Columnists > Voices

The vanishing schoolboy

The educational neglect of young men will not be without consequence

Issue: "Red & blue all over," Sept. 23, 2006

This month American kids loaded their backpacks and marched off to school, generally more eager the younger they are. By high school cynicism and detachment have set in, particularly-if dropout statistics are any indication-among boys.

Educators are becoming alarmed. Male attendance on campus has declined every year, to the point where some colleges are considering a form of affirmative action to bring up their male enrollment. Social commentators worry about disaffected young men, conservatives wonder where the future leaders are, and young women find the mating pool decreased (whether or not they will admit to looking).

This is an about-face from 15 years ago, when the hand-wringing was over the other sex. "Studies" published by the American Association of University Women and feminist authors like Carol Gilligan insisted that girls were "systematically shortchanged" by the educational system, with its bias toward rationalism and competition. Buzz-books, such as Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, lamented that girls were marked for oblivion by the time they reached junior high: "Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously in the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves."

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The theory generated some serious press-even though any classroom teacher knows that if the system favors anyone, it favors the sex that reads faster, verbalizes better, works more easily in groups, and is most eager to please. But never mind that: With the selves of girls going splat on the playground asphalt, something had to be done. Something like the Gender Equity in Education Act of 1994, which established an Office of Women's Equality in the Department of Education to throw money at dubious programs designed to reinforce girls' flagging self-esteem.

Public outcry and remedial money have helped accelerate a process already underway, often referred to as the feminization of American education. The current philosophy exalts "feminine" virtues such as cooperation and empathy over "masculine" ones, like rationalism and competition. Learning skills become more important than content, and boys who demand to know why they have to sit in a circle and figure out how to find the area of a triangle, instead of just being told, are pegged as disruptive. Boys who don't ask, but slump in their chairs and let the girls do all the figuring, are anti-social.

"Whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way" (Proverbs 19:2), and one thing we've missed is that boys and girls have different ways of and reasons for learning. G.K. Chesterton saw the most telling distinction between men and women as specialization vs. generalization. The demands of earning a living require mastery of one skill; the demands of running a household require competence in many. Jesus, as a typical Jewish boy, trained His mind in synagogue school and His hands in the carpentry shop. His sisters trained their hearts at home, learning how to do for a family. In the quaint, idealized time when Chesterton was writing, he saw the same pattern: A man is expected to give his best, a woman to give her all-which he considered the higher calling.

What Chesterton saw as balance, feminists saw as exploitation. They also saw the tables turned: In a classroom that favors group learning over leadership, "facilitation" over instruction, and generalization over specifics, boys are not only left out, but stigmatized. Girls are not only smarter, they're better. Obviously.

"So God created man in His own image . . . male and female He created them": two halves of one whole. Let's assume that God had a reason for differentiating the sexes. What could it be? Speaking generally and allowing for exceptions and variations, male is dynamic, female is static. Men are drivers, women are stablizers.

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand" (Proverbs 19:21). Be not deceived; God is not mocked, and nature is not thwarted. In government and in crime, at the box office and on the streets, in heroic rescues and in shooting sprees, men lead. And will continue to lead, one way or another. With an education system that respects their nature and curbs their baser instincts, men will lead society in a generally forward direction. Without that training they will lead into chaos, while women flee to interactive groups behind locked doors, wondering what went wrong.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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