Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Commentary

June 15, 2012

You probably haven’t heard about this gender gap

GLASGOW — With another graduation season past, it is time for your humble curmudgeon to complain about the gender gap again.

Not the ones you constantly hear about – that women still allegedly make 70 cents for every dollar men make for doing the same job; that women are far too small a percentage of the CEOs of major corporations; that there are not nearly enough women in Congress; that women are banned from combat in the Armed Forces; that women do too much of the housework.

I’m half surprised not to read outraged, scholarly articles about women having to deliver all the babies. Nothing, it seems, is too absurd when arguing that women are treated as second-class citizens thanks to a still patriarchal society totally controlled by men.

But there is a different gender gap that ought to concern both sexes. There is nothing absurd about it.

Nationwide, more than 70 percent of high school valedictorians are female. In the area where I live, the Boston Sunday Globe profiled 39 of the region’s valedictorians in a spread called “Faces of Excellence.” Thirty of them were female.

This is not a screed against these young women. I applaud them. If they did the work and got the best grades, they deserve the reward. The last thing I would advocate is affirmative action for the boys – you know, extra grade points just to overcome the alleged disadvantage of being male, to even things out and celebrate diversity since they are about half the population.

But I know one thing for certain: If the valedictorian disparity in Boston had been 30 males to nine females and 70-plus percent of valedictorians nationwide were males, you would hear the screams of the feminist advocacy groups from sea to warming, rising sea. There would be front-page stories, concerned editorials, letters to editors, blogs sizzling with rage, radio talk shows pummeling school principals and superintendents, and television specials with talking heads and a parade of experts marshaling those statistics as proof that American education discriminates against girls. There would be studies piling up, demanding changes in teaching to connect better with girls.

Yet when it is happening to boys, there is relative silence.

Not complete silence. A few people are talking about it. Tom Mortenson of the Pell Institute for Study of Opportunity in Higher Education has been speaking about it – quietly and soberly (which may be why he doesn’t get much notice) – for more than a decade. When I first spoke with him, sometime around 2002, females already outnumbered males on college campuses, but males were still earning the majority of advanced degrees.

Now, 67 percent of college graduates are female. They hold 51 percent of the PhDs and are 51 percent of business school applicants.

Women’s groups note that both males and females are earning more college degrees. True. But Mortenson pointed out on the Public Broadcasting Service in 2008 that females represent 85 percent of the increase in college degrees, while males were 15 percent.

That trend is continuing.

There is nothing at all wrong with women earning advanced degrees and going into business. It would be fine if the ratio of men and women with advanced degrees and going to business schools stayed roughly equal. But it won’t for long.

Mortenson emphasizes that he applauds higher achievement by women in education and the workplace. But the fact that males continue to lose ground is a problem. Indeed, there are multiple problems caused by a K-12 public education system that clearly caters to girls but won’t admit it.

More males are dropping out of the labor force. A growing percentage of them are unemployed. A growing percentage are in prison. And the suicide rate among young men is increasing.

Mortenson is not the only voice out there warning about this problem. Author and mother of two sons Christina Hoff Sommers wrote “The War Against Boys” 12 years ago. Dr. Leonard Sax, a psychologist and physician who is an advocate for better education for both genders, has said it is time for schools to stop treating boys as defective girls. And Bill Costello, training director of Making Minds Matter, was only stating the obvious in 2008 when he wrote that boys’ academic performance relative to girls has been declining for decades.

“Boys are more likely than girls to earn poor grades, be held back a grade, have a learning disability, form a negative attitude toward school, get suspended or expelled, or drop out of school,” he wrote.

It goes beyond that. It is more difficult for women to find a peer to marry. More children are growing up without fathers. The National Center for Fathering reports that America is the world leader in fatherless families.

And the response to this? More often than not, it is to put the boys on Ritalin, to make them behave more like girls.

Women’s advocates say this does not have to be a zero-sum game – that there is no reason both genders can’t succeed.

They are right. But that is not what is happening. And they wouldn’t stand for it if it was happening to the girls.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net

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