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School Is Not Working for Too Many Boys and Nobody Wants to Talk About It

There was a time decades ago when girls trailed boys in math and science and we as a nation deemed that to be unacceptable. Starting in the 1970’s, initiatives and organizations sprung up all over the place to help girls catch up. And they did. But as girls began improving in math and science, boys were on a decline that people either ignored or, worse, scoffed at as “just deserts” for those who had unfairly benefited from The Patriarchy.

Girls currently outperform boys academically in virtually every way, starting in elementary school with reading scores that are consistently higher by double digits and the trend persists all the way through high school and college. More girls graduate in the top 10th and second 10th of their classes. They are far more likely to have GPAs equivalent of an A while far more boys than girls have GPAs that equate to a C or below. There are more girls than boys in AP and honors classes. And women currently outpace men in obtaining associates degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and PhDs.

But none of these remarkable and hard earned gains by women do anything to mitigate what we have allowed to happen to our boys. 

  • Boys are more than twice as likely to get suspended from school and almost three times as likely to be expelled. 
  • Boys represent two thirds of the special education population. Almost 80 percent of these boys are Black and Hispanic. 
  • 60 percent of high school drop-outs are male. 93 percent of prison inmates are male and 68 percent of them do not have a high school diploma.
  • 85 percent of juvenile offenders are functionally illiterate. 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. 

These gender disparities in educational outcomes are significant for middle income and white boys but they are jaw-dropping among Black, Latino, and lower income boys. Black boys are in the direst of straits—nationally, only 10 percent of 8th grade Black boys read at grade level. Black boys are more likely to be suspended and drop out than all other demographic groups. A Black boy is six times more likely to end up incarcerated as a White boy and five times more likely than a Black girl. 

So where is the outrage from the equity crowd over what is happening with our nation’s boys? If it made sense in the 1970’s to begin investing in girls so they could catch up in math and science, it certainly makes sense to do the same for boys in reading and writing, especially considering the indisputable correlation between illiteracy and incarceration.

The pervasive narrative that victim status is reserved for girls may explain the lack of outcry and action to help our boys. Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “The War Against Boys,”wisely warned in 2013 that the “proper corrective to chauvinism is not to reverse it and practice it against males, but rather basic fairness.” She goes on to say that “fairness today requires us to address the serious educational deficits of boys and young men. The rise of women, however long overdue, does not require the fall of men.” 

Meanwhile, if we don’t take urgent action, those who proudly proclaim that “the future is female” may just get their wish as they passively sit by and watch the futures of our most marginalized boys destroyed before they’ve even made it out of elementary school.

What Do You Think?
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a former educator and elected school committee member and the chief editor of this site, Project Forever Free. She blogs at Good School Hunting and occasionally writes for other outlets including Scary Mommy, The 74, and The Hill. She is the mother of three school aged sons who currently attend a district school, a charter school, and a private school—in 3 different zip codes! Rhode Island is home.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you Erika for speaking to this tragedy unfolding before our eyes. I wish more people would bring this to the forum of public conversation. In my teaching experience the most difficult challenge has been to reach male students who demonstrate a trajectory of failure. As a male high school teacher I tried hard to establish a positive relationship with male students, not only for academics, but also to encourage building their self confidence and self worth. I am aware of the statistics that clearly show a profound correlation of fatherless male students with chronic failure.

    Some people insist on the narrative “school to prison pipeline”. There is really little or no truth in that rhetoric.
    The truth is…if a male is born into this world (especially black boys) and his father abandons his moral, civic and God given responsibility to support his kid (mind body and spirit), that kid will likely enter into the prison pipeline at “that” early time in his life. And that pipeline is loaded with street culture that is absolutely toxic to kids’ essential academic, social and psychological development….thus, we have the crisis of student misbehavior in class rooms across this nation.

    The prison pipeline is also painted with malicious innuendo designed to discourage/harm males, such as the modern myth of we live in an oppressive male patriarchy. Female students are doing well, and that’s great. But to achieve a healthy balance all a teacher can do is continue to try and reach males, even if just one of 100. On a larger scale we cannot legislate morality. Perhaps the more principled variety of law makers will write legislation that will discourage (deter) adults from just walking away from their responsibility to raise kids they bring into this world.

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