The Trouble With Newsweek’s Cover Story About Boys

In the new millennium, articles describing the intellectual differences between the genders have been altogether too commonplace. As a result, it wasn’t difficult to presage from the cover of Newsweek’s most recent issue where the editors were going with a headline like “The Boy Crisis.” In fact, once inside, the featured piece, “The Trouble With Boys,” turned into just another in a long line of “exposes” depicting girls as being smarter than boys.

After a pleasant introduction, author Peg Tyre began her laundry list of male deficiencies:

“By almost every benchmark, boys across the nation and in every demographic group are falling behind. In elementary school, boys are two times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and twice as likely to be placed in special-education classes. High-school boys are losing ground to girls on standardized writing tests. The number of boys who said they didn't like school rose 71 percent between 1980 and 2001, according to a University of Michigan study. Nowhere is the shift more evident than on college campuses. Thirty years ago men represented 58 percent of the undergraduate student body. Now they're a minority at 44 percent.”

Unfortunately, Tyre chose not to share with her readers that this last statistic is not what America is seeing at its finest universities and colleges. According to the College Board website, only two of the top ten academic schools in the nation, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, have more female students than males. By contrast, six schools have more men, and two are 50-50. Also, America’s two finest technological institutions, M.I.T. and Cal-Tech, have male-dominated admission rates of 58 and 71 percent respectively. I guess such facts were unimportant to Tyre.

To her credit, Tyre did offer some opinions that one wouldn’t expect from a publication of this political leaning:

“Thirty years ago it was girls, not boys, who were lagging. The 1972 federal law Title IX forced schools to provide equal opportunities for girls in the classroom and on the playing field. Over the next two decades, billions of dollars were funneled into finding new ways to help girls achieve. In 1992, the American Association of University Women issued a report claiming that the work of Title IX was not done—girls still fell behind in math and science; by the mid-1990s, girls had reduced the gap in math and more girls than boys were taking high-school-level biology and chemistry.

“Some scholars, notably Christina Hoff Sommers, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, charge that misguided feminism is what's been hurting boys. In the 1990s, she says, girls were making strong, steady progress toward parity in schools, but feminist educators portrayed them as disadvantaged and lavished them with support and attention. Boys, meanwhile, whose rates of achievement had begun to falter, were ignored and their problems allowed to fester.”

Oddly, Tyre failed to properly introduce Sommers as the author of the book "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men." Even more unfortunate for the reader, as Sommers was the only dissenter interviewed by Newsweek for this piece, this level approach was quickly supplanted by more male bashing:

“For many boys, the trouble starts as young as 5, when they bring to kindergarten a set of physical and mental abilities very different from girls'. As almost any parent knows, most 5-year-old girls are more fluent than boys and can sight-read more words. Boys tend to have better hand-eye coordination, but their fine motor skills are less developed, making it a struggle for some to control a pencil or a paintbrush. Boys are more impulsive than girls; even if they can sit still, many prefer not to—at least not for long.”

Well, Ms. Tyre, if boys and girls are so different at such an early age, how do you explain how much better boys did in school than girls prior to the ’70s? Did this disparity in physical and mental abilities just surface in the past three decades, or did boys just do a better job of compensating for their deficiencies in the past?

Unfortunately, such questions were never addressed in this piece. Instead, the male bashing continued:

“In elementary-school classrooms—where teachers increasingly put an emphasis on language and a premium on sitting quietly and speaking in turn—the mismatch between boys and school can become painfully obvious. ‘Girl behavior becomes the gold standard,’ says ‘Raising Cain’ coauthor Thompson. ‘Boys are treated like defective girls.’"

Isn’t that special -- boys being treated like defective girls. Tyre followed this premise with some physiological possibilities that “might” be responsible for girls achieving more than boys in school such as different rates of maturation and the concept that “Middle-school boys may use their brains less efficiently.”

Hmmm. Talk about your media double standards. Just imagine the outrage if a conservative like Bill Bennett suggested that middle-school girls used their brains less efficiently than boys. Such a statement would likely be front-page news in tomorrow’s New York Times and the featured piece at blogs like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post.

By contrast, it wasn’t until deep into her piece that Tyre finally got to what is likely the largest factor behind the current education differences in our society besides changes to Title IX and the feminist activism addressed earlier:

“One of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school rests on a single question: does he have a man in his life to look up to? Too often, the answer is no. High rates of divorce and single motherhood have created a generation of fatherless boys. In every kind of neighborhood, rich or poor, an increasing number of boys—now a startling 40 percent—are being raised without their biological dads.”

Imagine that: Divorce has an impact on how kids do in school. What a revolutionary concept. Of course, Tyre chose not to make this a central focus of her article by opting to not make any quantitative comparisons between the educational success rates of girls that are the product of divorce to those in a two-parent household. I guess that might have skewed the article’s intent a tad.

In addition, it was tremendously misleading and largely fallacious to suggest that the occurrence of single-mother households is consistent across financial strata. According to the 2004 Census, 51 percent of single mothers in our nation make less than $20,000 per year, with 34 percent living under the poverty rate. By contrast, only 12 percent make more than $50,000 per year. I guess Tyre didn’t want such facts to interfere with her point.

Taking this a step further, it is amazing that in a 2,200-word article about gender differences in education, Tyre waited until the third to last paragraph to present this to her readers: “In neighborhoods where fathers are most scarce, the high-school dropout rates are shocking: more than half of African-American boys who start high school don't finish.”

Herein lies the true flaw to this entire article: nowhere did Tyre address high school graduation rates by gender across cross-sections of our population divided by race, geography, marital status of household, and economic condition. As a result, this piece offered the reader absolutely no salient or novel concepts about the condition of education in our country, and, therefore, is just another emasculation designed to advance an agenda that is so thinly veiled that even the most devout misandrist is likely to see through it.

Education Newsweek
Noel Sheppard's picture