students who graduated from Boston Public Schools in 2007. The conclusion: for every 167 women in four-year colleges there were only 100 men. Is poverty the cause? The male and female students came from similar streets and neighborhoods. Is race the only issue? That’s not what the study uncovered. In fact, black females were five percentage points more likely to pursue further study after high school, including community colleges, four-year colleges, and technical or vocational schools, than white males.

Gender gaps are especially profound for poor and minority males. It’s what Chicago researcher Melissa Roderick calls the “genderization of race.” Roughly translated: you won’t solve racial learning gaps unless you tackle the gender gaps. Unfortunately, school accountability regimes such as No Child Left Behind keep educators fixated solely on learning gaps associated with race and income.

Now let’s shift to the comfortable suburban districts, where both boys and girls go on to college at a high rate. Educators there see few problems, so they rarely break out the numbers by gender. There are a few exceptions. When school officials in two districts serving wealthy families—Edina outside Minneapolis and Wilmette outside Chicago—took a hard look at their gender numbers, they found wide and growing gaps. The Wilmette data were very specific, showing girls ahead in both grades and test scores.

If nearly all the students there go to college anyway, does this matter? I argue that it does. A considerable number of those boys get into selective private colleges due to gender preferences granted males by admissions officers, a practice that is both concealed and widespread. Uncovering the preferences is relatively easy. Take the U.S. News & World Report data and sort admission rates by gender. Still skeptical? Look at the most recent freshman class and break out high school grade-point averages by gender. To win admission at many private colleges (and some publics willing to risk lawsuits), females had to be more academically adept than males.

Colleges are about to be ”called out” for these admissions preferences that discriminate against women and mask the problem of boys falling behind in school. In November, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced an investigation into the practice. Although the commission lacks the legal authority to act on the discrimination, mere exposure—triggering outrage from high school girls—may force colleges to curtail the favoritism.

What happens to these less-qualified males once they’re in college? Many continue their slack habits from high school, explaining much of the gender gap in college persistence rates, which count those who earn degrees within six years.

SMB: Race, sex, and income issues interact in complicated ways. NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) data indicate that income and race gaps are larger than gender gaps in reading and in math scores at 8th grade, and this pattern holds for other comparisons as well. In fact, socioeconomic status has long been the single best predictor of educational success.

Teachers may be encouraging all students to continue their education beyond high school, but the message may be heard differently by male and female students, and moderated by race and income. Recent data from a study we are doing here at Wellesley Centers for Women with a large, racially diverse sample of low-income students in a large urban school district found that 95 percent of students, both boys and girls, aspired to attend college when asked in 9th and 10th grade. But if their actual college enrollment rates are in line with past district figures, far fewer will enroll in college and the numbers for young men will be lower than for young women.

Higher male dropout rates are part of the problem, but the wider range of better paid jobs open to young men immediately after high school has also been influential. Enlisting in the military after high school is an option for both sexes, but more young men than young women sign up for the armed forces. Many of these recruits are attracted by the higher education benefits the military offers. They may not be rejecting postsecondary education, but rather simply choosing a different pathway.

EN: Isn’t the problem more complex: boys are learning more math and science and girls are learning more reading?

RW: When you examine state tests, which are far better than NAEP for measuring gender gaps because they test every student every year in most grades, you see that girls have pulled even with boys in math and science. In some cases, they outscore boys in those subjects. At the same time, you see wide gaps in reading and very wide gaps in writing.

Haven’t boys always lagged behind girls in literacy skills? Yes, but literacy skills never mattered so much as they do today. In 1989 the nation’s governors met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to launch the school reforms we see today. Essentially, the goal was to put as many students as possible on a college preparation track. The key tools needed to succeed in college courses, arts or sciences, are the abilities to read quickly and accurately and write with precision and accuracy. The governors were right to set that goal, and educators were right to respond by teaching those skills in kindergarten and 1st grade. The problem arose when nobody realized that boys are ill-equipped to acquire those skills that early, at least not with the teaching methods used in the past. As a result, too many boys fall behind, conclude that school is for girls, and never try to catch up. Once boys shift their attention to video games or hip-hop music, parents and educators erroneously conclude those factors trigger the problem. In fact, boys bury themselves in games after seeing few rewards for them in school.

