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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Gender inequality shown in classrooms, boys left shortchanged

Aisha Bouderdaben/The Cougar

Aisha Bouderdaben/The Cougar

For the last couple of decades, education has done its best to ensure that girls have received the same attention and opportunities to participate in the classroom. Unfortunately, after years of attempting to create equality, the gender gap in education still exists.

The difference is, now boys are the ones being left behind as girls soar ahead. The culture of the classroom has changed to become more inclusive of girls and has, in the process, become a hostile environment for boys.

Boys are the subject of disciplinary action far more often than girls, make up a significantly larger portion of those in special education courses, are disproportionately diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and are less likely to graduate from high school. In the current educational climate, it’s not a good time to be a boy.

Men and women think differently — just ask John Gray, author of the iconic book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” This bestseller highlights the fact that difficulty in relationships often arises because men and women are constitutionally different, particularly in the ways in which information is processed and interpreted.

The classroom is the perfect example of just how differently male and female brains operate. Each has specific needs, but when the focus of curriculum favors one gender over the other, half the students will inevitably be left out.

The different needs of boys and girls are apparent from the beginning of one’s education. Kindergarten is the time in which children are introduced to reading and writing, but studies suggest that while girls are ready to acquire language skills at age 5, boys are not yet cognitively prepared at this age.

According to the American Association of School Administrators, the area of the brain responsible for language acquisition develops in boys two years later than in girls.

Boys at this age are more interested in honing their naturally strong spatial reasoning and become frustrated and unruly when not allowed to build, explore and design. The problem, said the AASA, is that these early frustrations with school create feelings of inadequacy that will be carried on throughout a boy’s academic career.

When boys are placed in an environment that isn’t suited to their learning strengths, they act out and are labeled as discipline problems. This is a trend that begins early and will continue to plague boys throughout high school.

According to TIME, “boys are nearly five times more likely to be expelled from preschool than girls. In grades K-12, boys account for nearly 70 percent of suspensions, often for minor acts of insubordination and defiance.”

The issue with the current state of the classroom is that it isn’t a friendly place for male students. The “feminization of the classroom,” which has helped bring girls up to speed with boys, is an oppressive environment for male students. Cops and robbers, dodgeball and heroic make-believe — some of the pastimes that most boys naturally prefer — are no longer allowed in many schools because they have been deemed “too aggressive.”

“The expectations as to what is acceptable behavior in the classroom is just one step in redefining the concept of what it means to be a boy,” said theatre studies graduate student Rachel Aker.

Aker raises an interesting point. What we currently define as acceptable masculine behavior in boys may be radically different 30 years from now as values and social institutions evolve. The problem is that the culture of the classroom may be changing faster than society is.

Boys are still encouraged societally to exhibit aggressive, dominant behaviors, especially in play. It should come as no surprise that boys are struggling to understand the contradictory dictums they receive. Society expects one thing of them, while school requires another.

Last year, a seven-year-old was suspended from school for pretending that his pencil was a gun. The decision to suspend the child was made, ostensibly, in effort to prevent any violence from entering the classroom; however, studies show that actual juvenile violence at school is at a historic low.

“The generalization that girls mature faster than boys has been statistically proven, and boys are paying the price. Culture, language and pedagogy are always and should always be in flux in order to remedy the latest inequalities.”

– English graduate student Sami Atassi, on how to combat boys being left behind academically.

The problem with these kinds of ludicrous, unwarranted punishments is that they deliver an offensive message to boys: You and your masculinity aren’t welcome here.

Statistically speaking, boys are receiving this message loud and clear.

According to the AASA, “boys account for 70 percent of the D’s and F’s in schools, two-thirds of disability diagnoses and represent 90 percent of discipline referrals” in grades K-12. Poor academic performance means that less boys than girls are graduating from high school and even fewer are attending college.

At campuses across the nation, women, making up about 60 percent of the student population, are earning 170,000 more bachelor degrees each year than men. English graduate student Sami Atassi said this statistic is not surprising to him.

“Honestly, I’m not surprised that women are excelling over men,” Atassi said. “The generalization that girls mature faster than boys has been statistically proven, and boys are paying the price. Culture, language and pedagogy are always and should always be in flux in order to remedy the latest inequalities.”

Unfortunately, despite worrisome trends in education, boys aren’t receiving the kind of public attention that girls have garnered. When girls fall behind, it’s alarming; when it happens to boys, it’s ignored.

In effort to level the playing field for girls, the positions have merely been reversed. The fact that young women are dominating academically is a success for us all and one that should be celebrated, but we can’t have half of our population succeed at the expense of the other.

It’s time for classroom culture to change once more; boys deserve to feel welcome without their male sensibility being checked at the door.

Opinion columnist Jonathan Bolan is an English graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]

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