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National Post - Schools ever more boy-unfriendly

April 3, 2001

Schools ever more boy-unfriendly

Ian Hunter National Post

A few years ago the Law Faculty at which I then taught held a "retreat" (in retrospect, this was just the right description) at a hotel in downtown London, Ont.; the purpose of the gathering was to bridge the chasm between a dwindling group of (mostly male) professors who thought our purpose was to teach students the essentials of law in order that they might become competent practitioners, and the younger ideologues (mostly women) who thought the law school's mission was to reshape society in accordance with feminist theory.

A male colleague -- thoroughly decent and an excellent classroom teacher -- ventured to suggest that he treated all his students equally; as an example, he mentioned that he always recognized the first hand raised in response to any question. He got no further. One of our feminists indignantly cut him off, demanding if he didn't know that "studies have shown" that females are less likely to answer a professor's question and, if they do, they raise their hands more slowly? Therefore, to acknowledge the first hand raised was, ipso facto, discrimination. My abashed colleague acknowledged he was unaware of such studies, which provoked a chorus of demands for sensitivity workshops, etc.

I recalled this incident when I read Christina Hoff Sommers recent book: The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men. Sommers' previous book (Who Stole Feminism?) did not endear her to the ladies of the fevered brow, but their scorn and hostility has apparently not deterred her.

Here she demonstrates how the institutional change wrought by two decades of feminist pressure on elementary and secondary schools has destroyed educational opportunities for boys. Sommers' focus is the United States, but it would be surprising if her conclusions are any less valid in Canada.

Boys lag girls (by about a year and a half) in reading and writing. Boys do less homework than girls and are more likely to drop out of school. Boys are less involved in extracurricular activities. Boys are more involved in drugs, alcohol and crime. Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder; a staggering 95% of children prescribed Ritalin (for hyperactivity) are male. Boys are five times as likely to commit suicide.

So complete has been the institutional triumph of feminism that little is being done to address these realities. After two decades of feminist "studies," educational bureaucrats, principals and teachers choose the path of least resistance. The result is our schools have become girl-friendly, but inhospitable for many boys. William Pollack, a Harvard clinical psychiatrist, has called schools "the most boy-unfriendly places on Earth."

Two years ago, elementary schools in Atlanta, Ga., eliminated recess because otherwise boys would rough-house. One school went further and got rid of the school playground altogether. The ideal (which Hoff Sommers calls "feminizing boys") is to have boys socialize and play like girls. Only when Barbie is the toy of choice, irrespective of gender, will ideologues be content.

Hasbro, a U.S. toy firm, decided recently that the moment was right to market a unisex playhouse and assembled representative little boys and girls to try it out. "It soon emerged that boys and girls did not interact with the structure in the same way," Hoff Sommers writes. "The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them and played house; the boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof."

For that declining proportion of boys who make it through our feminized elementary and secondary schools and wind up at a university (where the undergraduate composition, today, is 55% female), they will find themselves at institutions that would have been unrecognizable to their fathers.

Institutions where the budget for the equity office may exceed the budget for the library to purchase books. Where administrators turn a blind eye to academic offences such as cheating, but come down hard on any student who might give a sexist chant at a football game. Where faculty are no longer chosen for their knowledge of the subject and ability to teach it, but because administrators seek to fill a certain profile based on race, sex or sexual orientation.

When I heard my feminist colleague tell about how girls raise their hands more slowly in class, I confess I laughed at her. But, in the twinkling of an eye, it seems, she triumphed; overnight universities became places I found difficult to recognize.

There is no silver lining in the feminist triumph in the universities, any more than in their triumph in the public schools; if there is a leaden lining it is that boys who make it to university, following 12 years of such feminized public schools, will experience little culture shock.

Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario.


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