Issue 1: Does a “Boy Crisis” or a “Boy Problem” exist and require policy attention?

Issue 1: Does a “Boy Crisis” or a “Boy Problem” exist and require policy attention?
A movement to deal with the problems of boys is still in its infancy in the United States. The issue is controversial. Does a “boy problem” or a “boy crisis” actually exist which needs policy attention? According to some analysts, girls are outstripping boys in many important areas, such as reading and writing skills and college attendance and graduation. With the decline of high-paying work in traditional male occupations such as manufacturing and the increase of high-paying work in occupations requiring professional and information processing skills, men without a college education have been left behind. Others argue that the “boy crisis” represents a backlash against the success of women, who still earn less and occupy fewer high-prestige positions in American society.
Research and Policy Questions: Are boys actually in trouble, and what is the evidence? Consider mental health, such as suicide rates, as well as school achievement and college attendance and completion. What are the reasons for the change in attention to boys? What is the likelihood that the “boy problem” will receive local, state, or national attention as did the “girl problem”? What cultural, economic, and ideological changes and commitments are driving this issue?

Key Sources:
1. American Association for University Women. (1992). How schools shortchange girls. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women.
The American Association of University Women focused national attention on the educational problems of girls, arguing that the schools were shortchanging girls, that girls were behind in mathematics and science, that girls suffered from low self-esteem and received less attention from teachers. This report supported and spurred a myriad of educational efforts, such as mathematics and science summer programs for girls and conferences and institutes for teachers on the needs of girls. While dated, this report is still an excellent summary of the issues and data sources. Similar programs may help boys. For more recent information from a girls’ advocacy perspective, see the AAUW web page: www.aauw.org
2. Kleinfeld, Judith. (1998). The myth that schools shortchange girls. Washington, DC: Women’s Freedom Network, 1998. www.uaf.edu/northern/schools/myth.html
See also Kleinfeld, J. (1999). Student performance: Males versus females. The Public Interest, 3-20.
This report and article critique the research report issued by the AAUW and provide evidence for the position that boys and girls have different types of educational problems and needs, as opposed to the position that only girls are shortchanged in schools. While girls need more attention in such subjects as the physical sciences and advanced mathematics, boys need more attention in the development of literacy. This report also points out the disproportionate number of boys diagnosed with autism, attention deficit disorder, and other learning disabilities and the greater variability of boys, which places them both at the top of the heap and the bottom of the barrel.
3. Sommers, Christine Hoff. (2000). The war against boys: How misguided feminism is harming our young men. New York: Touchstone. This is a central source for the position that the behavior of male children has been pathologized in schools. Feminist excesses have created a culture of disapproval of males where boys are perceived as violent, sexual harrassers, and responsible for the sins of the patriarchy. These cultural attitudes amount to an “undeclared war against boys” and an educational movement to “feminize” boys.
4. Mead, S. (2006). The truth about girls and boys. Washington, DC: Education Sector. http://www.girlscoalition.org/uploads/research/ESO_BoysAndGirls.pdf
This research report argues that the “boy crisis” is not grounded in the data, that news stories on the problems of boys reflect the desire for a new “man bites dog” angle, and that boy advocates are advancing political agendas and personal interests. Boys are making progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests and increasing in college attendance, not only girls. Mead argues that class and race are far more important than gender and should be the major focus of policy attention, although she acknowledges that low-income, urban, and minority boys are in trouble.
5. Weaver-Hightower, M. (2003). “The boy turn” in research on gender and education. Review of Educational Research, 73, 471-498.
This article examines the reasons for greater attention to boys and why policy-makers and researchers have become interested in the issue. He identifies eight important influences, including conservative and backlash politics, parental concerns and pressures resulting from the media’s highlighting of the problems of boys, and the “thrill of the new” for researchers and educators. Rooted in a feminist and progressive political perspective, this article argues that attention to the problems of minority boys is well-founded as well as the need for impartial research on best programs and practices that go beyond the claims of those who are involved in them.

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