Educators haven’t even started redesigning the early grades to help boys absorb early literacy skills. Why this is not happening is unclear. Why has the Department of Education refused to launch a single research project into boy’s academic problems? The most likely answer: at a time when men rule the White House and Wall Street, helping males, including young boys, would amount to a political correctness violation.

SMB: I differ with Richard on NAEP. NAEP tests are specifically designed to produce reliable, comparable data over time. State tests are not. And the NAEP data are clear, if not as dramatic as some selected state data: boys, on average, perform less well than girls on tests of reading and writing skills and low-income boys do less well than higher-income boys. NAEP data also show that the gaps favor boys in science and math. While smaller than those favoring girls in reading, the gaps have by no means disappeared and they grow larger as students age (see Figure 1).


Despite widespread concern about boys’ literacy skills, we rarely look seriously at the lingering gender stereotypes that play out every day in our schools, homes, and communities. As Richard indicates, gendered assumptions about literacy are at the heart of the problem, in much the same ways that gendered assumptions about science and math have inhibited girls’ persistence and achievement in these areas. It’s a “girl thing” to read; real boys don’t sit around with a book. Parenting practices contribute to this; from an early age mothers read more to their children than do fathers. In fact, as Lise Eliot delineates in her new book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain, the way people interact with babies is based on assumptions about gender differences that have little basis in biology, but are part and parcel of our earliest socialization. “Little boys need more physical activity,” “little girls are more social,” “boys are better at math than girls”—the dichotomies are endless, and they are as dangerous as they are baseless.

Girls who do what boys have traditionally done, who become astronauts, scientists, firefighters, or soldiers, are doing things that almost everyone sees as “moving up.” The reverse is not true. It is no longer legal to advertise job openings under “female” or “male” headings, but our culture still tends to classify many jobs this way. Women make up 83 percent of librarians and 92 percent of nurses; only 15 of the Fortune 500 companies are headed by female CEOs; and women hold only 17 of 100 seats in the U.S. Senate.

Gender expectations limit both boys and girls, and at this point they may constrain young boys even more than they do girls. One of the most damaging expectations is that doing well in school is for girls. Until we confront the reality that many boys fear being viewed as less than “all boy” when achieving academically, we will only be playing around the edges of the problem.

EN: Are the problems more apparent in elementary or secondary schooling? Are there particular subjects or activities where boys are faring especially well or especially poorly?

RW: In general, girls arrive in kindergarten far more ready than boys to engage the verbal-rich curriculum that awaits them. By the end of elementary school, the gaps become significant, and in middle school they widen, in part because many schools don’t teach literacy skills after 6th grade, only “literature.” In 9th grade, where poorly prepared boys first encounter the full force of the college-readiness curriculum, you can see a pileup, or bulge, as 9th-grade classes are far larger than 8th-grade classes, the result of students being retained before entering 10th grade.

Nationally, there are 113 boys in 9th grade for every 100 girls, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. Among African Americans, there are 123 boys for every 100 girls. States are discovering that 9th grade has become their biggest dropout year. By 11th grade many boys begin to revive academically, but it’s too late to recover from their poorer grades in 9th and 10th grades.

Gender gaps are not an issue that can be easily sorted out by subject. High school girls outperform boys in many of the Advanced Placement subjects, including many of the sciences. The exceptions are physics and computer science, where boys tend to do better. Skeptics of the “boy troubles” point to SAT scores, where males outperform females, without acknowledging the gender imbalances in the test-takers: far more poor and minority girls than boys take that test.

