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School Is a Hostile Environment for Boys

At the Spritzler Boys School for the Gifted, your little Johnny will not spend the day sitting quietly in the corner developing layers of anxiety. He will be wrestling every morning with a Saber-Toothed Tiger and chopping wood for 2 hours every afternoon.

Then he'll be doing integral calculus for an hour each before catching his bus back home.

School Is a Hostile Environment for Boys

Teaching methods are better suited for girls, who’ve gotten better grades for a century.

By Erica Komisar, WSJ

Sept. 13, 2023 12:46 pm ET

f boys were dramatically outperforming girls in school, policy makers would declare a crisis and urgently seek ways to reduce the disparity. In fact, girls are dramatically outperforming boys. Why don’t boys get the same respect?

In 2014, an American Psychological Association journal published a study that found girls and women, from elementary to graduate school, receive higher grades than males in every subject. The APA looked at research spanning 30 countries and nearly a century (1914-2011). “The study reveals that recent claims of a ‘boy crisis,’ with boys lagging behind girls in school achievement, are not accurate,” an APA press release asserted, “because girls’ grades have been consistently higher than boys’ across several decades with no significant changes in recent years.”

The opening of opportunity to women, meantime, has created a new disparity: Women account for some 60% of college freshmen. That has broader social implications. Since women tend to marry up, the consequence of this sex-ratio imbalance is that educated women have a harder time finding suitable mates, contributing to a decline in marriage, an increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing, and an effort to put a happy face on the latter by women declaring themselves “single mothers by choice.”

Why do boys struggle in school? A 2015 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that “the current school environment or climate might be in general more attuned to feminine-typed personalities.” This is consistent with my clinical observations as a psychotherapist.

From preschool, children are asked to sit quietly for long periods of time. That is developmentally unnatural for boys, who have far more testosterone than girls. When boys are asked to suppress their energy and aggression rather than sublimate it into healthy activity, they develop high levels of cortisol, popularly known as the stress hormone. That sends them into fight-or-flight mode, which makes them distractible, agitated and squirmy. These behaviors can resemble the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and it’s likely many boys are misdiagnosed and medicated.

Another consequence of feminizing boys is low self-esteem. Boys feel ashamed and are made to feel like failures because of their inability to adapt to feminine teaching methods. They become depressed and anxious, developing feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. Many are marginalized and openly criticized by teachers, who fail to understand that the problem isn’t the boy but the way they’re educating him.

Ms. Komisar is a psychoanalyst and author of “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters” and “Chicken Little The Sky Isn’t Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety.”

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