Thursday, February 4, 2010

Skewed Education Yields Skewed Performance

Richard Whitmire, author of "Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind" was on Brian Lehrer's radio show on WNYC yesterday (listen here).

I was driving, and didn't catch the whole thing, so I won't even attempt to give a deft recap, but the scatterbrained A.D.D. version (hey, I'm a guy!) is this: boys are not doing well in school. A surprising majority of females predominates in colleges these days, and the academic gap seems to be deepening. Whitmire has an astounding number of fascinating facts at his fingertips, and the issue spreads intriguingly through areas like biology, culture, and the shifting sands of educational theory. Obviously, something's changed. When I was a kid, boys were scholastically behind girls for the first years of elementary school, but soon caught up and often even surpassed.

Whitmire offered tantalizing anecdotes of schools that have tweaked their teaching methods, managing to reverse the trend. Alas, there are few avenues to disseminate the findings of successful experiments. (A parallel problem exists in medicine, and, a century ago, in agriculture; for more, see this must-read
New Yorker article which suggested using the latter as a model for improving the former. I get the strong feeling it all applies to education, as well).

But I had a thought: If mere shadings of educational focus can make fully half the species appear laggardly, then how can we not similarly attribute failure with regard to smaller and much less carefully-accommodated segments that have also appeared to lag, academically (poor kids, African Americans, Latinos, etc)?

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