Christina Hoff Sommers: how to make school better for boys

Christina Hoff Sommers
Christina Hoff Sommers

One of the most troubling things I see in the modern church is the tendency of church people and pastors to blame men for not being more aggressive about marrying. Often, the blame is placed on men. Men are told that we need to do better in school, work harder at work, and that we need to be more aggressive about courting and marrying. Very often, you hear the slogan “man up” directed at men, and we are told to stop playing video games and looking at porn and grow up.

The first thing to note is that marriage is much less attractive to men these days. First, the value proposition of marriage changed – especially the problem of no-fault divorce and divorce courts. The economic situation facing men has changed as well – the economy is poor, but the debt is very very high. Those are two important factors.

Another problem is fatherlessness, which is caused by welfare incentives. A lot of the behavior of young men is based on whether there is a father present in the home. The fact of the matter is that single motherhood by choice has become commonplace, and the aggravating factor for this trend is support for welfare. Welfare is bad for two reasons. First, it encourages women to raise children without a father. Boys raised without a father are not as likely to pursue courtship and marriage as boys raised with a father, because fatherlessness harms a boy’s ability to learn to do the things needed for marriage.

Another problem is the availability of pre-marital sex. When a man can get sex without marriage, then he doesn’t feel the same desire to get married.

So there are a few examples of things that we can change to nudge men toward marriage. Just speaking slogans like “man up” to men doesn’t really address these problems.

But in this post, I want to look at a problem that I haven’t even mentioned yet – the problem of schools that don’t produce men who can provide for a family.

Education Reform

Here is Christian equity-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute to do that, writing in the left-leaning Atlantic about this problem.

Excerpt:

Women in the United States now earn 62 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 52 percent of doctorates.

[…]Boys in all ethnic groups and social classes are far less likely than their sisters to feel connected to school, to earn good grades, or to have high academic aspirations. A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research documents a remarkable trend among high-achieving students: In the 1980s, nearly the same number of top male and female high school students said they planned to pursue a postgraduate degree (13 percent of boys and 15 percent of girls). By the 2000s, 27 percent of girls expressed that ambition, compared with 16 percent of boys. During the same period, the gap between girls and boys earning mostly A’s nearly doubled—from three to five percentage points.

I was a minority boy before I became a minority man – look at this:

This gap in education engagement has dire economic consequences for boys. A 2011 Brookings Institution report quantifies the economic decline of the median male: For men ages 25 to 64 with no high school diploma, median annual earnings have declined 66 percent since 1969; for men with only a high school diploma, wages declined by 47 percent. Millions of male workers, say the Brookings authors, have been “unhitched from the engine of growth.”  The College Board delivered this disturbing message in a 2011 report about Hispanic and African-American boys and young adults: “Nearly half of young men of color age 15 to 24 who graduate from high school will end up unemployed, incarcerated or dead.” Working-class white boys are faring only slightly better. When economist Andrew Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University examined gender disparities in the Boston Public Schools, they found that for the class of 2007, among blacks and Hispanics, there were 186 females for every 100 males attending a four-year college or university. For white students: 153 females to every 100 males.

Is this a U.S. – only problem? No. The problem exists in many places. But Dr. Sommers lists some of the initiatives those other countries are taking – trying to understand why boys are different and what needs to be done differently in order to get them to engage and succeed.  But we are not doing anything here. Why not?

Well, first – let’s see what works:

In a rare example of the academic establishment taking note of boys’ trouble in school, the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently published a major study, Pathways to Prosperity, that highlights the “yawning gender gap” in education favoring women: “Our system… clearly does not work well for many, especially young men.” The authors call for a national revival of vocational education in secondary schools. They cite several existing programs that could serve as a model for national reform, including the Massachusetts system, sometimes called the “Cadillac of Career Training Education.”

Massachusetts has a network of 26 academically rigorous vocational-technical high schools serving 27,000 male and female students. Students in magnet schools such as Worcester Technical, Madison Park Technical Vocational, and Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical take traditional academic courses but spend half their time apprenticing in a field of their choice. These include computer repair, telecommunications networking, carpentry, early childhood education, plumbing, heating, refrigeration, and cosmetology. AsPathways reports, these schools have some of the state’s highest graduation and college matriculation rates, and close to 96 percent pass the states’ rigorous high-stakes graduation test.

Blackstone Valley Tech in Upton, Massachusetts, should be studied by anyone looking for solutions to the boy problem.  It is working wonders with girls (who comprise 44 percent of the student body), but its success with boys is astonishing. According to a white paper on vocational education by the Commonwealth’s Pioneer Institute, “One in four Valley Technical students enter their freshman year with a fourth-grade reading level.” The school immerses these students in an intense, individualized remediation program until they read proficiently at grade level. These potentially disaffected students put up with remediation as well as a full load of college preparatory courses (including honors and Advanced Placement classes), because otherwise they could not spend half the semester apprenticing in diesel mechanics, computer repair, or automotive engineering.

