- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

We sometimes hear claims that males are the privileged sex. The facts, however, don't wholly square with that.

Boys outnumber girls by more than 2 to 1 in special education classes. Communication disabilities such as stuttering and dyslexia are several times more prevalent among males than females. Reading blockages and other learning problems are 3 to 5 times as common. Males are more often colorblind and left-handed and suffer more night terrors. They are 3 times as likely to be autistic, and they experience much more schizophrenia, hyperactivity, delinquency, suicide and homicide than females. They are more likely to be homosexual.

One expert has described the male as "a bundle of energies that is always threatening to disintegrate. The female is much more stable and secure." So anyone arguing that males are the "higher" sex has a lot of explaining to do.

Males may not be better; but they are different. Which is where an important new book called "The War Against Boys," by Christina Hoff Sommers, a colleague of mine at the American Enterprise Institute, comes in. Mrs. Sommers argues that our feminist-influenced cultural establishment has too often refused to accept that boys and girls are not the same, with the result that many young boys are now ill-matched to the schools and other social institutions that receive them.

The writer Leon Podles has phrased it this way: "Put a boy in a school with a curriculum designed for girls and taught by women whose main desire in life is that boys behave like girls" and you've got a recipe for failure.

The idea that there might be specifically male tendencies toward aggressiveness, stoicism, shorter attention span, lower verbal and relational skills, higher spatial and logical skills, and so forth, and that society should accept and work with these tendencies, has in many places become politically incorrect. If boys act differently from girls, too many liberal educators believe, that is an individual defect to be cured.

It would be unfair to blame all the stresses on boys today on overzealous feminism. But those feminists who rail against everything from professional sports to toy swords (sometimes with the best of intentions) are surely part of the problem. Rather than fantasizing that all boys can be remade into pliant, expressive, non-violent little model students, we ought to be seeking ways to direct male rambunctiousness into constructive uses.

That will often require that boys be exposed to more authentic masculinity, not less. After all, the most dangerous boys in America are those raised in our inner-city matriarchies. Those rap anthems about thumping women come out of a world wholly devoid of male authority.

To compensate for the shortage of male exemplars in inner cities, we should experiment with strict, all-male, urban boarding schools. Perhaps these could be staffed by decommissioned military officers who know something about how to build discipline and productivity in restless young charges.

Alas, recent efforts to set up even fairly conventional schools for endangered boys have often been squashed by feminist absolutism. A few years ago, I interviewed the principals of two elementary schools that Detroit and Milwaukee had tried to establish specifically for troubled inner-city boys. These were smart, tough, black men trying to address a mortal crisis in their communities. And they were livid that out-of-town lawsuits brought by the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union had blocked their projects.

It isn't just underclass children who are being hurt by the taboo against acknowledging sex differences. Over the last couple decades, fewer and fewer boys have been succeeding in school. Two-thirds of U.S. kids who don't make it to college these days are male. Boys of all income groups, races and ethnicities are now less likely than comparable girls to work themselves into the college pipeline. But it is boys from poorer families who are particularly at risk. Among youngsters in families earning $80,000 to $100,000 per year, girls are 8 percent more likely to be on a college track than their brothers; at family incomes of $10,000 to $20,000, this swells to 56 percent.

An upshot: Only 41 percent of bachelor's degrees will go to men by the time today's ninth-graders leave college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That's down from 57 percent in 1970.

"When you see the aspirations of boys and girls at an earlier age, they're high," educator Gilberto Ramon recently told the San Antonio Express-News. Yet, Mr. Ramon notes, by age 18 the number of men who are still successful and motivated shrinks substantially. "So something happens between the time they have those aspirations and the time they graduate." That "something" ought to concern us.

Karl Zinsmeister is editor of the American Enterprise, a national magazine of politics, culture and business

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