The Girls Are Winning

As I look at my honors classes these days, I have noticed an increasingly obvious trend: more girls are enrolling in honors classes than boys. Every time I read a breakdown of state test scores, ACT and SAT scores, college and high school graduation rates, Masters Degree earners, and more, females are outpacing males.

Nicholas Christof notes the following statistics about this problem in his NY Times article:

– The average high school grade point average is 3.09 for girls and 2.86 for boys.

– Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to repeat a grade.

– Boys are twice as likely to get suspended as girls, and three times as likely to be expelled.

– Estimates of dropouts vary, but it seems that about one-quarter more boys drop out than girls.

– Among whites, women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 62 percent of master’s degrees. Among blacks, the figures are 66 percent and 72 percent.

My students notice the girls excelling as well. They look around the room, the girls giggle, the boys smile lopsidedly, and I shake my head. I do make a bit of a joke out of it with the kids knowing that some research suggests that boys should start school a year later than girls: “why do boys take longer to mature? Perfection takes time.” The girls roll their eyes at me a bit, and the boys chuckle.

Sometimes I laughingly broach the subject with my students by telling them that ever since American women won the right to vote, they have slowly started taking over the country. Again smiles of different types. I ask them, “Guys, how did we lose that vote? We were the only ones voting!”

The kids laugh, but then we really talk about it. They seem to think bravado has a lot to do with it, that and video games. I think they’re partially correct. I also see many of the boys’ role models being sports stars, musicians, and characters in movies and TV, not all of whom value or display education. Plus, boys really do take longer to mature, and they often act out in class and tend to challenge authority more (in my observations).

On the other hand, boys still dominate the top of the achievement ladder. In the same article mentioned above, Christof notes that when looking at last year’s graduating class, “a total of 297 students scored a perfect triple-800 on the S.A.T., 62 percent of them boys, according to Kathleen Steinberg of the College Board. And of the 10,052 who scored an 800 in the math section, 69 percent were boys.”

Still, boys are “lagging” behind their female classmates around the world too, as Christof observes.

I have heard other teachers suggest that school isn’t hands-on enough. Others say boys need to be entertained in school more than girls. I’m not sure of the answer, but I do see a growing gap between who is achieving and who is not, and much of it centers on a gender gap.

As sexist as it may sound, I learned early on when teaching history that starting a history unit with war will capture the attention of the boys, and the girls would do what I ask them to do. I had to somehow bring the boys right in, but the girls would comply almost immediately. Even as I teach literature now, I draw in the boys with conflict and pull in the girls by focusing on relationships.

Maybe this is part of the answer.

As a society, we seem to teach the sexes–directly or indirectly–that they are different from one another, should care about different things, and should act differently than one another. And it appears to be affecting achievement greatly.


3 thoughts on “The Girls Are Winning

  1. Jim Van Pelt

    Very interesting post, Doc. I sent it to everyone in our department. We had a conversation last year about how the poetry we teach can sometimes alienate the boys, and why that might be.

    1. drpezz Post author

      Ahhh, poetry. Tough with the boys. I used some Harlem Renaissance poetry, some Wilfred Owen poetry, and poems with mythological allusions to draw in the boys. Phillip Larkin has a few good ones I use as well.

      The other thing I have done as of late is use ballads and contemporary music (well, from the 60s to today) to teach literary terms.


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