SMB: The differences between boys and girls as they enter school have been vastly exaggerated. Yes, girls, on average, are more verbally adept at age five, but this difference is not particularly large, and many young boys are as ready to read as the girls sitting next to them. Often lost in the discussion of girls’ advantages is the reality that boys outperform girls on tests of visual and spatial abilities, and do at least as well on tests of mathematical skills at this age, and these differences widen as they advance in school.

However, on measures of fine motor skills and self-control, girls usually perform better than boys, and these skills clearly contribute to early school success. Classrooms that use manipulative materials to practice spatial skills are as necessary as those that give special attention to literacy skills for students in need of help in that area. Literacy is critical and boys need encouragement and support, but this does not mean that all girls are fine readers and it certainly does not mean that gaps in science and math that show girls at a disadvantage should be dismissed. When more than 75 percent of undergraduate degrees in the highly paid fields of computer science and engineering are awarded to young men, the majority of them white, the idea that we no longer need focus on these issues for girls and for students of color does not hold up.

Looking carefully at the gendered assumptions that underlie our education system gives us a clearer picture not only of the problems confronting boys in attaining competencies in reading and writing, but of a range of school problems that include gender violence, the continuing imbalance favoring boys in school athletics, and the over-referral of boys—particularly boys of color—and the under-referral of girls, to special education programs. Each of these issues reflects assumptions about the “appropriate” roles of men and women. No discussion of educational equity can ignore the rising rates of dating violence, sexual harassment, and bullying in our schools. When young men and boys think that it is acceptable to verbally harass or physically attack girls under the guise of “manliness,” something is decidedly out of kilter. Educators must do more to help both boys and girls see beyond this dangerous construction of masculinity.


EN: Do boys learn differently than girls? Are schools better organized for the ways in which girls learn? Or is the problem something in American culture writ large?

RW: This is not an American issue. In England and Australia, the gender gap is a topic of regular newspaper stories. What’s interesting in England is the attention paid to the especially sharp decline in educational performance among white boys from blue-collar families. You can see that in this country as well, with steeply growing college-going gender gaps within that group. The issue in Australia came to a head in 2003 when the government issued a lengthy report on the topic. The conclusion: literacy skills are the culprit. Researchers in England have reached roughly the same conclusion.

In the United States the federal government has never investigated the issue, most likely because it is considered “controversial.” When the issue arises, the basic premise that boys are in trouble gets attacked by national feminist groups or professors from women’s studies departments. Their attitude is understandable: the first to point out that boys were in trouble were conservatives, who blamed the feminists for creating school environments that were hostile to boys. I find no evidence that feminists are to blame for the problem. Their only “fault” lies in continuing to deny that the problem exists.

SMB: Different children learn differently, but differences between individual boys and between individual girls are much larger than those between girls as a group and boys as a group. Expectations based on gender remain rampant in American culture, and indeed, in cultures around the world. As Richard notes, there has been significant attention paid to the boy half of gender issues in England and Australia. Researchers in England who have studied a range of sociocultural approaches to the problem of boys’ achievement report that one of the most successful involves directly addressing the “lad culture.” By helping boys who are seen as leaders in their peer group improve in school, they create a climate where other boys see academic achievement as “cool.” Exam grades for boys in schools in the study increased significantly.

Creating an environment where academic achievement is seen as something all boys, as well as all girls, should aspire to is critical. In those U.S. school systems where boys do well, this is invariably the case. The majority of these schools are in more affluent districts, where parents have college degrees and encourage their sons and their daughters to do well academically, or in less advantaged communities where the community itself has rallied behind educational goals. The culture of the school reflects the culture of the surrounding community. We need more public discussion of the value of education and its multiple individual and societal benefits. When we talk only of test scores and economic rewards, we present too narrow a view.


EN: Is it a problem that so few teachers are men?

