Boys Against Girls

GENDER

A 1992 study by the American Association of University Women reported that schools shortchange girls--letting them lag behind boys in science, silencing them in class and damaging their self-esteem. But some experts are arguing that it's boys who lose out.

"The Columbine killings have been a wake-up call," says Judith Kleinfeld, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. "Boys also have their problems." Kleinfeld refutes the findings of the AAUW study: With the exception of the (rapidly narrowing) gap between men and women in the sciences, she says, "most of the other findings are misleading or false."

Studies show, for example, that girls receive better grades and more awards than their male counterparts. They also have superior verbal skills and are more likely to attend college. But while many schools sponsor interventions to coach girls in physics and math, few have tried to remedy boys' poor reading and writing abilities. And contrary to popular belief, many boys have a well-hidden low self-esteem, believing that schools are hostile towards them.

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"Women have been shortchanged in other areas of life," says Kleinfeld. "But schools, with their structure and demands for obedience, have always favored girls." Boys have naturally high activity levels and find it more difficult to sit quietly in class, leaving them frustrated and aggressive.

The lesson? "Boys and girls have characteristic strengths and weaknesses and teachers should use this knowledge," says Kleinfeld. "We shouldn't identify any one group as victims."

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