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The Gender Gap - Part 2

Friday, June 7, 2002 at 4:11 PM

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A recent study comparing the number of men vs. women pursuing higher education shows that most of the increase in degrees attained is going to women. While they applaud the educational gains women have made over the last three decades, statistics show men have made little progress. Some say the rapidly changing nature of our society affects the prospects for men as well as women, and call for increasing efforts to steer men into college or other post-secondary opportunities. In the second of two reports, 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice looks at why many men aren't pursuing advanced education, and some possible solutions.

Bill Rice: Doug Rokakis is ready to close the book on his first year at Cleveland State University. As he finishes up his last day of freshman English, he says he’s enjoyed the class. And he’s not bothered by the fact that he’s one of only five men among a group of seventeen turning in final projects. It’s not an unusual mix, in his college experience. But, he says, it’s sure different than high school.

Doug Rokakis: I have a literature class that has seventeen girls in it and four guys.

BR: Asked why he thinks there are so few men in the course, Rokakis looks at his own aspiration to work in business or music, and thinks college is the way to go to achieve that. But, he says, he doesn’t think college is all that necessary for men in general.

DR: I mean if you want to become a carpenter or a plumber or work on real estate, it’s not something you really need. I think women tend to work on things like being a teacher or nursing and stuff like that, while men can work with their hands. College isn’t essential, although some people think it is.

BR: If Rokakis isn’t sold on the value of a higher education today, others beg to differ. And they worry that young men aren’t taking education seriously enough. College attendance has grown steadily in the past few decades; that’s as it should be, says researcher Tom Mortensen, Senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington D.C. But most of that increase, he says, has occurred among women. And in today’s changing economy, he says, men who end their educations after high school are shortchanging themselves.

Tom Mortensen: It’s been very clear that since the early 1970s you really have to have more than just a high school education in order to get the best paying jobs that are out there. And the women seem to be responding to this labor market call for better education and training and the men aren’t.

BR: So why aren’t men responding? One idea is that historically the percentage of men who went on to higher education was relatively small. Throughout most of America’s history the economy didn’t demand most men to further their educations beyond high school. The jobs needed to support families were there in the past. Mortensen says that began to change after World War II, but men were slow to adapt to the new reality.

TM: Men don’t seem to understand the changing nature of employment, they’re sort of wedded to this idea of if you’re big and strong, good with your hands, willing to work hard there’s a good job for you. Well, to an increasing degree that’s no longer true.

BR: Today’s jobs require more reading and writing skills, Mortensen says, and more needs to be done to nurture and develop those skills in men - before they become men. There’s been an intensive and very public effort, he says, to correct math and science deficits among young girls, who have traditionally lagged behind boys in those subjects. The same should be done for boys with regard to reading and writing. Northeastern University Economics Professor Andrew Sum agrees.

Andrew Sum: Men in those two critical areas, reading and writing, have fallen well behind women over the last 15 years and have not closed the gap whatsoever.

BR: While Sum is one of an increasing number calling attention to problem, others are looking for causes. Author Christina Hoff Sommers lays part of the blame with the feminist movement. She says has found a comfortable home in America’s institutions of higher learning, and has had much influence on how we teach youngsters - perhaps too much influence. She says today teaching methods fail to capitalize on boys’ natural tendencies and abilities.

Christina Hoff Sommers: The philosophy in our schools is that competition is bad, even dodge ball might be too much, and musical chairs might be distressing. So we move away from that toward cooperative learning and a lot of writing assignments that elicit feelings and emotions, and boys hate that - a lot of girls don’t like it either, by the way. But boys just can’t do it, and don’t want to do it.

BR: Sommers points to the British, who she see the under-education of men as a crisis, and are returning to more traditional teaching style for boys.

CHS: ...with the teacher in the front, the chairs in straight row, kids sitting up, the teacher calling on people, memorizing facts, reading a lot of non-fiction, a lot of adventure stories - just a male-oriented classroom.

BR: That idea doesn’t appeal to Craig Flood, a gender equity consultant who’s concerned with boys’ greater propensity for disruption and violence. While he has no objection to segregating boys and girls, he doesn’t see it as particularly helpful.

Craig Flood: There are more differences within groups than there are between groups.

BR: The debate over how best to educate and prepare boys for the future is a healthy one, says Northeastern’s Andrew Sum. But he leaves that to the educators; his focus as the Director of the school’s Center for Labor Studies is the economy. And men’s full participation, he says, is essential.

Meanwhile, for Doug Rokakis, who heads back to college next fall as a sophomore, academic life will continue to be just a little bit lob-sided.

DR: It’s good that there are more women in school. But obviously it’s kind of weird, I mean, you figure it would probably be equal. But it really isn’t, you know? It’s different.

BR: In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN.

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