(I’d be curious to know what evidence Whitmire has of a new emphasis during the 1990s on a verbal curriculum.) Other complaints about boy-averse pedagogy also don’t quite add up—in part because they contradict one another.
Sommers blamed a touchy-feely, progressive ethos for alienating boys in the classroom; males, she argued, thrive on no-nonsense authority, accountability, clarity, and peer rivalry.
Assessments like these may be less male chauvinist than the old belief that men’s slightly bigger brains signaled greater intellectual powers, but before long, such claims will look similarly crude.
(In , Whitmire points to a college-bound “verbally drenched curriculum” as the culprit, arguing that boys, whose verbal skills lag behind girls’, are handicapped by the ever more literacy-focused course of study that he maintains has become crucial preparation for the world of “information-based work.” But surely in a high-tech era, when math and science skills matter more than ever, boys get some benefit from their greater computer savvy and confidence in quantitative skills.
The recent media coverage would make you think that there has been a pendulum swing in the academic plights of the genders—and that the time has come for the “boy brain” to be seen and saved, now that girls’ “voices” have been heard perhaps all too well.
Until the 1980s, this story goes, girls struggled in America’s classrooms (especially in math and science).
Meanwhile, males dominated in school and went to college in disproportionate numbers. Whitmire points to a lower density of neurons in the male temporal lobe cortex, which is “associated with verbal skills”; laments that boys use both sides of the prefrontal cortex, “a less mature pattern of brain activity.” Both articles worry that when it comes to school learning, girls aren’t the second sex, boys are.
Ever since roughly the mid-1980s, (1982), while rough-and-tumble boys were balking and being left behind, especially in the verbal area. But look more closely at some of the longest-running data about school trends, and the picture that emerges isn’t so neatly polarized—or so readily PET-scanned, either.
(Black women now receive twice as many college degrees as black men.) Gender equity may be the sexier goal to push for, but right now socioeconomic inequality is the greater obstacle to overcome.
In the meantime, both sexes—as international comparisons show—could stand to make more progress in math and verbal skills in our competitive global world.