When a gender gap that favors boys, the proposed solutions generally involve changing girls to meet the prevailing ideal. This is usually the most sensible way to approach the problem. Girls are underperforming in math and science? Well, then we should keep up the emphasis on math and science for everyone and push girls harder.
By contrast, when a gender gap favors females, people are more likely to address the discrepancy by challenging the evaluation criteria. American public school curricula have come to place more emphasis on reading comprehension and other verbal abilities. Some educators argue that this shift has placed male students at a systematic disadvantage because girls tend to be better readers and writers than boys. Note that schools deliberately increased the amount of reading and writing in the curriculum because they thought that it these skills were intrinsically valuable for all students.
Here's an excerpt from Richard Whitmire's New Republic article on the performance gap between boys and girls in grade school:
Expecting boys to become more like girls, however, will strike parents of boys as a bit odd--especially liberal parents who swore they'd never give their children violent toys, only to watch their sons mold clumps of clay into submachine guns.
The pragmatists, mostly male researchers, peer inside the school door and see a feminized world that needs tweaking. Professor Jeffrey Wilhelm, co-author of Reading Don't Fix No Chevys, decries the dearth of boy-friendly reading material. Most literature classes demand that students explore their emotions (not a strong point for boys).
Other pragmatists point to the simple things: Basing grades on turning in homework on time guarantees lower grades for boys. Studies consistently show boys have more trouble than girls turning in homework on time. Some educators and parents explain this by saying that many boys simply forget or decline to turn in completed homework. Here's the boy-thinking: If I answered the homework question to my satisfaction, the task is done. Why turn it in? If you're the parent of a girl, that may sound bizarre. It isn't. Parents of slumping boys know differently. [New Republic]
I can't believe anyone is seriously suggesting that the relationship between grades and deadlines unfairly disadvantages boys. Maybe it's true that boys have a harder time, but the emphasis on turning in homework is hardly evidence of pernicious feminization.
To be fair, this is the setup phase of the article. Whitmire goes on to argue that the key to putting boys and girls on an equal footing is good old fashioned remedial reading instruction. Even so, he entertains the notion boys need to be tricked into reading more:
Here's part of the Grasmick plan: Take existing comic books and graphic novels deemed to cover academic disciplines and sprinkle them around classrooms. Let the boys believe they're pulling a fast one on the teachers by grabbing a quick read. Sounds bizarre, but it's based on good hunches: Boys who become successful readers in high school often attribute that success to making a transition from comic books to school books in late elementary school. Why not offer curriculum-as-comic books? It just might work. It also might not. But at least Maryland is trying, which is better than most states.
Using the comic book format for primary school textbooks isn't inherently bizarre. University textbooks are drifting in that direction already. Newer texts are crammed with diagrams, photographs, and other visual aids--even in the humanities and social sciences.
But what's behind the suggestion that visual aids be deployed as a stealth strategy. Is the male ego so fragile that boys couldn't be even be expected to contend with a visual enrichment of the general curriculum? Now, that's bizarre.
[Hat tip to Kevin Drum]