The New York Times published an editorial last week written by Sean Krull, who claimed that the American educational system is preferential for women and often steers boys away from the humanities and toward natural sciences and math. I think this is absolutely the case, and ultimately serves to limit men, although there may be some external factors that aren’t completely detrimental.
The article puts forth several perceived problems with the current education system, many of which hinge on women’s greater ability to retain information and perform at school in adolescence, as well as societal expectations of men to pursue certain interests.
The article said there are 2.8 million more women enrolled in post-secondary education than there are men. To see this, one need not look any further than Manitou Heights. At St. Olaf, the gender breakdown is 56 percent female to 44 percent male according to U.S. News and World Report, while neighboring Carleton College is 53 percent female to 47 percent male. This trend is a complete 180-degree flip from when women’s access to education was very limited; formerly, almost any institution of higher learning would have been disproportionately representative of men.
In fact, some of the only post-secondary educational institutions that do have more men than women are engineering or science schools such as Iowa State University in Ames and Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, MO. The student population of both of these universities is more than 55 percent male. Evidence like this helps corroborate not only perhaps women’s discouragement from the sciences, but also the undue pressure on men to pursue them.
Pushing boys to study natural sciences and mathematics isn’t the only way in which boys are limited. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD is a prime example of a way in traditional education that boys are disadvantaged. According to a study by Mayo Clinic in 2002, done in Olmsted County, Minn., boys are at three times the risk for suffering from ADHD than their female counterparts. Although it is not the only reason, being male is the largest risk factor for the disorder.
I think it is unfortunate that due to women’s historical discrimination and limitation that men in all cases are perpetually seen as a privileged group. Men are put on the back burner when it comes to initiatives of breaking down stigma of certain areas of studies. While a simple Google search returns plenty of recommendations, reports and foundations for the encouragement of women in science and math in big publications such as The Guardian as well as the government, there is a telling lack of equivalents for male encouragement in the social sciences or humanities.
One reason that the disparity of post-secondary education gender ratios is not entirely a bad thing is that it empowers women. Society has traditionally marginalized women, and to some extent, still does. The current 77 cents to the dollar ratio of women’s wages to men’s is a testament to this and has been given attention recently. Perhaps the leg-up for women in education would help to alleviate these problems.
With all this being said I think equality between the genders ought to be striven for, regardless of any externalities. I didn’t necessarily agree with some of the recommendations set forth in the New York Times editorial, such as the idea of creating more single-sex schools and decreased suspension rates for boys. I think increased introspection and physical activity for boys could be of great help to alleviating the tragedy in education of social expectation dictating passions and pursuits.
Scott Johnson ’18 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Gladstone, Mo. He majors in history.