Over 90 years ago, Lewis Terman attempted to identify the brightest kids in California. There were two young boys who took Terman’s test but who did not make the cutoff to be included in this study for geniuses. These boys were William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, who both went on to study physics, earn PhDs, and win the Nobel Prize. Why did they miss the cut? One explanation is that the Stanford-Binet, the test Terman used, simply did not include a spatial test.
The Gender Role & The Gender Brain in Education by Sean Kullman (This article first appeared in the commission newsletter, The Proposal.)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) does important work on civil rights, and the single-sex school debate continues to be an important social issue for them. More often, the ACLU believes single sex schools encourage gender stereotypes that only alienate girls and boys and lead to discrimination and a violation of Title IX. The ACLU has filed lawsuits against districts to prevent single-sex school options. “The adoption of single-sex education programs based on sex stereotypes has become widespread across the state of Florida, and should not be permitted to continue,’ said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.’” Referring to some of the gender science as “junk science,” the ACLU sees the single-sex classroom as a potentially discriminatory place.
Other nations have run public single-sex schools for decades, while single-sex public education in the United States is a recent phenomenon. New Zealand provides co-educational as well as single-sex options for low and medium income families unable to afford private single-sex schools. New Zealand’s system may provide some of the pros and cons of co-educational and single-sex education because of the sheer number of students and accessibility to data.
Experts cite that boys are struggling in our modern educational institutions and attending and graduating college at significantly lower rates. (Today 57% of college attendees are women and 43% are male). Other experts worry girls are not getting into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at comparable rates as boys. Federal data supports these concerns in math, technology, and engineering.
Dr. Joseph Cox, former Director of the International Boys School Coalition and father of a daughter who is an engineer, argues that “women who are the product of single-sex education are significantly more likely to study math and science, and in all-boys schools, young men tend to be less self-conscious about studying music, art or acting, and they are more open to sharing their feelings.”
Parents and educators are looking for solutions and new approaches. Gender and learning has its promoters and detractors, but the research around single-sex education has gathered promising data for new ways to educate, helping boys and girls succeed. The ACLU worries this data could be misused and lead to discriminatory practices.
Sean Kullman is an educator and writer. He sits on the steering committee for the Coalition for a White House Council on Boys and Men
The Single Sex Classrooms Debate by Michael Gurian (This article first appeared in the commission newsletter, The Proposal.)
When I began to develop nature-based theory more than 25 years ago, I did not know it would be used in all of the ways it has been. I am proud of its application in our nation’s schools. Our teachers are our heroes and they need all the tools they can get, especially to help struggling students.
Among my initial findings were the struggles both boys and girls experienced in schools and communities because the staff and parents were only learning about gender roles (which is indeed a very important topic) but not gender. Gender, not gender roles, impacts every student’s learning curve. My nature-based gender theory starts with gender brain science (the nature part of the human equation), then moves to nurture and culture; it gives teachers, parents and others a holistic way to create healthy social systems for both boys and girls.
Of course not everyone agrees with the gender lens. The ACLU’s attack on single gender classrooms and schools is an example. Utilizing “research” from a very small cadre of social thinkers that do not represent the ideas of most people in the field, they argue that differences between males and females are minimal, (i.e. the gender lens is unnecessary), and that allowing schools and parents to choose educational options is dangerous. These folks make their points by attacking schools, misquoting and misconstruing my work and the work of others in the field, and saying that they represent the gender science and the families of our era.
In an interesting twist to this ongoing debate, a recent New York Times story on single gender education included a number of schools the Gurian Institute has worked with. However, the paper chose not to report any of the information from the scientists I asked them to talk with, nor print any of the responses I and others gave them to the superficial and cherry-picked theory in ACLU lawsuits. They basically published the few people and superficial ideas that fit the ACLU ideology.
In order to understand this debate fully, I hope you’ll go deeper. Please study the schools that are innovating with a gender lens, whether they are coed, single gender, Montessori, or other, and raise your voices in support of them.
We will leave a legacy of choice and educational excellence for all students no matter their zip code if we come together in support of options in education.
Michael Gurian is an internationally recognized author, family therapist, and child advocate. gurianinstitute.com
Rather than try to change the basic nature of boys, why not work with who they are? Consider the all-too-typical case of Justin, a Southern California boy who loved science fiction, pirates and battles. An alarmed teacher summoned his parents to school to discuss a picture the 8-year-old had drawn of a sword fight — which included several decapitated heads. Justin was a well-behaved, normal little boy, but the teacher expressed grave concern about Justin’s values. The boy’s father was astonished, not by his son’s drawing — typical boy stuff — but by the teachers lack of sympathy for his son’s imagination. If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind.
Also, if there is any truth at all to evolutionary psychology, which tells us that women prefer mates who are achievers, what will it mean to Grant’s daughters and the daughters of others, when their pool of eligible men diminishes due to this still not well-known gender gap?
I cannot think of any time when a group that was stagnating in their achievements was being asked to support the aspirations of a group that is outdoing them.