RW: Male teachers continue to disappear from classrooms. Their numbers are at 24 percent, a record low. What’s interesting is the rapid disappearance of male teachers from the middle school classrooms. Elementary schools never had many male teachers and high schools still retain a respectable number of males. In some middle schools, however, you simply won’t find a male teacher. Combine that with the fact that middle school is the time when the gender gaps widen the most and you have an obvious culprit, right? I don’t buy it. It wouldn’t hurt to have more male teachers, especially in the middle school years, but I’m not convinced that suddenly boosting the number of male teachers would close any gender gaps.

Some researchers (see “The Why Chromosome,” research, Fall 2006) have documented modest gains made by boys taught by male teachers, but in researching my book I found that the schools that educate boys as well as girls pay little or no attention to the gender of the teacher. Rather, they pour enormous resources into how literacy is taught.

SMB: It is not surprising that there are so few male teachers. K–12 teaching remains a “woman’s job,” with a limited career path and poor pay considering the preparation required. Questions laced with homophobia about why a man would want to teach children are rampant. The more advanced the education level, the more men in the teaching ranks. At the university level the balance has shifted entirely, with women significantly underrepresented among tenured faculty. Excellent teaching is not a matter of gender, but the absence of men in K–12 classrooms sends subtle messages about what is “female” and “male,” influencing students in ways that remain largely invisible and understudied.

EN: Is single-sex education a viable strategy for addressing the problem?

SMB: Research that examines the effectiveness of single-sex K–12 education and controls for socioeconomic background and degree of parental involvement, both crucial factors in educational attainment, is woefully lacking. We must examine curricular programs and teaching practices used in successful single-sex and coed programs, the kinds of students they help most, and how these programs and practices can work for more students in a wider range of settings. An example of this approach is research showing that girls benefit from science instruction that relates the material to real-world problems—and so do boys. When evaluating single-sex education,

we must not ignore a crucial purpose of public education—developing effective citizens. We need to consider the tradeoffs we may be making in sex-segregating students, closing off opportunities for learning from and with each other.

RW: Here’s my problem with single-sex education: The Bush Department of Education flipped on the green light for public schools to carry out single-sex education, but never commissioned a single study that would instruct schools on how to do it. (I’m choosing my words carefully here: meta-analyses of single-sex education don’t guide classroom instruction.) Some states—South Carolina comes to mind, which was determined to do something for their flailing boys—gave that green light a broad embrace, unleashing several hundred programs. Unfortunately, not that many of those programs are first-rate. And if academic breakthroughs don’t materialize, those single-sex programs will be dismantled, perhaps prematurely.


EN: Are there programs that are much more effective for boys? What are the traits or approaches that they have in common?

RW: Most important is a refusal to let students slip behind. I see a lax attitude toward males, “Don’t worry, Mom, boys will be boys. Your son will catch up,” as the single biggest problem. In fact, a lot of boys never do catch up. Two of the schools I profile in Why Boys Fail weren’t even aware they were closing gender gaps; that wasn’t their goal. Their goal was to focus on literacy skills and refuse to let any child slip behind. They took great pride in their success and seemed surprised when it was pointed out they had leveled the gender gaps.

SMB: Research studies on effective schools have shown remarkably similar findings for 30 years. Schools that set high standards for all, involve parents, provide firm discipline and an orderly, encouraging environment, and where teachers are respected and engaged are more successful. Such schools do not as easily fall into the black hole of differential expectations for girls and boys, or one racial or ethnic group over another.

EN: What other options might policymakers or reformers consider?

SMB: We should take a page from the successful, ongoing efforts that address the lingering lag in girls’ and women’s participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and leadership positions: 1) mentoring and role-modeling programs that involve more men in schools, particularly men who hold other than traditionally male jobs so that students see men in a variety of careers; 2) a national fathers’ reading campaign to engage more fathers in reading to their children; and 3) increased funding for innovative programs that engage students in literacy activities in and out of school. When “reading like a girl” is as acceptable for boys as doing science and math well is becoming for girls, we will begin to make real progress toward gender-equitable education for all our students.

