Oh, Boys

This is the newest installment in Dr. Pearlstein’s year-long review of how well Minnesota and U.S. students are doing in various international and other comparisons.  This one takes a different tack as it highlights how much better American girls and young women are doing compared to American boys and young men, educationally and in other ways. 

“International Women’s Day” will be celebrated at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs on March 8.  I can only presume what will be said or claimed there, but any number of participants will be longtime friends and colleagues, making me confident in predicting (taking a great leap here) that I will agree with some of their comments and disagree with others.  (In full disclosure, I’m a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at Humphrey.)

If I had to more specifically predict, I’m equally confident I will concur more readily with what is said about inequities facing women around the world than what might be said about inequities facing them in the United States.  Life for women here is not always rightfully sweet and fair, it goes without saying.  But it’s not the sour and often rancid concoction that is the case in thousands of places around the globe.  Places where women and girls are oppressed in nasty fact, not rhetorical fancy (the last two words referring to exaggerations commonly uttered on campuses where lots of lucky people gather).

In particular regard to American girls and young women, it has come to be very hard to argue they are being shortchanged when, by multiple gauges, they are doing better, often much better than American boys and young men.

Tom Mortenson is a very good researcher, headquartered in Iowa, who has spent decades seeking to expand educational opportunities, especially in higher education, for disadvantaged and other poorly served young people.  Of lesser import, we worked across the hall from each other at the U of M when I was in graduate school.  Tom is probably best known for compiling long lists comparing how American girls and boys, along with young women and young men are faring in numerous ways.  I cited some of his 2006 calculations in a book I wrote in 2011, From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation.  Here are a quick half-dozen examples from it.

  • For every 100 girls who repeat kindergarten, 194 boys do so.
  • For every 100 girls, ages 15 to 17, enrolled below “modal grade,” 137 boys of the same age are.
  • For every 100 girls expelled from public elementary and secondary schools, 335 boys are.
  • For every 100 women enrolled in college, 77 men are.
  • For every 100 women who earn a master’s degree, 62 men do.
  • And for every 100 women, ages 22 to 24, in correctional facilities, 1,448 men of the same ages are.

The most recent Mortenson data I could find is from a 2011 compilation.  Here’s an additional half-dozen comparisons from that listing.

  • For every 100 tenth grade girls who play video or computer games one or more hours per day, 322 boys do so.
  • For every 100 tenth grade girls who take a music, art or language class, 52 boys do so.
  • For every 100 twelfth grade girls who carried a weapon on school property, 276 boys did so.
  • For every 100 American women who earn a bachelor’s degree, 75 American men do so.
  • For every 100 American women who earn a master’s degree, 66 American men do so.
  • And for every 100 females ages 15 to 19 that commit suicide, 549 males in the same age range do so.

I trust there aren’t too many major colleges and universities in the United States which do not have at least one program aimed at uplifting girls and women, with such efforts likely grounded in assumptions that girls and women are being measurably held back in discriminatory ways.  To the extent this is actually the case, it’s far less so than it used to be, as witness (among many other things) the stupefying numbers right above.

Still, I understand the reasons – both substantive and political – why colleges and universities will continue offering women’s programs, as well as sponsoring gender-based celebrations, into the un-seeable future.  Fine.  I hope they make educationally useful contributions.

What I don’t understand, given how poorly so many boys and young men are doing, is why institutions of higher learning are paying such scant attention, and not just comparatively, to the obstacles they face and the failing and mediocre ways they are performing in different settings.  Actually, I do largely understand, but I’ve been writing a lot recently about P.C. and could use a break.

Then again, I’m compelled to mention that philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers has written about how, in the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Education developed or otherwise disseminated about 300 curricula, brochures, slide shows or whatever else exclusively intended to help girls.  How many items do you think the department developed or otherwise disseminated exclusively to help boys?  For those whose educated (not cynical) guess is zero, give yourself a non-grade-inflated “A.”

Mitch Pearlstein’s newest publication is “Can America’s Religious Traditions Strengthen Marriage?  Minnesota Leaders Say ‘Yes’ and Propose How.”