Kathleen Parker

Editors Note -- Kathleen Parker is the author of "Save the Males," to be published in June by Random House.

Declaring and debunking crises has become a subsidiary industry of the gender wars.

The latest to roll off the D&D assembly line is a study from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that purports to debunk the idea of a "boys crisis," which followed closely on the heels of a purported "girls crisis."

Boys are doing just fine, say the AAUW authors, who also insist that the boy crisis was a fabrication of people who are uncomfortable with the progress of girls and women. The authors also assert that girls' development hasn't come at the expense of boys, as some allegedly claim.

These conclusions are somewhat baffling given that they are (1) untrue -- boys are not fine, as abundant evidence makes clear; (2) they refute what has never been claimed.

What is true is that when attention rightly focused on girls' special needs -- thanks in part to the 1992 AAUW report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls" -- boys were, wrongly, shuttled to the back burner.

And, who are these people who don't want girls to succeed? Surely not the parents of boys who hope their sons someday will find a suitable mate -- someone smart, interesting, creative, accomplished, and, preferably, not seething with gender rage.

The AAUW report does present some compelling findings indicating that the real education crisis is tied more to race and family income than to gender. That is, both boys and girls in certain groups (African-American and Hispanic) and children from low-income homes are doing almost equally poorly.

But those findings don't justify the conclusion that boys aren't in trouble. According to Judith Kleinfeld, psychology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and director of The Boys Project (www.boysproject.net), illiteracy rates among high school boys are higher than among girls; the reading gap for boys is larger at all ages and increases with age; boys receive lower marks from grade school through college.

Boys excel, meanwhile, at drug and alcohol abuse, addiction to computer games, delinquency, emotional disturbances, suicide, conduct disorders and a variety of other psychiatric disorders.

By trumpeting advances of both sexes while ignoring problems characteristic of boys, the AAUW authors' purpose seems clear -- to divert attention from the "boy problem" lest any more attention be siphoned from programs built around the alleged girl crisis.

Kathleen Parker

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