On October 14, Princeton University and Brookings released a new issue of The Future of Children, focused on marriage and child well-being. After reviewing family research over the last decade, the issue’s big takeaway, co-authored by Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan and Brookings economist Isabel Sawhill, was this: Whereas most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes, there is less consensus about why. Is it the quality of parenting? Is it the availability of additional resources (time and money)? Or is it just that married parents have different attributes than those who aren’t married? Thus a major theme we address in this issue is why marriage matters for child wellbeing. Although definitive answers to these questions continue to elude the research community, we’ve seen a growing appreciation of how these factors interact, and all of them appear to be involved. In other words, although scholars are not exactly sure why marriage matters for children, they know that marriage does matter for them….
Yesterday, the news was even worse for the family-structure denialists, after the New York Times highlighted a major new study from MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues showing that less-advantaged boys are floundering in school and society — and more so than their less-advantaged female peers — in part because, compared with more-advantaged boys, they are less likely to grow up in a married home with their father. In particular, compared with their sisters, less-advantaged boys “have a higher incidence of truancy and behavioral problems throughout elementary and middle school, exhibit higher rates of behavioral and cognitive disability, perform worse on standardized tests, are less likely to graduate high school, and are more likely to commit serious crimes as juveniles.”
Boys are falling behind. They graduate from high school and attend college at lower rates than girls and are more likely to get in trouble, which can hurt them when they enter the job market. This gender gap exists across the United States, but it is far bigger for poor people and for black people. As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more.
New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys — particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.
Commissioner Molly K. Olsen on Up & At ‘Em Twin Cities News Talk on the new Affirmative Consent policy at the University of Minnesota. Molly speaks on due process issues and our commission starting around the 14 minute mark.
The gender gap doesn’t bring out the best in journalists. With important exceptions, articles on the subject are padded with overly broad statistics, cherry picked research, a myopic view of men and women as lone economic actors, over-credulous references to Sweden, and most insidious of all, an implicit, never-argued assumption that in a just world (i.e. Sweden) women and men would reveal almost exactly the same preferences. A piece that appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Upshot section “The Motherhood Penalty and the Fatherhood Bonus” by Claire Cain Miller, is a fine example of the genre.
We’ve heard the story of declining wages over and over. We’ve repeatedly heard the political talking points about the threat of offshoring. We want our children to have better lives than we did.
But if parents want their children to enjoy successful, fulfilling lives, it may be time to broaden our vision of what that entails. It’s telling that, in today’s America, more parents would be likely to accept their five-year-old son’s declaration that he identifies as a girl than would accept their 18-year-old’s proclamation that he wants to be an underwater welder, even though the pay for that particular vocation ranges from $54,000 to well over $100,000.
To upend this narrative that has so many of us looking down our noses at some of the best emerging job opportunities, we need to shift our attitude about the fundamental purpose of education and redefine what success looks like. We need a cultural change of heart, which starts with parents. Not every boy needs to grow up to be a welder, but neither should every boy grow up to be a lawyer.
With more women going to college than ever before, there are only so many baccalaureate bachelors for them to meet and marry.
That seems reasonable at first glance. Hey, if a woman is looking for someone with her level of education, and this is a deal-breaker for her, then sure, there’s a serious shortage of suitable men.
Birger points out that a woman who was 34 in 2007 began college in 1991 when women outnumbered men on college campuses by 10 percent. He notes that “in 2012, 34 percent more women than men graduated 4-year colleges.”
The numbers are indeed daunting. But they obscure a question all of these unmarried college-graduate women should be asking themselves: Why does a degree matter so much, anyway?
When I started following the research on child well-being about two decades ago, the focus was almost always girls’ problems—their low self-esteem, lax ambitions, eating disorders, and, most alarming, high rates of teen pregnancy. Now, though, with teen births down more than 50 percent from their 1991 peak and girls dominating classrooms and graduation ceremonies, boys and men are increasingly the ones under examination. Their high school grades and college attendance rates have remained stalled for decades. Among poor and working-class boys, the chances of climbing out of the low-end labor market—and of becoming reliable husbands and fathers—are looking worse and worse.
However, when the modern women’s movement began to turn its attention to girls – as in books like Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls(published in 1994) – they were already doing better than boys on many measures of educational achievement, including college enrollment(link is external). And this gender gap – favoring girls — has only widened in the more than two decades since.
But we don’t hear much about that, certainly not compared to how much we hear about the pay gap between men and women (which is more complex than the simple mantra of “77 cents for every dollar” would suggest). Or the “1-in-5” female college students who is sexually assaulted during her years on campus. But I’m not even arguing about that data here — though good arguments have been made. I am simply saying that this does not imply that we should – as we have done since the early 1990s – take this concern out on half our children: our young sons.
When I say “take this out on,” I don’t mean that we necessarily treat boys badly. I mean that, relatively speaking, we simply ignore them and their needs, their relative lack of achievement, and who they are. Again, think of how often you hear or see something in the news about how women are being treated badly. (And much of this may be true.) But how about the fact that boys are not doing so well. How often do you hear about that?
“Around the globe, it’s mostly girls who lack educational opportunities. Even in the United States, many people still associate the educational “gender gap” with girls left behind in math. Yet these days, the opposite problem has snuck up on us: In the United States and other western countries alike, it’s mostly boys who are faltering in school. The latest surveys show that American girls on the average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.”
