Written by Robert A. Fink MD
Robert A. Fink, M. D. -- Recently, educational researchers have begun to review the changes within our educational system brought about by such diverse factors as standardized testing in the schools, the rise of gender feminism, and the currently widespread use of drugs to treat alleged behavioral disorders in our schoolchildren.
Male children are showing deterioration in achievement, lowered acceptance into colleges, increasing diagnosis of various “hyperactivity” or “attention deficit” disorders (with concomitant medication of such alleged “disorders”); and decreasing attendance at school. Furthermore, reports indicate boys between the ages of 5 and 14 are 200% more likely to commit suicide than are girls, and that, within that age range, boys are 36% more likely to die (of all causes) than their female counterparts.
A national columnist [Joan Ryan] reports (January 26, 2006) that “boys commit 86% of all adolescent suicides”, and there are virtually no institutions which are dedicated to or participating in dealing with the male suicide problem, while there are numerous organizations which are working with the problems of female suicide.
Our colleges, many of them citing their “feminist” slant, are engaged in the teaching of untested hypotheses as to the intellectual “differences” between men and women. The increasing use of “standardized testing”, based on principles derived from these unproven theories is further promoting an unequal playing field in our basic educational institutions, and further serves to assert “differences” between the genders which may not exist. Even the American Psychological Association has urged caution in adopting such theories as scientifically proven until such proof is confirmed.
In their article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 3, 2004), Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers list many of the alleged “differences” between males and females, but in another study, done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, investigators looking at 20,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 “found no differences of any magnitude, even in areas that are supposedly male domains, such as reasoning skills and geometry.”
In “The War Against Boys” (The Atlantic Monthly May, 2000), Christina Hoff Sommers states that the allegations of the disadvantaged female student are, in the main, untrue; and studies by the U. S. Department of Education show that, “far from being shy and demoralized, today’s girls outshine boys, and they get better grades.” Boys also show a higher dropout rate than do girls. Using the contemporary standardized test results, there is a trend showing improvement in scores among girls with a concomitant retrogression in boys’ scores.
The current theories (now coming into question) of the inferior treatment of girls in the schools were, in the main, authored and promoted by Harvard’s Carol Gilligan, whose papers, written between 1982 and 1990, were followed by a cascade of articles written by popular writers embracing Gilligan’s assertions.
At the same time as the Gilligan studies were being published and re-published, a study at the University of Michigan was showing that between 86 and 88% of the students (male and female) were happy, and unaware of the “accelerating downward spiral” cited by Gilligan and her colleagues.v,vi,vii
Newer studies (1995-98) are beginning to cast more doubt on Gilligan’s research. Even Gilligan has expressed some new ideas which seem to modify her previous position, and she more recently (1996) stated the “boys show a high incidence of depression, out-of-control behavior, learning disorders, even allergies and stuttering”. Gilligan blames “the patriarchy”, saying the “masculinizing process is traumatic and damaging” to boys between the ages of three and seven. With the almost universal acceptance of Gilligan’s “masculinizing” theories, the schools have, in the last decade, been following a program which essentially attempts to “feminize” boys.
Behavior by boys, previously considered as “rough-and-tumble” and consistent with normal activities by young males is now being placed into the category of “hyperactivity” or “abusive” behavior and is increasingly responsible for the rising use of potent psychoactive drugs for “treatment” of such conditions. A 2003 study by the U. S. Center for Disease Control indicatedviii that 7.8 percent (4.4 million) of U.S. youth 4-17 years of age had a reported diagnosis of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that year. More than half of the youth (2.5 million) with a history of ADHD diagnosis were being treated with medication at the time of the survey.
The vast majority of those medicated children, in some cases as high as 80%, are boys. Add to this the egregious overreaction in a 1996 incident where a six-year-old boy was accused of “sexual harassment” and suspended because he kissed a little girl on her cheek, and one can see that it is becoming a distinct liability to be a boy in today’s public school system.
Does the current trend towards coercive “resocialization” of boys by forcing them to play in mixed-gender groups and prohibiting “rough-and-tumble” activities serve to help boys, or does it merely “feminize” them while doing little to rectify the progressive decrease in academic achievement which are now showing up on the ubiquitous “standardized tests”.
What do the above changes in primary and secondary education have to do with the troubling and disproportionate incidence of male suicide? How does one address such issues? There are several steps which need to be taken to reverse this disturbing trend.
The “feminization” of boys within the public school system must stop. There are gender-based and cultural differences between boys and girls; and, as long as these differences do not cause behavior which is destructive, they should be encouraged and, where necessary, modified so as to preserve the dignity of all involved. A boy’s choice to take a school sewing class or a girl’s wish to join the rifle team should be supported.
At the same time, if a group of boys wish to form their own social club to discuss issues peculiar to boys, this should be respected in the same way as girls who elect to participate in “women’s groups”. Boys who wish to take courses in “Women’s Studies” should not be excluded from such courses.
Despite the current wisdom, males are at distinct disadvantages in our cultural milieu. Boys are “feminized” in the early years of their education and socialization, and by the time that they reach adolescence, many are conflicted as to their roles in society, and especially as to their interaction with the opposite gender. The shockingly high incidence of suicide among adolescent males is a reflection of this conflict.
Rather than trying to “neutralize” our male children, we should be developing methods within our schools to utilize the characteristics of both genders, each to their strengths, and not employ principles of “reverse discrimination” in order to rectify past inequalities. Such discrimination, like that used in regard to racial and/or religious differences, is destructive to our boys, and makes for adult men with handicaps which are destructive to our society as a whole.
Robert A. Fink, M. D., is a practicing neurological surgeon in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the Founder and President of California Parents United., Inc., an organization dedicated to equalizing parents’ rights and obligations in cases of divorce or separation. Dr. Fink is married and the father of four daughters and the stepfather of another daughter and a son. . He may be contacted HERE
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i Ryan, Joan: “The Darkness Behind His Perfect Smile”; San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 2006.
ii Ryan, Joan: “Sorting Out the Puzzle of Male Suicide”; San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 2006.
iii Barnett, R and Rivers C: The Chronicle of Higher Education; (51.2 September 3, 2004); http://chronicle.com/ (from Washington Times).
iv Whitmire, Richard: “Boy Trouble”; The New Republic January 23, 2006.
v. Gilligan, C: “In a Different Voice”; Harvard University Press, 1982.
vi Gilligan, C: “Kyra”, a Study in Frustration; San Francisco Chronicle, January 24, 2008.