I read an interesting article in the New York Times this past week called “Gender Gap in Education Cuts both Ways.” It noted the continued finding that top-educated boys do better in Math than top-educated girls. This has been in and out of the news for some time (35 years) according to the article and has met with a furious debate, and even some rolling of heads — i.e. Lawrence Summers was booted from his post as president of Harvard for a similar remark.
This is unfortunate because trying to overcome a small inequality is not needed when we are only talking about the very top students. Women who want to study math can do it through hard work, and achieve at a level required for most STEM careers. They don’t have to receive the highest test scores. There are bigger fish to fry, as they say.
And the article accurately pointed that out. While boys may outperform women in Math, women regularly outperform men in Reading. This statement, however, has never been as outwardly derogatory as the statement that men do better in Math. It is a real problem because K – 12 school and college success is highly dependent on reading ability. You have to be a highly competent reader to excel in all of your subjects, while you could quietly slip by with a C in math — I know I did.
In a lot of ways we are failing the boys. Girls are graduating from college at a much higher rate than boys, and it is only increasing. The article correctly states that the time may be over for trying to coerce all women to spend more time doing math, while trying to force all men to spend more time reading. Both sexes may just prefer to study what they want — women more reading and men more math.
We seemed to accept this fact better in the past. Many men stopped the traditional academic route in high school, preferring to learn a trade, many of which rely on analytic skills. We need more opportunities for boys to bypass the academic route of massive reading, and allow them to use their math skills like we did in the past. Apprenticeships are a great way to do this, because they allow for learning in ways that are different than the verbal methods of schools — lectures and reading.
Let boys learn in ways that are more natural for them, and they will excel. An apprenticeship starting in the final two years in high school, and then continuing to a 2-year degree in a STEM field may be just what the doctor ordered.