Academic institutions lacking male participation

(Graphic by Steph Truong)

In 2009, the president of the University of Alberta made headlines for encouraging men to enroll to university.

While I applaud Indira Samarasekera’s concerns for the future education of Canada’s young men, there is little new information about such concerns.

Gender and academic success have always been a source of great controversy; female versus male brains and gender-related academic success from kindergarten through university.

The U.S. Department of Education released a study weighing academic progress by gender and every graphic and statistics told the familiar story: boys are over 50 per cent more likely than girls to repeat grades in elementary school, 1/3 more likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to be identified with a learning disability.

In the past decade, the gap by which high school girls outperformed boys on tests in both reading and writing widened significantly. Parents know the reasons; boys play too many video games and listen to too much music.

But this cannot explain why virtually the entire Western world has such dramatic gender differences.

In the early 1980s, boys and girls were evenly matched in their university ambitions.

Such academic aspirations began to climb for girls, but for boys the curve hit a plateau.

Now, 63 per cent of female high school seniors plan to attend university while only about half the boys have similar post-secondary education plans.

University registrars reveal that the average male applicant has lower grades, writes sloppier essays and personal statement pieces, and confesses to fewer extracurricular activities.

The possible remedies for such a situation are varied.

It can be simply argued that the solution is to make boys, in all ways, more like girls.

Feminist critics argue that boys are locked into a “masculine mystique” which severely limits their academic expectations and intellectual abilities.

Another approach suggests that reading material in general is not “boy-friendly” as most literature classes continue to encourage an “exploration of feelings.”

While researchers seem convinced that the problems are limited to Canada and the United States, Richard Whitmire reminds us of a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which reported lower academic performance among boys in 19 of 27 countries.

In 21 of 27 countries, the number of women graduating from university exceeded the number of men

A significant part of our so-called “boy problem is that news of difficulties is often treated indifferently.

Looking around the world, we see men occupying top positions in industry, at academic institutions, and in all levels of politics.

It would appear from these gender imbalances that men are already successful, and thus, do not require attention from teachers.

However, there continues to be serious concerns that must be addressed or our boys will get left further and further behind.

It is easy to focus on boys’ many deficits, but the trouble is not with them or their brains, but rather, it is how we treat them as a society, often with ignorance and indifference. Education is one of the most important gifts in a person’s life and we must ensure we are not leaving anybody behind, male or female.

Don Morgenson is a professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University

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