One of the many things the report was wrong about was the "call-out" gap. According to the AAUW, "In a study conducted by Myra and David Sadker, boys in elementary and middle school called out answers eight times more often than girls. When boys called out, teachers listened. But when girls called out, they were told to 'raise your hand if you want to speak.'"
One reporter who belatedly decided to check on some of the AAUW's data was Amy Saltzman, then of U.S. News & World Report. She asked David Sadker for a copy of the research backing up the celebrated eight-to-one call-out claim. Sadker explained that he had presented the finding in an unpublished paper at a symposium sponsored by the American Educational Research Association (AERA); neither he nor the AERA had a copy. Sadker conceded that the eight-to-one ratio he had announced might have been inaccurate. Saltzman cited an independent study done by Gail Jones, an associate professor of education at the University of North Carolina, who found that boys called out answers twice as often as girls. Whatever the accurate number may be, no one has even shown that permitting a student to call out answers in the classroom confers any kind of academic advantage. What does confer advantage is a student's attentiveness. Boys are less attentive -- which could explain why some teachers might call on them more or be more tolerant of call-outs.
Despite its anti-boy bias and factual errors, the campaign to persuade the public that girls are being diminished personally and academically was a spectacular success. As the AAUW's exultant director, Anne Bryant, told her friends, "I remember going to bed the night our report was issued, totally exhilarated. When I woke up the next morning, the first thought in my mind was 'Oh my God, what do we do next?'" Political action came next, and here, too, the girl advocates were successful.
In 1994, the allegedly low state of America's girls moved the U.S. Congress to pass the Gender Equity in Education Act, which categorized girls as an "under-served population" on a par with other discriminated-against minorities. Millions of dollars in grants were awarded to study the plight of girls and learn how to cope with the insidious bias against them. At the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, members of the American delegation presented the educational and psychological deficits of American girls as a pressing human rights issue.
Where Do Boys Fit In?
How do boys fit into the "tragedy" of America's "shortchanged" girls? Inevitably, boys are resented, being seen both as the unfairly privileged gender and as obstacles on the path to gender justice for girls. There is an understandable dialectic: the more girls are portrayed as diminished, the more boys are regarded as needing to be taken down a notch and reduced in importance. This perspective on boys and girls is promoted in schools of education, and many a teacher now feels that girls need and deserve special indemnifying consideration. "It is really clear that boys are no. 1 in this society and in most of the world," says Dr. Patricia O'Reilly, professor of education and director of the Gender Equity Center at the University of Cincinnati.
It may be "clear," but it isn't true. If we disregard the girl advocates and look objectively at the relative condition of boys and girls in this country, we find that it is boys, not girls, who are languishing academically. Data from the U.S. Department of Education and from several recent university studies show that far from being shy and demoralized, today's girls outshine boys. Girls get better grades. They have higher educational aspirations. They follow a more rigorous academic program and participate more in the prestigious Advanced Placement (AP) program. This demanding program gives top students the opportunity of taking college-level courses in high school. In 1984, an equal proportion of males and females participated. But according to the United States Department of Education, "Between 1984 and 1996, the number of females who took the examinations rose at a faster rate...In 1996, 144 females compared to 117 males per 1000 12th graders took AP examinations".
Copyright © 2000 by Christina Hoff Sommers
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