Sunday 3 February 2013

Why girls do better

It is a strange reversal of fate that makes you worry a little about your son, at the hands of an educational system that is more geared up to deal with girls.  Until 1990, it used to be the other way around.

An important new piece of research in the USA by Christopher Cornwall shines some light on the problem, and finds that - if boys were not marked down for poor behaviour - then they would achieve similar results to girls.  That is where the roots of poorer performance seem to begin.

There was a fascinating article about this in the New York Times today by one of the first academics to warn about the problem, Christina Hoff Sommers.  She says that the first developed nation that can solve the problem about the under-achievement of boys will reap huge economic benefits.

This is a somewhat American point of view, but there is no doubt that there will be economic benefits bringing in more wasted knowhow and imagination.  Even more so for the nation that first solves the even bigger problem of male delinquance.  But I was struck by the end of the article where she points to the UK as the example to be followed.  Is it?

It is true that the problem that the educational system doesn't really suit boys is recognised here.  Boys are nudged towards reading things online, as if that will really help the basic problem.  The basic problem still seems to be unaddressed, which is that a great deal of education at primary school level is not designed to capture the imagination of boys - by which I don't just mean that it isn't full of technological gizmos.  That a great deal is staggeringly dull, and that crucial parts of the educational establishment seem to believe dullness is a sign of high standards.  That the sins of boys - restlessness, frustration at being cooped up indoors - are frowned on more severely than the sins of girls.

It is true that we have not yet succumbed, as the Americans have, to the drugs industry - pumping inattentive boys full Ritalin.  But that does not yet mean we have taken the intellectual leap necessary to tackle the problem.  I only repeat what Christina Hoff Sommers says, quoting Richard Whitmire and William Brozo:  “The global economic race we read so much about — the marathon to produce the most educated work force, and therefore the most prosperous nation — really comes down to a calculation: whichever nation solves these ‘boy troubles’ wins the race.”

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