Sunday, May 23, 2010

Catching Up

It is now called an "epidemic" in America, and spans the globe--a "crisis" even in the United Arab Emirates, an otherwise male-dominated society.

It is the rate at which males are matriculating (getting into) and graduating from higher education institutions.

In February, the New York Times reported that for every 100 males who graduated from college, there were 185 (almost twice as many!) females.

In Australia, women graduates outnumber men by hundreds of thousands.

And in Dubai, 60% of the university co-ed student body is female.

What's more astounding (or alarming) is the rate at which females are superseding males in terms of higher ed.

I see it in my classroom. These 18-25 year-old "boys" wiggle in their desks, with their iPods and iPhones stuffed in their pockets. They're drinking Dr. Pepper and thinking about Megan Fox.

An hour and 50 minutes of learning how to write is a really long time, time these guys could be advancing their next mission on Halo 3.

Their female counterparts, however, are writing down every word I'm lecturing on kinds of conclusions. They're asking questions and leading group discussions on the anthropological implications of corn.

Last night at a party of almost all university professors, I asked a sociologist how his male students are performing. He responded by motioning a steep downward slope with his hand.

This morning, I chatted with a proud Harvard dad. His daughter was one of 16 Oregonians to be accepted into the university for the fall, hefty scholarship included. The three other applicants from her high school--with state swim team wins, national debate wins, and perfect SAT scores: all male--were denied admission.

What's the deal?

The deal is that the chasm between female and male students is widening. From the beginning, boys are young, active, kinesthetic learners. But that's not how they are taught.

Their hunter nature to seek and provide food and protection, to procreate, conflicts with their ability to maintain hours inside, in desks. That's why they're thinking about Megan Fox and Halo instead of citations and sentence fluency.

They don't care.

Okay, so what? How is all this an epidemic?

Because, for one, it's an economic issue. The marriage market is changing. Educated women are willing to hold off on weddings. And they're just short of out-earning their partners. But. The divorce rate is steadily climbing. One might argue that males aren't ready to settle down as young as before. And if that's so, they're probably less ready for higher ed., as well.

Sociologically, for too many males, the alternative to college is blue-collar work, or no work, which leads to a higher tendency toward crime.

It's also an equity issue. Are colleges actively recruiting, funding, and supporting men the way they have with women since the Rights Movement?

Males are valuable. Yet they don't know it. They offer a plural perspective--"the other," Lisa Loomer, my friend and co-writer of "Girl, Interrupted," has reminded me.

How can this "other" be preserved, even fostered?

First, recruitment and support have to be engaged. Even filling out college applications and scholarship forms can be overwhelming. Also, the structure of college classes has to change. More frequent classes for shorter periods over a quarter system is more apt to curving attention issues.

Curriculum has to include a variety of teaching methods, including hands-on approaches, out-of-classroom experiences, and one-on-one sessions with the instructor. I'm going to throw out a radical solution here: to crank up competition, the essence of males' nature.

Boy-friendly literature must be used, considering narrator, theme, plot.

For writing, suggested topics must embody concepts males know about--and like. Since male writers tend to be more succinct, papers need not be long. If guys can write a tight 2-page paper, they can write a fluffy 20-page one.

Parents have to recognize the un-readiness of males before kindergarten. These boys need to be supported in preschool programs for an extra year, to start their whole education later.

Mostly, parents and teachers have to recognize that boys are not learning the way we are teaching them. Because they can't connect with it. Because they don't care.

We have to care about that, first. And then we have to change it.

*photo by Veer.


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post, Jennie! Boys (in elementary school) definately do better when the teaching involves hands on activities and challenges that are engaging.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Wow, this statistic is actually shocking to me! Hard o believe really. We've come a long way, but I wish there were a bit more of a middle ground.

Jackee said...

Fascinating! I know when I was teaching wildlife biology classes at BYU the gender dynamics shifted in the ten years I was there. And though men seemed to excel in the hands on environment of the major, by the time I left 75% of the classes were female. And they weren't there to go into management positions like the guys, some told me they just wanted to learn the "neato" facts about cute and fluffy creatures.

Helping in my daughter's Kindergarten and first grade classes I've noticed a definite maturity gap between the boys and girls.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you are making excuses for boys.. Shouldn't they be made/ be responsible for their actions? Do they need special consideration?

Suzanne Young said...

Jennie, where will you be Friday night?? Email me!


Anonymous said...

IDOTS! The whole lot of them!!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Excellent post, Jennie! I have been studying the learning styles and reading/writing preferences of boys for a few years now (but without this fascinating college info), and you couldn't be more right! I agree with you wholeheartedly regarding this issue. :-)

Jennie Englund said...

Thank you each for reading this long post.

And thanks for your insightful comments. I pondered each.