The surest way to get attention in American society is to become a crisis. Boys are now on their way to achieving this dubious but indispensable distinction with the new cover of Newsweek, "The Boy Crisis."
It is to be hoped that the crisis establishes a simple truth that is astonishing anyone ever forgot — boys and girls are different. Or as Newsweek puts it, "Boys are biologically, developmentally and psychologically different from girls — and teachers need to learn how to bring out the best in every one."
A crisis always needs its own politically correct argot. A neurologist quoted in Newsweek takes a step toward establishing one here with his statement, "Very well-meaning people have created a biologically disrespectful model of education." Thus, the boy-in-crisis has a rallying cry, "Don't disrespect my biology!"
That's what has been happening for years. Feminists have wanted to believe that, given the right socialization, boys would give up their stubborn fascination with earth-moving equipment. As someone once said, "You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your facts." Similarly, you can have your opinion about what gender should be, but you can't have your own brain chemistry. Newsweek notes how in the womb, the brain of a male fetus is bathed with testosterone.
As any parent knows, that makes him different from a girl. If pedagogy systematically ignores those differences, it will be a disaster. Newsweek recounts the indices: Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities than girls in elementary school; the number of boys professing a dislike of school has risen 71 percent from 1980 to 2001; men constitute 44 percent of undergraduates on college campuses, down from 58 percent 30 years ago.
If school overemphasizes sitting quietly and language skills; if recess is eliminated; if discipline is eroded; if the books feature consciousness-raising instead of action-packed narrative — then boys will be bored, disaffected and disruptive. Classrooms have to be made more boy-friendly — with more discipline, more competition and more activity — so that boys are no longer treated, as one expert put it to Newsweek, "like defective girls."
A reason for this latest crisis is that just as girls had begun to pull even with boys in the 1990s, feminists hyped a crisis over girls doing poorly in school that caused an overreaction harmful to boys. One of the chief culprits was scholar Carol Gilligan, who is given space in Newsweek to address the boy crisis. She writes disapprovingly, "For some, the trouble boys are having with schools becomes grounds for reinstituting traditional codes of manhood, including a return to the patriarchal family." It is clear, however, that patriarchy is exactly what many boys need — lots of patriarchy, up close and personal.
"One of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school," Newsweek reports, "rests on a single question: Does he have a man in his life to look up to?" It continues: "An increasing number of boys — now a startling 40 percent — are being raised without biological dads. Psychologists say that grandfathers and uncles can help, but emphasize that an adolescent boy without a father figure is like an explorer without a map."
Other educational theorists argue that boys would be fine if they could be made more touchy-feely. But Christina Hoff Sommers, who wrote the prescient The War Against Boys five years ago, calls boys "the last of a vanishing breed of Americans who don't want to spend a lot of time talking about their feelings." Instead of trying to change that, we should accept boys for who they are.
What we have witnessed recently — with more evidence of the differences between men and women, and the importance of the old-fashioned two-parent family — is biology's revenge. If we deny what is deep-down in our nature, people get hurt — in this case, the rambunctious boys missing out on the great adventure that is learning.