RW: The U.S. Department of Education needs to launch an Australian-style investigation into the boys problem. Once the key issues are identified, follow-on research projects can target specific teaching strategies for teachers. One critical need: national research into what works and doesn’t work with single-sex education.

Not all the solutions lie within the K–12 world, however. Colleges should eliminate from high school grade-point averages the results from 9th grade—when many boys struggle to make the transition from middle school. And colleges need to step in to help make badly needed adjustments to K–12 accountability systems. State high school graduation standards don’t match college readiness requirements. Given the higher college dropout rates for men, that mismatch appears to be hurting males the most.

Comment on this article
  • jack says:

    Well, the article notes the differences in enrollment rates by level at the university, it spends little time examining why the enrollment rated in engineering and tech fields is heavily skewed in favor of men.

    Women tend to dominate fields that women have always tended to dominate, but now perhaps they dominate more than before…what is lacking is the gap in enrolment in math and science fields at the university level, other than biology and psychology, wher women dominate…

    How does technology play into this trend? How has it changed what it means to be successful today? If future opportunities for gainful employment are in the engineering and tech fields (as I have read) then women are still left out in the cold, so to speak. They are riding a rise in enrollment, but not necessarily in areas that will be the “hottest” areas of the near future. It becomes not a matter of percentages enrolled, but percentages enrolled by field of study, and how those differences spell out the potential for social and/or economic success.

    to quote…”When more than 75 percent of undergraduate degrees in the highly paid fields of computer science and engineering are awarded to young men, the majority of them white, the idea that we no longer need focus on these issues for girls and for students of color does not hold up.”

    I wrote my lit review on female under-representation in STEM fields and although I do not deny there is such a thing as a boy crisis, I cannot help but think that within this machista society, with all things equal, females get the short-changed.

  • Emily says:

    What about boys growing up without fathers? Could this be negatively impacting their achievement?

  • BillCC says:

    Good question, Emily. It would be interesting to see if boys with in-house fathers develop reading skills that are better or worse than boys raised without fathers. If better, this may lay to rest the notion (mentioned above) that reading is perceived as a girls’ activity.

    My question: Do disposition examinations at teachers’ colleges selectively remove males (and male-friendly females) from the pool of potential teachers?

  • William says:

    My experience as a male student was there are a lot of female teachers (certainly not all) who preference female students and who harbor anti-male attitudes. At the same time, female teachers (who are the vast majority of teachers) bonded better with female students than male students. In the way they taught to them and the way they bonded with them, the more personal relationships teachers had with their female students meant a classroom atmosphere that was more condoning and better serving of the needs of female students. Anti-male attitudes compound with a media culture that bombards boys with images and messages of anti-intellectualism (and in media for girls, bashes boys for being stupid) for particularly devastating effects on academic achievement.

    This was especially true in grades 1-5. I frequently watched female teachers of this age group play teams with male and female students, always favoring the girls and helping the girls to one-up the boys. Should I be upset that female teachers were openly approving when, at lunchtime show-and-tell in the 3rd grade, a girl shared with the school “Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Girls go to Mars to get more candy bars.”? It was common sentiment among the girls that they were smarter than the boys. Such sentiments were frequently lunch time conversations.

    Many times I watched a teacher scream at a young student but I never watched a teacher scream at a young female student. Girls loved the teachers, frequently giving the female teachers hugs. Boys in grades one through five, when you had the same teacher all day long, always hoped to be one of the few lucky enough to have a male teacher so they could be free of the typically oppressive environment. It was in these years that far more boys than girls learned to resent and harbor disdain for school.

    All the boys who were lost students up to fifth grade continued to be lost students through high school. They were the “sped” (special education) students, the ones in detention, in the lowest level courses, the ones drugged with stimulants, the ones who started smoking pot and didn’t go to college. There were lost female students, just not nearly as many.

