Sunday, July 09, 2006

A New Gender Gap in Education

The New York Times features a pretty fascinating article today about a growing achievement gap between male and female students at institutions of higher learning, be they two-year or four year colleges. This isn't a futile Lawrence Summers-style parlor game of who's better at certain subjects but rather an account of statistics, from number of honors students to a university's ratio of males to females that evidences greater committment to learning, better grades, and more productivity in studying among college women than their male counterparts. Why this disparity?
Men were significantly more likely than women to say they spent at least 11 hours a week relaxing or socializing, while women were more likely to say they spent at least that much time preparing for class. More men also said they frequently came to class unprepared.

Using data from U.C.L.A.'s Higher Education Research Institute annual studies, [Associate Professor of education Linda Sax] found that men were more likely than women to skip classes, not complete their homework and not turn it in on time.


One woman from American University who was interviewed called such tendencies "a male entitlement thing," saying that "they think they can sit back and relax and when they graduate, they'll still get a good job. They seem to think that if they have a firm handshake and speak properly, they'll be fine." As my Dad pointed out, in our country today, such an attitude makes one Presidential material.
Furthermore, effort in scholastic achievement is often looked down upon, chided, even in a university setting. As the article points out, men tend to scoff at the amount of effort some female students put forth to achieve good grades (and learn). The practice of bragging about how little time it required for one to do well or at least decently on an exam or paper has probably been witnessed by almost every college student alive and is an outgrowth of the devaluing of effort.

For instance, I remember hearing stories about people who started writing their thesis the weekend before it was due. In such an atmosphere, mentioning that you started the quarter before it was due is actually less impressive. What people who brag about putting forth little effort for decent performance don't realize is that (1) work and especially in academic work truly shines as a result of consistency in effort and longterm planning (2) one is much more likely to absorb a subject through an incremental approach to studying than to cramming, which so often turns into dull memorization exercises.

This article is a useful read, with recognizable behaviors and some interesting analysis. What I hope doesn't happen out of it is anxiety about males being somehow deprived of their essential manliness at college, an almost reflexive reaction among some conservatives over the last 30-years, who view such things as Ritalin as a sign that a masculine instinct is being squelched by the education system. As the article says,
But some scholars say the new emphasis on young men's problems — recent magazine covers and talk shows describing a "boy crisis" — is misguided in a world where men still dominate the math-science axis, earn more money and wield more power than women.

Hard work is something that both genders are capable of, as long as there are incentives behind it. If men come by jobs more easily than women, however, men will under-perform. This is why there should be increasing efforts to equalize women's ability to attain and advance in a professional environment as well as aid to people seeking unpaid internships and better financial aid for students who otherwise have to work longer hours to fund their college education (a predicament of both men and women in an environment of decreased prioritizing by the Republican Congress of education funding).

1 comment:

A Priori said...

Thanks for leaving a comment at my blog. Since so few people actually read my amateur drivel, I'm really quite flattered that you stopped by. The least that I can do is extend you the courtesy of commenting on your (awesome ) blog:

Hard work is something that both genders are capable of, as long as there are incentives behind it. If men come by jobs more easily than women, however, men will under-perform. This is why there should be increasing efforts to equalize women's ability to attain and advance in a professional environment as well as aid to people seeking unpaid internships and better financial aid for students who otherwise have to work longer hours to fund their college education (a predicament of both men and women in an environment of decreased prioritizing by the Republican Congress of education funding).

Never really thought of it that way. Being a white male in the US is one of the smoothest rides on the planet. As much as I (one of those rare male valedictorians) am ashamed to admit it, I've sometimes been guilty of bragging about how little work I can get by with. Take the carrot out of my lap and put it on a stick, though, and I might just start to chase it.

As for the "decreased prioritizing" of financial aid by the Republicans, I couldn't agree more. I think you'll find me quite politically enigmatic if you continue to read my blog. I'm definitely subscribing to yours.