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“Boys and Books”

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Richard Whitmire authored a fascinating article in last week’s New Republic, “Boys and Books,” which both my wife and I read on Sunday. When she announced that she would be making copies for her cousin who has a seventh grade boy and for others in our church who have boys in junior high or who are freshmen in high school, I thought I’d put a pointer here, and hope that TNR makes the article available online for easy reference.

The key set-up parargaphs:

At some point in the early ’80s, boys’ relative academic records and aspirations took a downward turn. So far, no one has come up with a good explanation for this trend, but it’s a story that affects millions of boys and their families. And yet, according to LexisNexis, the report was cited by name in only five newspaper and magazine articles.

Not only has there been little media attention to this crisis in boys’ education, but there has been surprisingly little research. And the conventional wisdom offered up to explain the problem–boys play too many video games and listen to too much hip-hop music–can’t explain a gender slide that’s affecting not just the United States but much of the developed West. It also can’t explain why boys in a few schools manage to duck the gender gap. But promising new answers have begun to surface–and from some very unlikely places.

The this fascinating bit of info:

[O]ne of the best-kept secrets in college admissions today: the affirmative action campaign to recruit men. Most admissions directors sifting through stacks of applications from men and women can only sigh at the contrast. The average male applicant has far lower grades, writes a sloppy essay, and sports few impressive extracurriculars. Those admissions directors face a choice: Either admit less-qualified men or see the campus gender balance slip below 40 percent male, a point at which female applicants begin to look elsewhere.

And this:

Combine Hilton’s local research with national neuroscience research, and you arrive at this: The brains of men and women are very different. Last spring, Scientific American summed up the best gender and brain research, including a study demonstrating that women have greater neuron density in the temporal lobe cortex, the region of the brain associated with verbal skills. Now we’ve reached the heart of the mystery. Girls have genetic advantages that make them better readers, especially early in life. And, now, society is favoring verbal skills. Even in math, the emphasis has shifted away from guy-friendly problems involving quick calculations to word and logic problems.

There’s much more to the piece, and it is worth the subscription, as TNR is every week.


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