    Feminist attitudes among teachers became more apparent to me around middle school and high school. Boys were frequently targets of messages telling them it is their sex responsible for the world’s crime, wars, and discrimination against women. Virtually all forms of male success were attributed to the oppression of women. Men make more money, are most of the doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, and the only ones who become president because men oppress women. It is for these reasons that only girls have a day to go to work with their parents and why only girls had special initiatives and events for math and science.

    The negative impact such messages could have on boys were not adequately taken into account. How are boys supposed to grow up when the only thing they can grow up and become is an oppressor? Why should boys look up to male adults when male adults are oppressors? Girls can grow up and be anything they want, boys just better make sure they don’t grow up and oppress women.

    In social studies the textbook asked, “How can it be explained that in almost every country in the world women live longer than men?” and my female teacher responded “Because that’s the way it should be” The girls in the classroom all laughed. Between sixth grade and college the shorter life expectancy of men was used on many occasions to denigrate male students since the topic arose in multiple subjects.

    One such example, in college I took a communications course on relationships for the easy ‘A’ and to fill a breadth requirement. The course was anti-male in general, dealing with family topics. But the way the teacher told the mostly female class with a big smile – like it’s a big, juicy, gossipy, secret – “Did you know that by the time you get to 80 years old there are 5 times more women alive than men?!” absolutely infuriated me. If the same sentiment was uttered about gaps in life expectancies between blacks and whites this teacher would have been fired.

    I felt denigrated and cheapened, especially because the teacher’s comment was meat with laughter from female students and I was one of three males in the class. It would be one thing if a positive inquiry occurred like how to improve male life expectancies, what are the causes, etc. But this teacher used the example only to belittle and denigrate males in a nearly all female classroom.

    These types of experiences make me wonder, is this the reason why breast cancer and female-specific diseases receive several times more tax payer dollars for research than male-specific diseases? It’s apparently OK to have disregard for male well being. A gap in funding for health research is a slap in the face when you realize a higher rate of the deadliest diseases among males accounts for most of the shorter male life expectancy.

    In college the student body was 60% female. When presented with this information during orientation the girl sitting next to me said “Is it really that bad? Boys are f—ing stupid!”. It was surprising to me that she said this, because she was also a black woman who given history I would think should know better. She did not fear any repercussions for -or even realize she had made- an openly, generalized, sexist statement.

    My dorm was covered in fliers about rape, sexual assault, and redefining masculinity. “Men Rape”, “1 in 4 Women will be sexually assaulted in college”, “Men cause violence against women”, were just some of the messages planted all around me. The “1 in 4″ statistic turned out to be a complete lie and was being used because somebody though it sounded good. The university has to by law publish in a public place (its website) its crime statistics. In any given year there were 2-6 sex crimes on a campus of 14,000. Even assuming most crimes are not reported “1 in 4″ is an irresponsible exaggeration by the university.

    It amazed me that posting such fliers all around campus and in all dorms did not constitute creating a hostile learning environment for male students. It is unethical on the university’s part to hold all male students accountable for the actions of a few and to saturate the academic environment with fliers and messages holding all males accountable because they are male. I particularly resented the mandatory sexual harassment seminar during orientation. It was evident by the examples chosen that the seminar’s only function was to demonize male students. Respect should be the only thing directed at male students (and female) until they actually commit a crime. Instead, males are held in contempt from the moment they arrive on campus.

    College ended mercifully fast and I am now a working professional. I’ve only provided a handful of examples of the various forms of discrimination and denigration I experienced as a male student. I am happy to say the real work world is more condoning of males than the US educational system (maybe that’s why men do better after school). These kinds of experiences were close to daily occurrences, especially if I include denigration of men I saw in the media at the same time as being part of my world experience (another topic worthy of discussion). I believe strongly the reason why teachers are now 93% female in the US has nothing to do with pay. I believe most males had such miserable experiences in the American school system that they never want to go back.

  • Amare Kasaye [Ethiopian] says:

    In general, this article presents an interesting information,especially for researchers working on related aspects-like me!

