07 February 2007

The feminisation of education

Extracts from ‘The lost boys’ by Jill Parkin

The swimming bag hit the car floor with a thump and my son hit the car seat with an even bigger thump, grumbling: ‘What’s the point?’ His primary school had just lost a swimming competition, largely because their head teacher had picked a team on the basis of enthusiasm rather than ability. To paraphrase that old cliché, it wasn’t the winning that mattered, it was the taking part.

The story of my son’s swimming competition is also the story behind yesterday’s figures showing that boys going to university are now outnumbered by girls in every subject, with 23,000 more places awarded to women than to men. The simple truth is that by the time our boys have done 12 or even 14 years in the feminised environment of today’s schools, they all ask: ‘What’s the point?’

The problems start in the classroom. Instead of the make-or-break sprint to the exam deadline, boys have to endure stultifying coursework. This system of continuous assessment means that anyone who can call up Google on a computer can cut and paste answers from the internet at home. Girls, with their more patient approach to learning, thrive under such a system. But where’s the challenge and excitement for boys? Exams used to be a chance for them to show off and think on their feet. Not any more. No wonder all too many of them fall by the wayside, and are opting out of the chance to go to university.

It’s a teacher truism that little girls want to please and little boys want to win. The trouble is that our whole system is geared to a strange idea of egalitarianism which has somehow been confused with fairness. It is egalitarian to put anyone who can float in a swimming gala, but it is not fair to those who can swim and want to compete.

Boys’ testosterone and its companion competitive streak need to be acknowledged. If they are ignored, boys get listless and they start retreating into their hoodies and terrorising the rest of us. Eventually, they spend their time brawling, picking up ASBOs instead of A-levels. (Daily Mail 1 February 2007)
My comments

The author of this article is appealing for recognition of a genetically determined difference between large groups of the population, i.e. males and females. However, we are far removed from any possibility of the recognition of individual innate differences.

I once said to a television researcher who was interviewing me as a prospect for a programme, ‘People should take into account that if someone is clearly outstanding in one respect, such as IQ, they may also have some unusual peculiarities of temperament which are very likely to lead to problems if no allowance is made for them.’ She expressed disagreement without saying anything, as other people have done to whom I have said this. ‘No,’ she looked as if she was saying, ‘allowance certainly should not be made for people with high IQs to differ from the average in any other way than their ability to score highly on IQ tests.’ I was duly not invited to take part in the programme for which she was researching.

It was my misfortune to be subjected to an educational process which may have not yet been, as this writer expresses it, ‘feminised’, but which was just as bad — if not worse — as a girl in girls’ schools and a women’s college. And in an ideological climate that was about to ‘feminise’ society. What made this misfortune so severe was that I had, to an extreme extent, the intellectual and temperamental characteristics which were recognised as more typically masculine than feminine. The female IQ bell curve was said to be narrower than the male; women were less likely to be geniuses or idiots. My IQ was off the scale at the upper end of the curve, a state of affairs which, although rare in any case, is even less likely to occur in a female than in a male.

Combined with a temperamental liking for intellectual challenge and excitement as defined in this article, this made me very vulnerable to the slow and ‘take it easy’ approach which was imposed on my education. I had a lot of channel capacity and needed to be using it; that is, I needed to be taking more subjects than most people (even than most future Oxford dons) and getting qualifications in them a lot faster.