Kathleen Parker

Much can be inferred from the defensive tone of the study and from the people the authors chose to attack. One target was Christina Hoff Sommers, the cool-headed philosopher and American Enterprise Institute scholar who wrote "The War Against Boys," which the AAUW authors describe as "incendiary."

The report also mentions former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, who was derided for suggesting innate differences between men and women that might partly explain why fewer women than men excel in science and math.

He was essentially run out of town for those "incorrect" thoughts. Summers discovered that "too many female scholars hold the 'right' degrees ... to allow a public reference to male superiority in any field to stand unchallenged," wrote AAUW president Barbara O'Connor.

Of course, Summers' faux pas (which is not intended as a slight toward faux mas) occurred before yet another study, released earlier this month, suggested that one important explanation for the math/science gender gap is that some highly qualified women simply prefer other jobs. Reasons vary for those preferences -- possibly including sexism but not excluding innate differences. Data show, for instance, that women prefer to work with organic or living things while men prefer inorganic matter.

Whom do we sue?

While the AAUW study provides some encouraging statistics that show the gender gap narrowing, other important aspects of learning and living are essential to understanding what ails boys today. And, let's be clear, recognizing that males are in trouble does not mean that girls aren't also having their own problems.

Boys and girls are simply different, a fact easily observed by those treading terra firma. They have different learning styles and face different challenges. Which is why Kleinfeld says the AAUW study is not only "misleading" and "self-serving" but it poses the wrong questions.

The relevant question is: "Are there gender-specific differences that are characteristic of boys and are there gender-specific differences that are characteristic of girls? The answer is yes." The challenge is to identify what they are and develop strategies to deal with them, not pretend that they don't exist.

Kathleen Parker

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