Part 1 Of A 7 Part Series On The Boy Crisis In Education By ManWomanMyth
The Growing Gender Chasm In Education
Without much doubt one of the greatest challenges facing men in modern Western society is in education. Over the last 25 years there has been an ever widening gender gap in scholastic achievement from primary school right through to university. Despite the substantial chasm that has grown between the genders in education and the decline of boy’s academic performance, there has been relatively little action taken to address the problem. I wanted to write this article for a number of reasons. Firstly because I am a generation Y male that has gone from primary school right through to 1st class honours (or Summa Cum Laude in the American system) at university over this 25 year period and frankly have quite a bit to say on the subject. Secondly because I can see enormous consequences for Western society if the gender education gap continues and a critical need to address the consequences associated with it. Thirdly because there seems to be a plethora of reasons and justifications given by some women for the gender education gap which are way off the mark and misleading the public.
The Myths Surronding And Perpetuating The Gender Education Gap
So to begin with I wanted to address some of the cultural factors at play which are blinding people from the true nature of the problems boy’s face in education. Unfortunately there is an attitude among some women in society that men are primarily responsible for their own decline in education, at work and in the home. There is not a better example of this attitude than that presented in the misandric diatribe recently published by Hanna Rosin titled, “The End of Men and The Rise of Women” (which I have addressed in another article). As female journalist Susie O’Brien from the Herald Sun reported, Hanna presents the argument that men are declining because we are not being flexible enough. She suggests that we are simply cardboard cut-outs that are failing to adapt to modern society. To the journalists credit she was deeply offended by many of the misandric remarks made in the book and suggested the author take her son’s advice that writing such books was the act of a bully. Whilst there are many women like Susie O’Brien that regard her remarks as offensive and sexist, there are still plenty of women who either go along with Hanna or worse agree with her. One has to only go on Google to see the plethora of articles, blogs and even communities reflecting her opinions.
I urge more people and particularly women, to speak up when they see this bigotry. It sends a powerful message to these people that such views are unsupported and unacceptable in our supposedly egalitarian society. To their credit I have noted some women doing exactly that on HubPages. Good on you and believe me it does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Anyway, I find it rather amusing that these same women who advocate equality, seem to be completely blind to their own hypocrisy. Perhaps if they stopped selectively perceiving the world through a toilet roll and used both their eyes, they would see the big picture. Apparently men are the ones responsible for our own demise in education and elsewhere and no one else is to blame. Really? So I guess all those decades of affirmative action, the plethora of reverse discrimination associated with it and the money and political influence being diverted to feminise the education system and many other things (rather than make them gender neutral), has had no effect on men whatsoever? Am I to also assume that the decades of neglect of men’s problems financially and politically has had no impact at all on men either? To suggest that men’s demise is the result of inflexibility on the part of men, is an extremely misguided, narrow, ignorant, arrogant and bigoted point of view. Using Hanna Rosin's logic, I could say exactly the same thing about women being too inflexible to adapt to a male orientated education system back in the 1950s! Interesting hypocrisy we have in our Western society regarding gender issues isn’t it? We didn’t ask women to adapt to a male system, instead the feminist movement made the system adapt to women. Logically it would have been better if the system had of instead been adapted to suit both genders, rather than being altered for just one gender, but anyway I digress.
Connected to this attitude that it is all men’s fault and outside influences are not at all to blame, is this perpetual misandric and misogynistic myth that women are the more vulnerable of the genders. Often we men are portrayed as somewhat invincible, always privileged and never on the wrong side of gender equality. Of course this myth completely flies in the face of reality, but who cares as long as it promotes your feminist cause right? Men are indeed vulnerable creatures, we have emotions, we are susceptible to negative social influences and we are not always privileged. Yet this myth is often used to justify the lack of action regarding boys problems in education. I dare the most bigoted radical feminist to look me in the eye after reading the statistics on boys education and suggest men and boys have a male privilege. Tell me that to my face when women are still given female-only scholarships to university, despite the fact that they now make up 57-60% of the student population at most campuses (greater than 60% in some cases).
