The very rapid transformation of schools from environments dominated by men and boys to majority-female institutions has left many scratching their heads. Why are boys, despite higher test scores and better performance at the highest levels of the sciences and arts, more likely to fail, drop out or avoid school altogether? In feminist quarters there is a sense of triumph about the situation, but many mothers and concerned women cannot figure out what might be the problem. Men, unfortunately, seem largely to have given up trying or stopped caring about this serious problem — serious because male rejection of the institutions that provide a path to upward mobility will undoubtedly have destabilizing effects in the future.
Of course, I am among those who agree that higher education is oversold, and not really necessary for many of the people who attend. Perhaps up to half of the young men and women in college would do just as well – if not better – by choosing a trade. There is no reason a two-year degree following high school cannot provide the training necessary to enter the job market, and if high school itself did a better job of teaching the classics we would have graduates with a perfectly acceptable liberal arts education, with no need to take university classes to round them out.
However, what is really killing boys in school is not that it is forced on them so much as it is the culture surrounding school — higher education in particular. As we all know, school is largely about socializing children and youths so that they get along tolerably well. In a mixed gender environment, socializing is naturally very different from what it is in a gender segregated environment, and controlling one’s conduct becomes more of a priority. When boys and girls are in close proximity, boys must adjust their behavior in a number of ways. First, they must learn to be physically gentle, which is more difficult for young children than it may seem to us. Next, they must learn to be gentle in words and speech, and finally they must learn to repress their sexuality. To maintain harmony in mixed gender environments, all three are necessary, and they take a higher priority than actual hard learning.
So it appears that instead of the “three Rs,” we now have docility, flattery and restraint, none of which plays to male strengths. A number of boys, whether they are intelligent or not, will have a very difficult time following the new code of educational institutions, because it is not in their nature to repress their bodies or minds. Girls, on the other hand, are much better at acting nice and behaving “properly.” Unfortunately, this carries over into higher education, and has begun to pervade society as a whole.
In higher education, the stifling gag of political correctness evolved directly out of this enforced socialization that begins in grade school. The male student is exected to sit there and listen obediently while men in general are trashed and women portrayed as victims of nasty boys at every turn in life. If the male student speaks out or objects – even if on logically reasonable grounds – he is targeted as an example of what is wrong with men, and will be punished for doing so through lower grades. There is no defense for the male student against such actions. A boy whose inquisitive, honest male nature cannot be repressed may find school to be a very hostile place. He had best just learn to keep his mouth shut and soldier on without grumbling about the situation (yes, even grumbling will draw the jaundiced eye of a feminist professor).
Now, what we find in higher education is an environment dominated by a feminine sense of propriety to which men must learn to suborn their nature or, failing that, leave. Those young men who do well are in the minority, and only represent one side of a spectrum of male behavior, just as women who do well in math and science only represent one side of a spectrum of female accomplishment. The majority of young men find the environment of higher education to be unbearable, and so they avoid it.
What this all really comes down to is that men are by their nature radically honest — we don’t understand why we can’t tell a woman that she ought to lose a few pounds or ask her her age, we just know through social conditioning that we “can’t do that.” Unfortunately, searching for the truth in higher education has taken the back seat to the concerns of sensitivity and ego-boosting. Men are forced to flatter and stroke all around them or, if they can’t, to shut up. For many young men, this is nearly impossible, and for most it is too much to ask. Those who will do best are men with a natural ability to prevaricate and flatter, while those who may “get by” are those who are naturally quiet, although this problem must take quite a toll on the quiet boys, who must endure the entire charade in mute frustration.
The solution is a return to gender-segregated places in schools where boys can be their true selves. Remove the enforced repression and replace it with discipline, and boys will thrive. It cannot be emphasized enough that discipline is fundamentally different from repression. Discipline is what gets one through the tough job, and is readily understood when explained to boys of a certain level of intellectual maturity. Repression only gives boys and men a confused sense of hopelessness and alienates them. Learning can and should allow the full spectrum of male expression, but we may simply have to accept that this cannot be achieved in mixed-sex environments.
The above problem extends far beyond the realm of education, but to keep this post from getting too long I’ll save that discussion for another time.