Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 07/28/2010

Boys: Second Class Citizens in the Classroom

one of our disadvantaged boys

one of our disadvantaged boys

Apparently, when it comes to education in New York City, boys are “second class citizens.” Or at least that’s what Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys and the recent article Are There More Girl Geniuses, thinks.

Before we start shedding tears for our disadvantaged brothers and sons, let’s take a look at the indicators of such a disparity. The author points to a recent New York Times article that notes girls make up – are you ready?– 56% of kindergarteners in gifted programs in NYC. Clearly, there is some kind of mastermind behind this giant conspiracy to rid the world of educated men. And while the article does state that some programs have as many as 3/5 girls, it also admits that overall the New  York City school system is 51% male.

And why is this selection process, that leads to such a HUGE disadvantage for guys, completely unfair? Because girls are able to sit through the standardized tests that determine their admittance! They have longer attention spans and better verbal skills than boys (which the author claims the tests are heavy on). So girls do better on the tests and get accepted more frequently.

So, the author seems to imply, standardized testing is an unfair way of determining what students should be selected for Gifted Programs because they don’t evaluate a child’s intelligence correctly. Unless they prove that boys are more intelligent than girls. Yes, though Hoff Sommers decries standardized testing that “favors” girls, she points to another standardized test as a means of proving that, “A fair selection process should produce more boys than girls in a gifted and talented program.” Yeah. More. Now, why is that? Because one standardized test conducted in Scotland in 1932 showed that while girls had a consistently high level of intelligence, boys were more likely to be off the charts brilliant…as well as more likely to be “mentally deficient.”

So standardized tests are a great way of proving intelligence based on gender. Unless they favor girls.



Much of this article made me want to bang my head against a wall repeatedly. We are expected to worry because after hundreds of years of exclusively educating boys they are no longer the majority of what we consider “gifted” students.  Her argument seems to be pretty blatantly sexist. Nowhere in the article did she mention a desire for “equal” educational proportions, but she sure did explicitly mention that it’s only “fair” for boys to be the majority. And girls being the majority? Complete blasphemy.

Also, the author is completely hypocritical about standardized testing. So standardized testing is okay if it proves what you want it to prove (boys are smarter) but when it happens to favor girls then it’s bad? As she states, “the capacity to remain seated for a long test does not reliably measure brilliance, but requiring pre-K children to do it is a sure way of securing more places for girls than boys in a gifted program.”

Hm. Well. It’s just my personal opinion, but I think that one’s verbal skills and ability to concentrate are not completely  irrelevant to the educational process and a child’s ability to succeed. I personally think the use of standardized tests is stupid (let’s just say colleges reviewing my SAT math score may wonder if the left half of my brain does, in fact, function). There must be a better way to evaluate 5-year-olds (or anyone). But really, you can’t have it both ways: either it’s an adequate determinant of intelligence, or it’s not.

But then, the author’s closing statement really seals the deal:
“The developing gender gap in the gifted programs of New York City does not signal that girls are smarter than boys. Rather, it exemplifies how well-intentioned government officials and educators can disregard boys’ needs and abilities and unwittingly adopt policies detrimental to boys’ well-being. It is a small part of the long story of how American boys across the ability spectrum and in all age groups have become second-class citizens in the nation’s schools.”

Maybe there is another way of looking at this – one that doesn’t pit the genders against each other. Maybe there are more girls in these classes because  those girls actually DESERVE to be in those programs, not because of their gender, but because of their individual intelligence levels.

Here are the facts: out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70% are girls. 82 million girls in developing countries who are now between the ages of 10 and 17 will be married before their 18th birthdays (obviously interfering with their education). So, maybe instead of worrying about the American boys who can’t get into gifted programs in their schools and have to settle for a regular education, we should be worrying about the millions of girls (and boys) who aren’t able to go to school at all.

Just a thought.

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  • Eleni @ at 1:53 pm, July 28th, 2010

    Interesting read. When is in elementary school (in a gifted program), there was only one other girl in the class–the other 23 students were boys! But this was in Illinois, not New York…

  • Eleni @ at 1:55 pm, July 28th, 2010

    * sorry, I meant to say “When I was in elementary school”…

  • Danielle @ at 3:27 pm, July 28th, 2010

    I don’t remember where I heard this, but I read a quote once that said something like “when a boy achieves something, we simply praise him. When a girl achieves something, we have to wonder HOW she was able to achieve it in the first place.”

    You know, because it’s SO hard to believe that girls might actually be successful in life.

    It’s just so SICKENING that people can’t accept that these little girls DESERVE to be in the gifted program, and have to lull themselves into thinking foulplay (or governmental pity) was involved.

  • Ryan @ at 6:08 pm, July 28th, 2010

    The reason she is alarmed is because the distribution of girls does not match known dimorphic curve data.

    Boys are represented in the top and bottom of the performance distribution curve. If the proportion of girls in the top percentiles is not matching, this is something that needs to be addressed right away.

