Boys are failing, and feminism is at fault

ONE OF the great triumphs of feminism is education. It is a profession now completely dominated by women and by feminine thinking.

Early childhood education and primary schooling are dominated by women – nine out of 10 teachers are female. It is also a profession that aims to imbue political correctness – schooling being the method by which this social imperialism is imparted.

I have no difficulty with education providing alternative views, but there is something dangerously monocultural about education today: one world view that dare not be challenged.

Consequently the latest research by the Ministry of Education on university bachelors' degrees should not surprise. Almost two-thirds of undergraduate degrees are gained by women. Even in traditional specialist fields like law, medicine, accounting and planning, the majority of graduates are women. And that trend is increasing.

They could have added journalism, the media and communications, but that battle has long since been lost, both by my gender and by commonsense.

These trends are disastrous for the future of this country – and it is nothing to do with the success of women; it is everything to do with the relative failure of young men.

There will be those – and the teaching profession harbours many such – who don't care a jot. Their rationale is that boys will just have to adapt to "the new style of learning". But it is as sexist and as damaging as anything perpetrated upon Kiwi girls in the 40s and 50s and it is deliberately undermining any chance this country might have of rejoining the developed world.

It used to be the conventional wisdom that girls developed earlier in education but then that boys caught up. That is no longer true. Boys are not catching up and the gap is getting greater. Boys are failing, and then failing some more. They are having opportunity stripped away every day.

And it's not like New Zealand education authorities don't know this. Indeed, the School Trustees Association has criticised the lack of research and policy and noted the acknowledgement gap between us and other western nations.

Some schools have also taken their own steps with boys-only classes and teaching styles specifically suited for male learning patterns. But it is sporadic stuff. Nowhere is there an acceptance that Kiwi boys are being blighted by our education system every day.

That said, part of the problem may be the overemphasis upon tertiary education. Most polytechnics have rebranded themselves as institutes of technology or community colleges, but are – outside specific trades training – bloody useless.

The plethora of arts-related courses is testimony to how they have departed far from their limitations. They gift kids a certificate and a sizeable debt, but that's about it.

One might argue the number of undergraduate degrees is testimony to the dumbing down of tertiary education: it is not exactly the apogee of academic excellence. In far too many cases, it is simply a finishing school until a student's real ambition takes shape.

But these criticisms aside, boys should still be doing better. Something is seriously wrong when the gender achievement gap accentuates with age, rather than diminishes.

Weirdly, it appears the body clock of young women is the only thing that is keeping young men in the game. Just after age 30, female tyros in the professions are faced with the most post-modern of dilemmas. Child or career?

Yes, you can have both but only if you neglect one or the other.

As a consequence, the laggard male gets a break. But most males won't even get that far. They will have long been spit out by national standard testing, NCEA and entry requirements for specialist schools.

Which is why, when I went back to Victoria University a few years ago, I openly wondered if I'd strayed into an English Lit class: it was wall-to-wall women. Although I should have noted that they were uniformly well dressed; the English Lit girls are decidedly bohemian by comparison.

No, sighed the male lecturer. This is an entry school. Good grades get you in here and the girls got the grades. Expect the coming feminisation of both the law and legal judgements. Which may be no bad thing, if contract law is any indication.

But the issue remains. The Ministry of Education accepts boys are backward with regard to reading and writing and girls stay at school longer. But that's it – no new policy or funding. At Year 6, twice as many boys as girls will be in reading recovery – something of a joke these days because it is so chronically under-resourced.

Education Minister Anne Tolley drew the ire of teaching unions last month for directing that any new education funding needs to go into the basics – reading, writing and maths. She might have gone further and also redirected non-basic streams – especially at boys. But it's a start.

In the meantime, parents will still expect their children – irrespective of gender – to be getting a good, basic education in the nation's state schools.

Certainly, their daughters will. Too bad about their sons.

Sunday Star Times, November 8, 2009

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Amy Poehler

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