Finally I am brought to the last group of myths, which is that men are underperforming in education…well simply because their men. These arguments usually go along the lines of, “boys will be boys” or “girls mature faster than boys”. Some pseudoscientific explanation is usually given to justify the gender gap along inherent biological differences between the genders. As a former scientist, I am well placed to see this nonsense for what it is. Unfortunately not everyone has a science background and can critically review the literature. The consequence is that a vast majority of people, particularly young children, can be very easily persuaded by what in reality are flimsy arguments. I will identify the scientific facts behind the myths regarding gender differences pertaining to education in the next section.
In short, there are no gender differences in cognition or behaviour which can explain the yawning gender gap in education and in fact there is a considerable amount of research to suggest it is actually a sociological rather than a biological phenomenon. It should be noted that on the same standardised tests covering everything from literacy to numeracy, we know that the academic performance of boys was higher 20-30 years ago than it is at present. In relative terms, boys of the past were better academic performers than present day boys on the same tests. The gender education gap is not a trend with biological causes to it. Human neurobiology does not "devolve" that quickly (indeed it has remained pretty much the same for 50,000 years), but our environment certainly does.
The Scientific Facts Behind The Gender Differences Myths Associated With The Gender Education Gap
There is a myth going around, sometimes supported by half baked research, that women are smarter than men and this explains the gender education gap. What the bulk of empirical research (particularly the higher quality well controlled studies) rather than pop culture tells us, is that men and women from childhood through to old age show either little or no difference in general intelligence. Indeed when a gender advantage in general intelligence has been observed, the majority of studies have shown a small male advantage of 3-5 IQ points. Of course there are some studies which have shown a small female advantage. However most of the time well controlled studies find no gender difference at all. In addition, research has shown that observed gender differences in general intelligence are likely to have a cultural rather than genetic basis. This might explain the results of other research, which has shown gender gaps in intelligence to differ between countries and over the course of time. Of particular interest to us is that differences in general intelligence across age between the genders are often minor, non-existent or non-verifiable. That is to say that when the research is repeated, the same results are often not observed.
Furthermore it is often not general intelligence which has been shown to differ between the genders, but rather very specific forms of intelligence. It has frequently been observed that there are minor differences in verbal, mathematical and spatial intelligence between the genders. However these differences are not even as general as that. For instance, gender differences are not observed in the majority of aspects of verbal intelligence and the differences that are observed, relate to a handful of areas such as perceptual speed and verbal fluency. Similar observations have been made regarding spatial and mathematical intelligence. Not only are the gender differences highly specialised, but as with general intelligence there is a considerable amount of research to suggest that at least some portion of these differences are the result of socialisation rather than genetics. Whilst part of these cognitive differences are biological, it is important to remember we are talking about minor differences and that neither gender is generally more intelligent overall.
Another thing to point out is that gender differences in highly specific aspects of intelligence don’t necessarily lead to better performance in normal everyday tasks. The tasks we encounter in everyday life, are often far more general than the highly specific mental tasks performed on intelligence tests in which small gender differences are observed (such as the Symbol Digit Modalities test, the Digit Span Backwards task, rotating 3D objects etc). As a result they can be successfully completed mentally in more than one way. An example of this can be found in driving. Women use their verbal memory to remember written or verbal directions in order to navigate, whilst men use their superior spatial skills. Both end up navigating differently but with equal effectiveness. So it is important for us to realise that there is a grave danger when we start overestimating the predictive capacity of intelligence tests and other psychometric instruments in evaluating future performance in work and society.
With respect to behaviour, no significant differences have been found in many behavioural traits. Some inherent behavioural sex differences exist and whilst a few are large, most of them tend to be small or in areas unrelated to academic performance. Many of the sex differences in behaviour are actually largely the result of socialisation, but certainly not all of them though. Despite all of these realities, many gender stereotypes still exist. A classic example of how our gender stereotyping differs from scientific reality can be observed in how we view aggression. There is this myth that men are more aggressive than women and so forth. However a substantial amount of scientific research is completely at odds with this folklore. What research tells us instead, is that it is not that the level of aggression differs between the genders, but rather how aggression is expressed. Women are more likely to engage in passive aggressive activity, such as social rejection and malicious gossip. Men are more likely to express physical aggression. A considerable amount of research, puts these differences in expression of aggression down to differences in how males and females are socialised (i.e women are discouraged far more for displaying physical aggression).