  • Ryan @ at 6:11 pm, July 28th, 2010

    HELENA CRONIN: Philosopher, London School of Economics; director and founder Darwin@LSE; author, The Ant and the Peacock

    More dumbbells but more Nobels: Why men are at the top

    What gives rise to the most salient, contested and misunderstood of sex differences… differences that see men persistently walk off with the top positions and prizes, whether influence or income, whether heads of state or CEOs… differences that infuriate feminists, preoccupy policy-makers, galvanize legislators and spawn ‘diversity’ committees and degrees in gender studies?

    I used to think that these patterns of sex differences resulted mainly from average differences between men and women in innate talents, tastes and temperaments. After all, in talents men are on average more mathematical, more technically minded, women more verbal; in tastes, men are more interested in things, women in people; in temperaments, men are more competitive, risk-taking, single-minded, status-conscious, women far less so. And therefore, even where such differences are modest, the distribution of these 3 Ts among males will necessarily be different from that among females — and so will give rise to notable differences between the two groups. Add to this some bias and barriers — a sexist attitude here, a lack of child-care there. And the sex differences are explained. Or so I thought.

    But I have now changed my mind. Talents, tastes and temperaments play fundamental roles. But they alone don’t fully explain the differences. It is a fourth T that most decisively shapes the distinctive structure of male — female differences. That T is Tails — the tails of these statistical distributions. Females are much of a muchness, clustering round the mean. But, among males, the variance — the difference between the most and the least, the best and the worst — can be vast. So males are almost bound to be over-represented both at the bottom and at the top. I think of this as ‘more dumbbells but more Nobels’.

    Consider the mathematics sections in the USA’s National Academy of Sciences: 95% male. Which contributes most to this predominance — higher means or larger variance? One calculation yields the following answer. If the sex difference between the means was obliterated but the variance was left intact, male membership would drop modestly to 91%. But if the means were left intact but the difference in the variance was obliterated, male membership would plummet to 64%. The overwhelming male predominance stems largely from greater variance.

    Similarly, consider the most intellectually gifted of the USA population, an elite 1%. The difference between their bottom and top quartiles is so wide that it encompasses one-third of the entire ability range in the American population, from IQs above 137 to IQs beyond 200. And who’s overwhelmingly in the top quartile? Males. Look, for instance, at the boy:girl ratios among adolescents for scores in mathematical-reasoning tests: scores of at least 500, 2:1; scores of at least 600, 4:1; scores of at least 700, 13.1.

    Admittedly, those examples are writ large — exceptionally high aptitude and a talent that strongly favours males and with a notably long right-hand tail. Nevertheless, the same combined causes — the forces of natural selection and the facts of statistical distribution — ensure that this is the default template for male-female differences.

    Let’s look at those causes. The legacy of natural selection is twofold: mean differences in the 3 Ts and males generally being more variable; these two features hold for most sex differences in our species and, as Darwin noted, greater male variance is ubiquitous across the entire animal kingdom. As to the facts of statistical distribution, they are three-fold … and watch what happens at the end of the right tail: first, for overlapping bell-curves, even with only a small difference in the means, the ratios become more inflated as one goes further out along the tail; second, where there’s greater variance, there’s likely to be a dumbbells-and-Nobels effect; and third, when one group has both greater mean and greater variance, that group becomes even more over-represented at the far end of the right tail.

    The upshot? When we’re dealing with evolved sex differences, we should expect that the further out we go along the right curve, the more we will find men predominating. So there we are: whether or not there are more male dumbbells, there will certainly be — both figuratively and actually — more male Nobels.

    Unfortunately, however, this is not the prevailing perspective in current debates, particularly where policy is concerned. On the contrary, discussions standardly zoom in on the means and blithely ignore the tails. So sex differences are judged to be small. And thus it seems that there’s a gaping discrepancy: if women are as good on average as men, why are men overwhelmingly at the top? The answer must be systematic unfairness — bias and barriers. Therefore, so the argument runs, it is to bias and barriers that policy should be directed. And so the results of straightforward facts of statistical distribution get treated as political problems — as ‘evidence’ of bias and barriers that keep women back and sweep men to the top. (Though how this explains the men at the bottom is an unacknowledged mystery.)

    But science has given us biological insights, statistical rules and empirical findings … surely sufficient reason to change one’s mind about men at the top.

  • Ryan @ at 6:19 pm, July 28th, 2010

    So what we have found out is that men and women are not the same. We know that somehow there is a reason behind having two genders and that there must be separate selective variables in sexual selection for each sex.

    Suffice is to say that somehow the sexes may compliment the others needs and have done so throughout evolutionary history. As such these selective variables would not only be compounded and carried through to the next generation but that they are X or Y chromosome specific i.e. the fathers selective variables are passed onto sons.

    Over time a dimorphic curve develops particularly in males. Such a dichotomy suggests that there must be heavier sexually selective pressure on males and this is represented by dimorphic variance represented in the male.

    This is true not only between males but in comparison to females in these traits as well. In essence extremes of variance are heavily represented in the male and as such we know that the male should be represented at the top and bottom percentiles of the distribution.

  • Roni @ at 8:57 pm, July 28th, 2010

    I read the article on american.com, and it seems really flawed to me. How can the IQ scores of 11-year-olds in Scotland from 1932 be compared to kindergartners in New York this year? How does not being in gifted during kindergarten affect someone’s chance of going to college or dropping out of high school very much?

    Also, I completely agree with you. There are worse problems with education than this.

  • Natalia K @ at 11:52 pm, July 28th, 2010

    Same thing happens at my university. 57% of the students are women, and according to the president of the university, this is a “problem” she will work on. If the situation were reversed, no one would even question the standardized tests and how it “favors” men.

  • Melissa @ at 3:24 am, July 29th, 2010

    Not to mention with all the talk about how schools in general favor the girls because the boys don’t want to sit still…why does it not seem to occur to anyone that boys’ unwillingness to sit still and listen to someone else talk is more likely to be socially programmed behavior than an actual, innate tendency? Maybe instead of whining about how school favors the learning style of girls, we should start raising boys to be respectful and attentive as well.

  • Boys: Second Class Citizens in the Classroom : Ms Magazine Blog @ at 11:08 am, July 29th, 2010

    […] Reprinted with permission from The Fbomb. […]

  • Niamh @ at 12:21 am, July 30th, 2010

    I completely agree with this article! It’s terribly frustrating when any achievements I, as a high-achieving female teen, are due to my “hard work” where as a teen male is considered a “genius” and just “lazy” after making a few pseudo-intellectual comments.

    As a girl, I feel as though I have to outperform my male counterparts trifold to receive the same amount of recognition. Case in point: in seventh grade, I was trying to be placed in an advanced math class. Two boys in my grade had attempted placement a week earlier and were accepted after receiving 72 and 76 percent on a test covering the previous year’s material. I, only a week later, was required to receive 90% on the previous year’s material PLUS 50% of that year’s material. The argument was that in that week, I had supposedly missed 50% of the course. Somehow the district didn’t understand why there was four girls out of thirty person class that year. This year – this was two years ago, only that math class was allowed into an advanced science class. Through biased math testing, girls are not only locked out of math classes but science classes as well.

  • Ryan @ at 2:27 am, July 30th, 2010

    Ok here is the scoop. In this age group this is not anything to be concerned about because males and females develop at different rates.

    There is virtually no point in testing at this young age. As both genders mature things should fall into line with the dimorphic curve.

    This is probably nothing to worry about at all.

  • Emily S @ at 12:03 pm, August 1st, 2010

    First of all, isn’t it normal for females to be a little ahead of males in terms of physical development?

    Second, “gifted” programs for kindergarteners? Really? REALLY? What does “gifted” even mean at 4 years old? Why are we upset about gender differences at this age when we should be asking if we aren’t starting to pressure our children to succeed at too young of an age?

  • Fools2234 @ at 1:55 pm, August 3rd, 2010

    This unfortunately is so typical coming from a feminist.
    I wonder how she would respond if it were girls who represented only 43% of college attendance.
    Sure their are more boy geniuses but as someone already stated their are also more boys who are at the bottom aswell things that feminists manhaters like these choose to ignore.

    Again please explain why only 43% of college attendance right now is male(not that a feminist like the one who wrote this cares)

    Oh and before u whine about the “wage gap”
    Please read this Dept of Labor report.


  • Sheila @ at 5:39 pm, September 4th, 2010

    The thing that I have always found odd about people claiming that boys are naturally unable to sit still in class is that if this is really true, why have we continued to use that method for thousands of years to teach children (the majority of them of course having been boys)if it is really so ineffective a method.

  • Natasha @ at 7:42 pm, September 15th, 2010

    I just wanted to say something to Fools2234, I’m not someone who’s interested in arguing on the internet, so don’t take this as being combative,but that report isn’t like something feminists haven’t seen before and as it says in the report, it may not need to be corrected, which doesn’t prove there isn’t an issue 100 percent. And it’s true that a lot of women make less because of children, but that is a feminist issue because the way society is set up women feel a pressure to sacrifice career for kids in ways that fathers don’t, i know the idea of a man taking time off from work to have a kid is frowned upon and joked about by a lot of people. So if gender roles were to leave society men and women could feel okay with sharing parenting responsibilities and career responsibilities equally. Plus the ERA hasn’t been passed yet, and that law would make sexism be taken as seriously as racism in a court of law,which is important to making sure that when women are paid less because of their gender it’s prosecuted the way it should be. Which is why feminists are still talking about work rights,as well as the fact some employers see female employees as unprofessional if they don’t wear makeup and it could hurt a woman in a job interview.

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