now clogging the internet elsewhere

10 April 2006

Gender issues make my organization structure go all to hell

Let's talk about boys for a moment. No, not in the "whisper whisper he's so cute giggle giggle" way. In the Educational Alarmists are Convinced We're Selling Them Short way. You've heard this, right? That we're facing a "boy crisis" in education? When my issue of The Week arrived the other day (side note: do not think The Week is bad because of this, because The Week may just be the perfect magazine,) the COVER STORY was about this "boy crisis." Apparently, recently-popular pedagogical methods such as "raising your hand before you talk," "sitting in your seat" and "completing your homework" (and also all the group work and collaboration,) discriminate against boys who just want to be boys. To this I say: oh, please. Yes, women represent ever-increasing percentages of college students, to the point where several small liberal arts colleges are reporting gender breakdowns skewed, for the first time, in favor of women. Yes, constructivist learning does not allow for traditionally "male" characteristics like constant shouting out of answers to carry the day. And yes, some data suggest that boys are graduating high school at lower rates than girls. But this does not a "boy crisis" make. Several media outlets reporting on this story pointed to researchers' suggestions about what to do with this new "crisis", and some of them made me laugh right out loud. For example, the "boys can't learn with a female teacher" suggestion is pretty funny, becuase if teacher gender is what makes students learn, I seriously have wasted my money at this law school with its notable shortage of female professors. The "we need to change schooling so that there is more competition and more games, because boys like that stuff" proposal actually caused me to choke on my shredded wheat, because, seriously, WHAT? We're supposed to make school look exactly like what boys supposedly "like best"? Yeah, because that's how the real world works~ "I'm sorry, Mr. Boss Man, I'd rather not have to buckle down and work at my desk today because I really like competition and games and stuff much better, so what do you say we get a kickball tourney going?" My personal favorite, though, is the suggestion that colleges are just going to have to start favoring boys in admissions until the numbers even out again. Just as we have historically made accomodations for women and minorities, the argument goes, the time has come now to make accomodations for the boys. Right. Let's be clear on something: if ever there was a group of people who have had every advantage, it is white, upper-middle-class boys. All of this consternation about the "boy crisis" is, to me, truly puzzling. This is not discrimination in the way women experienced it when the Ivy League was a boys-only club and the Seven Sisters provided a genteel education for young ladies. There is no history of excluding boys from colleges, or jobs, or social clubs, or, really, anything. So drawing a parallel to the efforts made on behalf of women and minorities seems, at best, imperfect. One suggestion of how to fix the gender imbalance in schools (in addition to the games in class and the male teachers) has been to start all-boy schools. This is of particular interest to me. For several years now, there have been noises here in Chicago about starting a paramilitary, boys-only public charter school, and recent discussions in the popular media about the "boy crisis" have added fuel to the fire. "Yes! Let's finally get this school going! There's a boy crisis, after all!" The school (in its original propsed design,) would serve mostly black young men. Teachers would be mostly black men. There would be role modeling, there would be structure, there would be consequences for misbehavior. It would, in short, be everything that a typical public education is purported not to be, and it would serve boys who being so badly underserved by the current "female-centric" school system. I think this is crap. I respect the recognition of a crisis with young men of color in our cities generally, but is this how we want to address it? To convince the mainstrem upper class public, wringing their hands over the fate of boys in public schools, that the only way we can educate young black men is to militarize them? (What happened to all the game-centric learning proposals?) I mean, I get it- the schools currently are not getting it done for these kids, and they deserve better, and this may, for some, be better. If this school actually gets off the ground, I would not begrudge a single parent who chooses to send her son there. But why should this school be getting off the ground now, in the face of this "boy crisis," when it's been on the drawing board for literally a decade? If this is a good plan for young men of color, why hasn't it happened yet? This piece in the Washington Post positively blew the door off this for me- specifically, this part:

When it comes to academic achievement, race and class completely swamp gender. The Urban Institute reports that 76 percent of students who live in middle- to higher-income areas are likely to graduate from high school, while only 56 percent of students who live in lower-income areas are likely to do so. Among whites in Boston public schools, for every 100 males who graduate, 104 females do. A tiny gap. But among blacks, for every 100 males who graduate, 139 females do.

I could be wrong, but I feel like most of the concern about our "boy crisis" is coming from precisely the kind of people whose sons are least likely to be suffering it. It looks like upper middle class white boys are holding their own. So forget "let's talk about boys for a minute." The boys from my hometown and those like them are, it appears, doing just fine. Let's get down to brass tacks: let's talk about race and class for a minute. Because this "boy crisis" nonsense is getting me all annoyed. We have bigger fish to fry.


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