Whilst it is true to an extent that boys mature more slowly than girls, once again scientifically speaking, the gender differences are nowhere near as large as we have been led to believe. Again I suspect the reason we are partly misled, is because of the more overt nature of male behaviour. When boys act immaturely it is usually more obvious, such as breaking a window. When girls act immaturely it tends to be more subtle, such as spreading rumors. Again these differences are largely the result of socialisation rather than genetics. So whilst I would agree that boys mature more slowly than girls based on the scientific evidence, I would not suggest that the gap in maturity is as enormous as it is often portrayed or that it can explain the boy crisis in education. Anyway in basically every aspect, neurological and psychological gaps in maturity have been observed to vanish around the start of puberty (13-14 years of age in the studies I have examined).
Lets us move on to another myth, that academic performance equals natural ability. One psychiatrist I read stated in one study, that if you were to align the bell curves of young boys and girls from unbiased standardised tests assessing reading and general language skills, the gender difference observed is so small that there is more of a difference between individuals of the same gender. Despite this reality, the cultural myth there is this massive gender gap in language competencies is commonplace. One major reason for why this myth has emerged in our society, is because people often mistake scholastic achievement for the core competencies that underlie it. Girls are excelling in English while many boys are struggling. People then assume that this reflects large differences in natural abilities and yet research shows the true differences in core competencies to be far smaller than what the grades are telling us. The reality is that scholastic achievement is actually a product of both effort and competence in a specific area, not just natural ability alone. This is really commonsense, but people forget so easily.
Of all the gender myths out there, perhaps there is none greater than this notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, there is now a wealth of studies that have been published over the last decade or two, overturning the belief that our brains are unchangable and that there is this male and female brain with no overlap. Recent discoveries in neuroscience, have revealed that our brains demonstrate an enormous degree of neuroplasticity. In layman’s terms, neuroplasticity refers to the capacity of the brain to rewire itself. In reality there is no male or female wired brain, but rather mosaics of the two that differ from one individual to another. Sure there are physical differences in our brains, but for the most part the genders overlap enormously in most aspects of cognition and emotion.
As has been discussed, the reality is that the vast majority of scientific evidence does not support the argument that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. This notion is true only to the extent that we believe it and socially reinforce it in our children’s minds when we raise them. Based on the scientific evidence, it is more like women are from New York and men are from New Jersey. Yes the genders are different, but those differences for the most part are pretty small. Honestly I am not really surprised that this is what science tells us. Behind the social stereotypes, it is fairly obvious to most educated people that men and women are far more alike than we are different. Unfortunately there are some individuals that would like us to think otherwise for their own agenda, but they can only deny reality for so long.
The Gender Education Gap Vanishes In Home Schooling
On a closing note what is perhaps most telling about the gender gap in education, is the research that has been done on home schooling. A number of studies on home schooling have revealed a startling result. It appears that when boys and girls are home schooled, the gender gap in scholastic achievement disappears. The female grade advantage in reading and writing is gone and the small advantage that boys have in math scores is not observed either. When comparing these results to those of the national school system (public and private), we can now clearly see that gender differences in scholastic achievement do not necessarily mean that there are corresponding gender differences in core competencies.
So with all of that in mind, I wonder what could really be going on? Based on the scientific evidence, the gender education gap is unlikely to have biological causes but rather sociological ones. In light of the research on home schooling, it would also seem that these sociological causes are likely to be associated with our feminised Western school system. If anyone doubts the enormous influence the institutional/group environment can have on individual behaviour, I suggest that they read about field theory that was first proposed by prominent psychologist Kurt Lewin more than 50 years ago and for which we have acquired a vast amount of supporting empirical evidence. Also, take a look at social learning theory and Skinners work on conditioning to better understand how the group environment can influence people’s behaviour.
What’s Up Next
I will be addressing the real causes of the gender education gap and the consequences which make it matter in the next few articles. In summary what I will present, is that the causes are social, cultural and policy driven. I will also suggest that we should care about the gender education gap, because our economies are going to suffer greatly if we don’t address it. This is especially true when considering that our Western economies will soon be competing with the rise of China, if we are not already and a Confucian culture that idolises education. Of course that is not even mentioning what the impact of having the male half of our society undereducated and underemployed is going to do with respect to crime, suicide, the welfare system and social cohesion. People simply have no idea what we are up against and unfortunately it is looking like they never will until it is too late.
emilyzeinert on November 05, 2014: