Kathleen Parker

America's "boy crisis" has been canceled.

It was all hype, we're now told by Education Sector, a nonpartisan education research group.

In a new study titled "The Truth About Boys and Girls," researcher Sara Mead concludes that the failing-boys mantra was politically motivated hooey advanced by anti-feminist pundits and others who cherry-picked data to advance their own ideological agendas.

Boys aren't so much in crisis, says Mead, who analyzed data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. They're just not doing very well. That is, middle- and upper-class white boys generally are doing fine, while blacks, Hispanics and the poor (some of whom surely are white) are doing badly to terribly.

We have a class and race problem, in other words, not a boy problem. Maybe.

Mead seems most concerned that education funds might be misdirected in response to recent noises that school programs are unfriendly to males and that teaching styles should be adjusted to accommodate brain differences - and, hence, learning styles - in males and females.

The study, though filled with intriguing information - not much of which undermines the case of males-doing-badly - seems mostly aimed at halting trends away from policies that were put in place to advance girls. Mead makes clear that any disagreement with her conclusions constitutes Neanderthal "hysteria."

"While most of society has finally embraced the idea of equality for women," she writes, "the idea that women might actually surpass men in some areas (even as they remain behind in others) seems hard for many people to swallow."

Fine. Let's call a truce for the moment on who is or isn't politically motivated, and take a look at the data. It is apparently true that boys do pretty well in elementary and middle school but tend to go wobbly in high school and college.

We may need to give social scientists a few more decades to pin down possible reasons for that, but I'm willing to bet my two cents on a combination of testosterone and a lack of disciplined guidance from fathers. A subject worthy of research not addressed in this study might be the correlation between poor academic performance among these same black, Hispanic and impoverished boys and the absence of fathers in the home.

Meanwhile, here are some of the statistics that say "not a crisis," just "not that great."

Only 65 percent of boys who start high school graduate four years later, compared with 72 percent of girls; 42 percent of boys are suspended from school at least once before age 17, compared with 24 percent of girls. (This is the most alarming statistic in the Mead study and deserves a closer look.)

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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