Monday, June 26, 2006

Half Empty or Hall Full?

Imagine a car race, where there are two cars A and B, A in the lead. B manages to catch up to A, and even starts to get ahead. There are two basic scenarios for what could have happened:

Scenario 1: A drops in speed, so B, still going at the same pace, is able to pass.

Scenario 2: B increases in speed while A stays the same, so B catches up.

Now, obviously we could determine which of these happened by analyzing average velocities. But which one do we believe happened?

We hear a report that girls are now catching up to boys, doing better in school, higher graduation rates, grades, even in “boy subjects” like math and science. Is it because (1) boys are doing worse or (2) girls are doing better?

Overwhelmingly, we seem to believe it is Scenario 1, that somehow our education system is failing the boys. We are so concerned in fact, that Newsweek had a cover story about how we need to "Save the Boys!". Stop worrying about girls! Our education system is failing behind! Having female teachers (women in authority!) plus asking boys to “behave” and “follow rules” and “turn in homework on time” is asking too much of them! It’s not like the system was made for boys in the first place, and for a century or two boys seem to do fine.

When girls are doing well, we assume it’s not that girls are doing better, it’s that boys, in comparison are doing worse. The Newsweek article (and many others like it) believe we need to change the system to help boys. When girls were behind forty years ago, there were no thoughts of changing the system, it was how to change girls to better succeed in this system. Now that they have managed to succeed, they are now outstripping boys, so now the system is “bad” because it “penalizes boys”. Sigh. Girls just cannot get a break in this country.

The good news? One study is now realizing this. Quote from the study :

"The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse," the report says, "it's good news about girls doing better.”

Finally the press seems to get the idea. But while the headline “Boys doing worse!” can make the cover of Newsweek, “Girls doing better!” cannot even stay on the front page of the Washington Post the day it’s published. Why don't we sing girls praises, for doing so well in really, so short on a time? Why do we assume girls can't be doing better, boys must be doing worse? How can we fix this?


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