National Post

May 30, 2002

The trouble with boys

National Post

Delegates at Congress 2002 in Toronto, a week-long gathering of thousands of social scientists from around the world, have been grappling with the growing gender gap in schools. Why are girls closing the gap between themselves and boys in traditionally male-dominated subjects such as math and sciences, while boys are falling farther behind girls in female-friendly subjects such as reading and writing?

Some delegates have proposed sensible answers. Teachers from Royal St. George's, a private, all-boys school in Toronto, presented a study that found boys need more space between each other to learn, which make sense since males are territorial. Other findings: Boys need discipline to counter their natural tendency to challenge authority; they respond better to authoritative teachers than passive or non-authoritarian ones; they crave firm leadership, rather than the cheerleading many girls seem to need; and they prefer to be seen as individuals than as members of a group.

In other words, boys should be treated as boys, rather than girls.

But the opposite trend is in fashion. Zero-tolerance violence policies, for instance, punish natural and harmless boyish roughhousing. Most schools ban wrestling and pseudo-violent games such as cops and robbers. Many forbid snow forts (too militaristic) and snowball fights. Tag has even been outlawed, and whole dissertations have been written on the psychological trauma of dodge ball. Last spring, a Grade Two student in rural Nova Scotia received a one-day suspension for pointing a chicken finger at a classmate during lunch and shouting "bang." The student later received an apology from the school board and had his record cleared, but the initial hysteria speaks to how feminized most educators' thinking has become.

Two years ago, American educator Christina Hoff Sommers, in her book The War Against Boys, argued that "girls get better grades, do more homework, engage in more extracurricular activities ... go to college in greater numbers, and so on," because schools are increasingly boy-hostile. "As competitiveness and individual initiative are discouraged, classroom discipline loosened and outlets for natural rambunctiousness eliminated, schoolboys tend to tune out." Their hostility toward school is then diagnosed as clinical; boys are prescribed mood-altering drugs three to four times more often than girls.

More all-boy schools might be an answer. With only boys to teach, staff are less inclined to try to feminize them. Single-sex schooling is unlikely to be widely available soon. The more realistic response would be for schools to accept that boys will be boys.

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