In former times, vocational high schools were often dumping grounds for low achievers. Today, in Massachusetts, they are launching pads into the middle class.

Who could possibly be opposed to turning boys into marriage-minded men? Look:

Recent research shows that enrollment in high school vocational programs has dramatic effects on students’ likelihood of graduating from high school—especially boys. But efforts to engage more boys in career and technical programs face a formidable challenge. In a series of scathing reports, the National Council on Women and Girls Education (NCWGE—a 38-year-old consortium that today includes heavy hitters such the AAUW, the National Women’s Law Center, the ACLU, NOW, the Ms. Foundation, and the National Education Association) has condemned high school vocational training schools as hotbeds of “sex segregation.”

Because of decades of successful lobbying by NCWGE groups, high school and college career and technical training programs face government sanctions and loss of funds if they fail to recruit and graduate sufficient numbers of female students into “non-traditional” fields. Over the years, untold millions of state and federal dollars have been devoted to recruiting and retaining young women into fields like pipefitting, automotive repair, construction, drywall installing, manufacturing, and refrigeration mechanics.  But according to Statchat, a University of Virginia workforce blog, these efforts at vocational equity “haven’t had much of an impact.”  Despite an unfathomable number of girl-focused programs and interventions, “technical and manual occupations tend to be dominated by men, patterns that have held steady for many years.”

In March 2013 NCWGE released a report urging the need to fight even harder against “barriers girls and women face in entering nontraditional fields.” Among its nine key recommendations to Congress: more federal funding and challenge grants to help states close the gender gaps in career and technical education (CTE); mandate every state to install a CTE gender equity coordinator; and impose harsher punishments on states that fail to meet “performance measures” –i.e. gender quotas.

Instead of spending millions of dollars attempting to transform aspiring cosmetologists into welders, education officials should concentrate on helping young people, male and female, enter careers that interest them. And right now, boys are the underserved population requiring attention.

So. We know what works to make boys into marriage-ready men. And now we know who is standing in the way. What I’d like to see from the man-up crowd, especially the man-up crowd in the church, is a serious assessment of the research on this issue and some action.

But this is what we get from Mark Driscoll: (whom I almost always agree with)

The number one consumer of online pornography is 12- to 17-year-old boys. What that means is he’s home eating junk food, drinking Monster energy drinks, downloading porn, masturbating and screwing around with his friends. That really doesn’t prepare you for responsible adulthood. That’s a really sad picture, especially if you’re a single gal hoping to get married someday. You’re like: “Seriously, that’s the candidate pool? You’ve got to be kidding me.” That’s why 41 percent of births right now are to unmarried women. A lot of women have decided: “I’m never going to find a guy who is actually dependable and responsible to have a life with. So I’ll just get a career and have a baby and just intentionally be a single mother because there are no guys worth spending life with.”

We really need better leadership – informed leadership – on these issues from prominent pastors. They need to start to read some research (e.g. – what Dr. Sommers presented) on these issues. Maybe pastors need to affirm the traditional view of the Bible on sexual morality, and then take on the root cause of the disengaged boys problem: feminism in the schools. We don’t want to take on these problems in a superficial way and then actually make the problem worse by making excuses for views of sexuality that are unBiblical.

By the way, you should subscribe to the AEI podcast, which is on my list of favorite podcasts. And Dr. Sommers has a new edition of her classic book defending young men. If you have ever wondered what is going wrong with men, that book is required reading. It is required reading for anyone who wants to comment on this issue, in fact.

10 thoughts on “Christina Hoff Sommers: how to make school better for boys”

  1. ” That’s why 41 percent of births right now are to unmarried women. A lot of women have decided: “I’m never going to find a guy who is actually dependable and responsible to have a life with. So I’ll just get a career and have a baby and just intentionally be a single mother because there are no guys worth spending life with.”

    I can hear Western civ choking on its own vomit, as it tries to sleep off its abdication of norms.

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    1. Not to wear the metaphor too thin, but Western civilization won’t survive the night without a miracle.

      I hate that people who are Theologically sound on most other topics botch this extremely important area so badly. This is pure moral inversion done by a Christian Pastor!

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  2. There is a group of people the Bible tells to GO GET MARRIED and it is not men. Young widows (the single mothers in Bible times) are told to stop wasting the church’s resources and get married again. Think any pastors would preach that message?

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    1. She distinguishes herself from gender-feminists in her writings. These are the third-wave feminists who push for equal representation of men and women in every area of life, and think that sex differences are socially constructed.

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      1. Yes, I know she’s not a gender feminist nutcase, but the term “feminism” is usually meant to refer to gender feminists. The term is also viewed negatively by many people (just search for the tag “feminism” on WordPress and look at all the gender feminists complaining about the “f-word”), so instead of trying to co-opt the term we should hang it like an albatross on the gender feminists.

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