- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

It isn't that Johnny can't read. He just often can't read as well or as quickly as Susie. So some smiling teacher assures his parents that Johnny is really just "a late bloomer" and not to worry. He will catch up eventually.
But that doesn't stop the parents from stewing over the prospect that "late bloomerism" may be a chronic disease for their youngster or perhaps a true learning disability like dyslexia that may require extensive testing and therapy.
Of course, what the teacher has neglected to tell the parents is that most all boys are late bloomers in the classroom when compared to their female counterparts, and that the current method of teaching in the nation's public schools reinforces this fact in most instances. It also ensures that any number of little boys will lose interest before they reach high school when things begin to even out and end up with extremely poor academic careers.
The dilemma is the direct result of an education policy that has had nothing whatsoever to do with education. It has to do with something called "gender equity" and it merely means that a public school system already facing enormous challenges also has had to heft the burden of social engineering dictated by lawmakers persuaded by the politics of organized feminism.
The Bush administration wants to do something about this by encouraging the expansion of single-sex education either in separate schools or classes. It would overturn 30 years of legislated policy under Title IX and is sure to bring howls of protest from any number of groups dedicated to integrating the sexes whether it makes sense or not or, in fact, is even fair.
Actually, what the president is recommending is what every educator worthy of the title has known forever boys and girls both do better when taught separately until they reach high school and perhaps beyond. Boys, in particular, benefit because they are generally freed from the debilitating ravages of inferiority.
Girls and boys differ in more than just their sex, especially when it comes to education. They learn at different paces and have different skills. Girls are far more verbal. They have considerably longer attention spans and they comprehend both oral and written instructions better. It isn't unusual for girls to be reading by the time they are 5. They mature in mind and body far earlier than their brothers.
Boys are mechanical. They want to examine things and if they can see something broken down they can understand it. They require infinitely more patience to teach and the frustration level is higher both for the instructor and the pupil. Adding to classroom woes of boys is the fact that a preponderance of grade-school teachers are young women who understand how to communicate far better with little girls.
So, quite obviously, girls in general are better students in the early years and develop study habits that frequently make them so as they progress into college. One reason all-male schools like the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute resisted the admittance of women, as one graduate of VMI conceded, was fear they would wreck the grading curve.
Watching a daughter dance academic circles around her three brothers left little doubt about any of this. Her brothers all were classified as late bloomers and managed to succeed despite it. Their self-esteem, while jolted by their sister's early superiority, survived intact largely because they had other skills and basically good minds, enhanced by their father's and mother's constant badgering.
Title IX has provided all sorts of opportunities for young women, academically and athletically. But when it comes to equality in the classroom, it always has been the other gender that needed help. The ideal situation would be two first-grade classes, one all boys and the other all girls. The development of social skills and attitudes could be left to the school's out-of-classroom activities.
While there is an economic problem to consider, it is not insurmountable, particularly if the federal government is ready to put its money behind the new policy. Two teachers cost more than one, true. However, most schools already have two sections of each grade. It would not be difficult to split them by sex.
No question that this is a sea change in the way the government views gender-discrimination law. But, if adopted liberally by schools, it will go a long way toward improving education by providing another option to parents increasingly concerned about the public schools.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.


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