I must admit that when I read this, and saw the words “snuck up on us,” my immediate reaction was “Where have you been?” For anyone who cared to look at the data – and for millions of parents of sons – the problem was already there close to two decades ago.
Three years ago, a pilot project, titled the Davis Community Men’s Talk Circle was
started in Davis, California, as a free service to address the profound patterns of male
isolation that occur for men of all ages. As a Social Work clinician, I have seen first hand
the deleterious effects of isolation in men’s lives. Isolation contributes directly to
depression, job dissatisfaction and loss, increase in violence, numbing behaviors, and
alienation from loved ones. Moreover, isolation fuels male suicide, which is at an all
time high for boys, men and our elder males.
Our Community Men’s Talk Circle project draws from the wisdom of a 25 year on-going
annual men’s conference, held in Mendocino. The Elders at this conference structure
the talk so men can enter the deep and painful ills and the subsequent judgements of
themselves, which they have carried alone. The men attending come to feel a great
support, a deep trust, a brotherhood and a safety affording them a way to utilize the
communal experience. Their vulnerabilities, now shared by others, deepens the
possible that they don’t have to go it alone any more! Here the needed healing from
years of exiled pain begins.
This has been our model, in bringing the Talk Circle project to the men of our
community. Each month we intentionally create a Sacred space, where our Circle, our
container for our talking, welcomes men to talk aloud and discover. Men often surprise
themselves, as aspects unbeknownst, are revealed which they did not expect to share.
But this soon becomes a known and valued process, affording men a communal
unfolding, revealing new feelings, new insights, while clarity is advanced. This work
requires that Sacred space must be created, drawing a significant distinction from how
men typically relate to one another, as in the masked cautionary jokes, or the blind-eye
to dismissive behaviors toward others, or the impulse to-fix another man’s experience;
all which are recipes for an unsafe environment, prohibiting any deep and important talk
The Talk Circle is designed as a primer, for men who have never done men’s work
before. The Circle is larger in number (17 – 22 attendees), in contrast to a traditional
men’s group (smaller, 5 – 8, and with greater expectations to share). The Talk Circle
intentionally allows for men to ease their way into their held-back experiences; being
invited to talk, only as they feel ready. To further underscore emotional safety, this
project holds an open-door policy regarding attendance, furthering to lessen the rigors
and demands of the intimacy that usually arise from small and weekly men’s group
work. The Talk Circle also fosters the option for men to begin their own support group.
Contrary to belief, the inherent deep hunger for men to talk communally, once initiated
and structured, is almost unstoppable.
The Talk Circle utilizes a five man committee for planning and sharing the duties with
each monthly event. Responsibilities include establishing ground-rules, underscoring confidentiality, calling in the five directions including the inward direction (toward our
hearts and our truths), providing some music and some poetry, (the language of the
heart) and monitoring the group’s process ensuring that men’s voices of their internal
experiences will be both heard, seen and witnessed. As men gain both a new familiarity
and an emotional safety in this sharing-aloud, they cultivate skills toward new and
potentially meaningful friendships for themselves.
The Talk Circle meets monthly, in donated space (Davis International House), it is open
for all men, ages 18 years and older. Two licensed clinicians serve on the committee,
helping to monitor and assist in the group’s process.
This project is part of a new paradigm of community men’s work. One that is unique, in
its structure to create a culture that is relational and non-competitive; a departure from
our current known sense of masculinity. Ours is a community project whose intent is to
welcome men to know their interiors, thus promoting a maturing of our masculinity from
what is described as our current boy psychology, towards a man psychology. Our hope
is to afford men a reclamation in their lives of wholeness, of vitality, of tenderness, and
of stewardship. We strive to nurture creativity as integral to the aging process, and
embrace the honoring of our Elders, whose resources are currently under utilized and
often discarded. The Talk Circle fosters a culture of honoring our differences, as our
differences lead us into our humanness and our ability to connect.
Creating such Communities is not only very doable, it is teachable, affordable and
would be a significant developmental asset for both boys growing-up, and for men
throughout the course of their lives. It is a significant antidote to the stark aloneness,
(non-relational pattern), that our male culture has inflicted on itself for generations. Men
are too often unaccustomed to being in such groups, and do not know that emotional
safety is possible, and that deep sharing can be structured, leading men into support as
they find their own healing process. Talk Circles foster experiences that welcome men
into greater connection with themselves and then with others while factors contributing
to isolation are kept in check.
Our hope is to share this model with other social workers or mental health workers who
might choose to begin a Talk Circle in their own community.
More information is available regarding this project by calling: (530) 758-2794.
P. Gregory Guss, LCSW, (BA, Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont; MSW, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California), a psychotherapist for 33 years, specializing in family, adolescence and men’s work, practices in Davis, CA. As a community organizer, he developed and coordinates the Davis Community Men’s Talk Circle project, and sits on the Redwood Men’s Conference Planning Committee. He and his wife have two adult children; he is an avid letter writer, poet and loves character driven movies.