I’m mulling over some reactions to a Facebook link I posted. I saw an article that countered the now famed “End of Men” article in The Atlantic. In a nutshell, the article points out that except for the highest tiers in business and politics, women are outperforming men in school and work. The old style manly man isn’t faring well in a post-industrial society that’s valuing thinking and communicating over say heavy lifting and bravado. Of course, this is the kind of article that gets people to buy magazines and I’m not so sure that all its claims are true, though a lot are.
Anyway, on Facebook, a friend commented on how boys’ poor academic achievement is due to a girl-oriented curriculum. Hmmm. I know from my graduate school training that the original American public school curriculum was designed for boys’ development. It’s also designed for farm kids and others who need to work and exit school at 8th grade, hence the need to insure that everyone’s studied the U.S. Constitution and founding then. It’s not bad to learn American history in junior high so why change that even though most students will stick around for 12 years of school.
While one can debate these ideas, many people, experts and lay observers, agree that girls tend to be strong in language, so if the books chosen for reading and writing are based on what the boys can read in each grade, it stands to reason that girls and boys with a talent for reading will breeze through them. Moreover, girls have been considered weaker in math and science. There’s been a lot of research and commentary on that. Schools have tried to address this by changing how math is taught and understanding how teachers may do a disservice to female students by not asking them tough questions or by expecting little of them. Many teachers have worked to change this gender gap.
Math curriculum has changed in that it now introduced algebraic concepts and statistics at earlier ages. Writing instruction has changed in that we don’t teach grammar and spelling as much (neither would be strongholds for boys anyway) and there’s more attention to the process of writing. As for reading, there is less phonics taught in the early years. These pedagogical changes are significant, but I don’t think they’ve made school easier for girls. I do think society’s changes, that it’s acceptable for girls to achieve and even outpace boys, matters. Decades ago, girls were supposed to let the boys win.
If my friend’s contention that boys are doing poorly because the curriculum has been “girlified” seems weak. For example, changing math curriculum so that it’s more accessible to girls, who are supposed to be worse at math, should have resulted in more boys excelling in math. Conservatives, like my friend, believe that not teaching phonics and grammar weakened the curriculum, (I do bet that boys learn reading better with phonics). Well, if the weaker curriculum is what boosted girls in this area where they are strong anyway, wouldn’t that show a rise in boys’ achievement? You can question whether removing phonics had an adverse effect, but I just hope to show that the thinking behind this criticism isn’t logical. Moreover, my hunch is that if my friend had his dream K-12 schools, the girls would adjust and achieve in them too.
I’m hard pressed to blame the curriculum as I do think that social and technological changes play a greater role. I’m not all that worried about boys. Given their leadership at BP, Goldman Sachs and the like, I’m not sure I want them at the helm so much anyway. Also, I have this feeling that boys realize and expect a place at the table and that they will continue to fare well and get breaks that women and minorities will still have to fight for.
It bothers me that girls’ achievement alarms anyone. As the article from “In These Times” which I posted on Facebook states, it’s a win-win for families and society.