  • […] come up with about 21 million hits. Historically, this gender bias has been in favor of men, but this article from Education Next explores a perceived change in recent […]

  • Rob MacGregor says:

    William – well crafted statement. And lost on the people here. I hope you keep your message out there, you speak for alot of us.

  • […] gender gap in higher education can be largely explained by gender gaps in K-12 education. State test scores show that girls have pulled nearly even with boys in math and science achievement …. Although boys have always trailed girls in literacy achievement, the gap is continuing to widen, […]

  • […] gender gap in higher education can be largely explained by gender gaps in K-12 education. State test scores show that girls have pulled nearly even with boys in math and science achievement …. Although boys have always trailed girls in literacy achievement, the gap is continuing to widen, […]

  • […] gender gap in higher education can be largely explained by gender gaps in K-12 education. State test scores show that girls have pulled nearly even with boys in math and science achievement …. Although boys have always trailed girls in literacy achievement, the gap is continuing to widen, […]

  • lynn oliver says:

    We must begin to understand just how our individual environments and also “differential treatment by gender” greatly affects thinking, learning, motivation to learn, and the accumulation of many mental/emotional/social/academic skills over time. In regard to the Male Crisis, yes, our average stress, does create very real differences in mental energy applied to new mental work or school work. Also at work is the amount of mental/emotional/social/verbal interaction, support, and skills provided those students.

    Males receive more aggressive treatment beginning as early as one year. This increases over time. The lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in that bracket the more entrenched the use of more aggressive styles and reliance on physical training for Males. This creates increasingly more activity for stress relief; lags in mental/emotional/social growth due to more social/emotional distance; less social vocabulary (essential for reading independently and coupled also with a more harmful, higher average stress that takes away more mental energy from abstract skills such as reading. This higher average stress also creates higher muscle tension (more pressure and tighter grip on pencil/pen) that hurts handwriting and motivation to write. The more social distance and wariness of adults creates less communication with adults like teachers. Boy are also given love/honor only on condition of achievement in some area, if not academics then sports or video games.

    The girls receive much more kind, stable, verbal interaction and support that continues through adulthood.
    This enables a high speed expressway that is maintained for girls even in lower socioeconomic areas. This support is maintained through adulthood. In order for society to really help Male children, we “must” understand how our individual environments greatly thinking, learning, motivation (mental reward received for mental work expended) and the accumulation of information age skills over time. My learning theory goes in to great detail how this must be taken up for Males to have any chance of competing successfully in the information age.

  • Charles says:

    I truly identified with Williams story. Throughout my life in Florida’s educational system I always felt worthless. It was around 6th grade that the favoritism towards girls was not only apparent, it was oppressive. All of my teachers were female and all of them made men out to be inferior. When I had reached high school the inequality towards male students continued. I’ll never forget my biology teacher explaining to the class that the y chromosome that men possess causes us problems that women will never experience because ” women have always been ahead of the curve, even biologically( followed by obnoxious laughter)”. At this point I never followed up with any rebuttals towards the drones of offensive comments made by teachers for fear of my grades being tampered with. Even as I write this I can only imagine the unwarranted feminist comments that will follow. Whoever said that women are shortchanged in education needs to read the facts and accept that women are no longer oppressed as they once were. My biology teacher was the straw that broke the camels back. From that point I started going to class later and later. This resulted in IS (internal suspension) which resulted in missing more classes. Throughout elementary school all the way to 9th grade I was an accomplished student. Regardless of all of the offensive comments, the constant feminist indoctrination, and being made to feel I was academically worthless, I pulled through out of sheer anger. But when things were becoming tough at home (mom fell and broke a vertebrae in her neck) I no longer had the strength and finally left school. I am far from being an activist but I can’t ignore this problem any more. If you think I left school because of my concern for my mother, that is true. But most of the damage done to my education was a result of sexist teachers and the fact that I wouldn’t speak out against the real problem for fear of being called a sexist pig. Something needs to be done.

  • Comment on this Article

    Name ()


    Sponsored Results

    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform