Christina Hoff Sommers: school has become hostile to boys

Christina Hoff Sommers
Christina Hoff Sommers

In the leftist Time magazine, of all places.


As school begins in the coming weeks, parents of boys should ask themselves a question: Is my son really welcome? A flurry of incidents last spring suggests that the answer is no. In May, Christopher Marshall, age 7, was suspended from his Virginia school for picking up a pencil and using it to “shoot” a “bad guy” — his friend, who was also suspended. A few months earlier, Josh Welch, also 7, was sent home from his Maryland school for nibbling off the corners of a strawberry Pop-Tart to shape it into a gun. At about the same time, Colorado’s Alex Evans, age 7, was suspended for throwing an imaginary hand grenade at “bad guys” in order to “save the world.”

In all these cases, school officials found the children to be in violation of the school’s zero-tolerance policies for firearms, which is clearly a ludicrous application of the rule. But common sense isn’t the only thing at stake here. In the name of zero tolerance, our schools are becoming hostile environments for young boys.

[…]Boys are nearly five times more likely to be expelled from preschool than girls. In grades K-12, boys account for nearly 70% of suspensions, often for minor acts of insubordination and defiance. In the cases of Christopher, Josh and Alex, there was no insubordination or defiance whatsoever. They were guilty of nothing more than being typical 7-year-old boys. But in today’s school environment, that can be a punishable offense.

[…][M]illions of boys are struggling academically. A large and growing male cohort is falling behind in grades and disengaged from school. College has never been more important to a young person’s life prospects, and today boys are far less likely than girls to pursue education beyond high school. As our schools become more risk averse, the gender gap favoring girls is threatening to become a chasm.

[…]Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts. Young boys, with few exceptions, love action narratives. These usually involve heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups. As boys’ play proceeds, plots become more elaborate and the boys more transfixed. When researchers ask boys why they do it, the standard reply is, “Because it’s fun.”

According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.

Play is a critical basis for learning. And boys’ heroic play is no exception. Logue and Harvey found that “bad guy” play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrativeplay choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to school. Imagine the harm done to boys like Christopher, Josh and Alex who are not merely discouraged from their choice of play, but are punished, publicly shamed and ostracized.

So what’s the problem? Well, here’s some data to help us fix the problem.


A lack of male role models at home and school is turning boys off reading at a young age as they increasingly reject books as “feminine”, it is claimed.

Large numbers of boys are failing to develop a love of reading during primary education because of a shortage of male teachers combined with an anti-book culture among many fathers, an inquiry has found.

Gavin Barwell, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy, said reading was not seen as a “masculine thing” by boys – leaving them lagging behind girls from the age of four onwards.

In many cases, schools failed to equip them with a selection of adventure and action novels by authors such as Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and J.R.R Tolkien that are significantly more likely to appeal to boys at a young age, he suggested.

It is claimed that a failure to read properly as an infant has a serious impact on standards across the curriculum, with children struggling to grasp the basics in all other major academic subjects.

According to Government figures, boys are less likely to read basic words or recite the alphabet by the age of five and the gap widens throughout compulsory education.

By the age of 16, fewer than 59 per cent of boys gained a good GCSE in English last year compared with 72.5 per cent of girls.

[…]On Monday, the cross-party committee of MPs and peers – along with the National Literacy Trust – will publish the findings of a six-month inquiry into reading failure among boys.

It is expected to make a series of sweeping recommendations designed to get boys interested in books at home and school, including more gender-specific books and the introduction of reading mentors.

Speaking before the launch, Mr Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, said boys were currently held back because of a “number of gender stereotypes which seem to kick in early”.

“Dads are much less likely to read with their sons and they are also much less likely than mum to be seen reading themselves, so from a very young age boys will clearly pick up in a home environment that reading is not a masculine thing,” he said.

He added: “The primary school workforce is also very feminised and it is now rare to have more than one male teacher.

“I have boys of my own and when I want to recommend books for them I think of what I read when I was their age; The Hobbit, The Famous Five books or something by Roald Dahl.

“It may well be that schools – with the workforce being all female – are going to struggle to pick up on the stuff that appeals to boys because they’ve not read it themselves.”

The report is likely to conclude that boys are struggling to read in the majority of schools and most have no plan in place to tackle the gender gap.

You can read about a couple more studies here that also argue that the problem is a lack of male teachers in the classroom. The Canadians are already looking into how to solve the problem. But that isn’t likely to happen here. I also wrote previously about a study showing that female teachers were grading boys more harshly than girls.

So boys aren’t reading as well as girls are. You can’t do well in school if you can’t read. But boys have no interest in reading girly nonsense books. Boys like war, monsters and adventures. But girly nonsense is what female teachers and female administrators and female education bureaucrats pick as classroom texts. So the boys are stuck reading boring books. The only way out of this mess for boys is homeschooling or private schools, which are hard to do since their parents are already paying for these useless, underperforming public schools. And the educational bureaucracy resist any attempts to give parents more choice. Their goal is to maintain their inflated salaries and job security, not to educate boys.

So we need more male teachers in the classroom – why don’t we have them? There are many reasons why men are discouraged from becoming teachers. Discrimination, unionization, political correctness, being forced to teach left-wing propaganda to children, etc. Don’t look for the performance of boys to improve any time soon unless we get serious at changing education policy to attract more men. Of course, the people in charge have a vested interest in preventing that. They’ll just keep blaming boys for underperforming and refuse to solve the real problem.

9 thoughts on “Christina Hoff Sommers: school has become hostile to boys”

  1. Can’t WAIT to hear the comments for this article – perhaps another record response for WK! Other than that, I shall refrain, except to say “Good show, WK!” :-)


  2. One thing for sure, the problem is NOT a lack of role models or male teachers.

    WE had no male teachers in our schools and it was positive for boys.

    The problem is women’s accepted attitudes (feminism), affirmative action for women, and liberalism equality rhetoric in the education system.

    Removing THAT is something these hypocritical parasites don’t want to remove–even though it is the inevitable cause of the anti-male environment.

    One other thing to note about ‘career’ women and childless female teachers—- they do not understand boys, fear them, resent their behavior and goals and think they are disruptive.

    This is unconscious.

    How do I know this??

    My mother (who loves kids, loves teaching and yes loves boys for being boys!!) did not understand or really know how to handle boys when she began teaching as an unmarried childless teacher.

    It was only after having 3 boys, that she began to like teaching boys, appreciate them and know how to handle and engage them constructively.

    Something to consider.



    1. Oh, that’s a good point. If the female teachers and administrators affirmed boys, then that would help. But I still think male teachers are needed. And girls don’t do badly with male teachers either.


  3. I’m curious what books you consider “girly nonsense”.

    Thinking back on the books I adored and read in elementary school…
    The Hobbit
    A Wrinkle In Time
    The Indian In the Cupboard
    The Chronicles of Narnia
    The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, etc.
    The Once and Future King, The Crystal Cave, Black Horses for the King, everything “King Arthur” I could get my hands on.
    Anything about The Wars of the Roses
    Anything having to do with Shakespeare
    Greek Mythology
    Fairy Tales

    It’s curious to me, because while many of these books have a girlish bent (to my mind, obviously this little girl loved them), many of them were also about wars and knights and monsters and fighting bad guys.

    Banks, Lewis, L’Engle, Tolkien and Dahl we’re especially easy to come by at school and recommended on tons of reading lists. Maybe times have changed, or maybe that’s “girly nonsense?” I’m curious which.


      1. I keep mulling on this. I wonder if those books have the kind of balance where you take from them what you want.

        For instance, for me, A Wrinkle In Time had a plucky, flawed but very likable female heroine (and a bit of baby science!). The Indian In the Cupboard was as much about seeing past our differences as it was about the adventure (the Indian and the Cowboy eventually coming to be loyal friends). Shakespeare had “princesses” (The Tempest was my favorite. Long lost princess on a magic island, are you kidding me? Little girl gold!)

        Anyway, it’s interesting to me.


    1. Francine, you are the exception that proves the rule – and perhaps they WERE different times. Nowadays, the girls (and many boys) gravitate toward “Let’s Have a Party!” and “Timmy Has Two Daddies.” Or, maybe those are compulsory.


  4. Children are not in charge as such boys cannot be sexist anymore than girls can. In fact technically speaking no child can be any kind of “___ist”. They lack the social power according to modern definitions. The woman teachers however. Regardless of the proportion of male principals or administrators how the rules are enforced and how punishment is doled out is decided by and large by throngs of millions of female teachers. They are the ones shaping the learning environment “micro-society” boys grow up in. As such because the women are in charge they can be sexist. School isn’t just hostile towards boys it is sexist according to modern social definitions. The reason is very simple isn’t about male or female black or white people are horrible really just awful. Until we start looking at all of our problems as a human problem we aren’t going to fix anything. Because what happens is the oppressed think it’s impossible their oppressive so they don’t check themselves & bam a generation latter rather than no oppression the scrips flipped.


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