By Camille Chatterjee, published on September 1, 1999 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
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.
"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
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."