The Truth about Boys and Girls

by Harry on July 18, 2006

I’ve been rather enjoying the response of conservative commentators to the “girls do better in school than boys” debate. Everybody’s favourite conservative (or maybe he’s just mine), David Brooks, invokes brain science to show that boys are different from girls, but instead of concluding that girls are simply superior, he assumes that schools are doing the wrong things. It used to be that when a conservative claimed that an inequality was natural, he was defending it, but because this time it is boys that are being shown up its ok to claim that the natural difference is just a difference, and it is the fault of society that it is turned into an inequality which matters socially.

It isn’t nuts to think that the gender achievement gap is grounded in a natural inequality.

When the gap was the other way, we had reason to think it was socially constructed because there were so many social pressures against girls achieving as well as boys, like boys getting more and better schooling, having their worldly ambitions fostered more than girls, etc. As Mill pointed out, even if women were intellectually inferior we had no way of knowing that, given what we knew about social practices. But there is no similar obvious pressure in the case of boys. John Tierney, in his contorted effort to oppose affirmative action for boys in college admissions simply assumes that boys are getting less attention than girls, but there’s no evidence for that. There is a bit of nonsense around about boys not liking books as much as girls, but I doubt that even now many boys are told when thinking about taking a demanding English class: “Oh no, you’re a boy and boys are no good at reading, you know, they can’t appreciate literature”, which is what my sister was told about maths when considering taking Maths A-level in the 1980’s (she took it at another, less well-regarded and comprehensive, school now in special measures, got an A, and then a First in Maths and Philosophy, and is now a professional philosopher of physics, you silly, silly man. Hasn’t Larry Summers ever heard of time-lags?). We know that when men and women receive roughly the same educational, health, and nutritional resources over the course of their lives, women outlive men by 3-4 years. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that when, as at last, boys and girls receive roughly equal educational resources during their childhoods, girls outperform boys by a similar percentage. This really might be a case of natural superiority of one sex over the other.

I thought the conversion to social constructivist explanations of inequality was good news; because I think that society makes choices about what kind of reward structure to adopt, I hold society responsible for the inequalities that prevail, even when there is some natural basis for the inequality. (This doesn’t mean I think that inequality is never justified, just that inequalities need to be justified). It is nice to have some conservatives on board.

What a disappointment, then, to find that the gender gap in education is all a storm in a teacup (or a tempest in a teapot for our American readers). This depressingly sensible and well informed analysis by Sara Mead shows that the gap has emerged during a period of improving achievement for boys and girls, and that boys still outperform girls (slightly) in some areas like mathematics and science. Here’s part of the executive summary:

In fact, with a few exceptions, American boys are scoring higher and achieving more than they ever have before. But girls have just improved their performance on some meas—-ures even faster. As a result, girls have narrowed or even closed some academic gaps that previously favored boys, while other long-standing gaps that favored girls have widened, leading to the belief that boys are falling behind.

There’s no doubt that some groups of boys*particularly Hispanic and black boys and boys from low-income homes*are in real trouble. But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender. Closing racial and economic gaps would help poor and minority boys more than closing gender gaps, and focusing on gender gaps may distract attention from the bigger problems facing these youngsters.

The hysteria about boys is partly a matter of perspective. While most of society has finally embraced the idea of equality for women, the idea that women might actually surpass men in some areas (even as they remain behind in others) seems hard for many people to swallow. Thus, boys are routinely characterized as “falling behind” even as they improve in absolute terms.

In addition, a dizzying array of so-called experts have seized on the boy crisis as a way to draw attention to their pet educational, cultural, or ideological issues. Some say that contemporary classrooms are too structured, suppressing boys’ energetic natures and tendency to physical expression; others contend that boys need more structure and discipline in school. Some blame “misguided feminism” for boys’ difficulties, while others argue that “myths” of masculinity have a crippling impact on boys. Many of these theories have superficially plausible rationales that make them appealing to some parents, educators, and policymakers. But the evidence suggests that many of these ideas come up short.

It’s a good, if slightly deflating, counterweight to the hysteria of the media. I hope it David Brooks doesn’t see it, though; I’m enjoying his conversion to the camp which sees social constructionist explanations of unequal ouotcomes everywhere.

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Jacob Christensen » Girls vs. Boys
07.19.06 at 6:22 pm

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1

Richard Bellamy 07.18.06 at 4:37 pm

As a result, girls have narrowed or even closed some academic gaps that previously favored boys, while other long-standing gaps that favored girls have widened, leading to the belief that boys are falling behind.

Isn’t that what “falling behind” means?

2

Cosma 07.18.06 at 5:01 pm

The story gets even better when you look at the actual neuroscience supposedly backing up Brooks’s assertions, as Mark Liberman has done in two posts at Language Log: David Brooks, Cognitive Neuroscientist and Are Men Emotional Children?. The gap between the actual research findings and the conclusions being drawn from them is wide enough to drive a whole pre-existing ideology through.

3

harry b 07.18.06 at 5:07 pm

richard — depends whether you see it as a race. Both are improving, girls faster than boys. The “falling behind” theme has been played in the media as a “boys are doing worse” (than they were doing) — Tierney treats the outcome inequality as if it is a zero-sum game being played. Of course, there’s some truth to that (in sofar as positions that are attained as a result of achievement matter more than achievement itself). But conservatives (like Tierney and Brooks anyway, not all conservatives, many of whom are perfectly sensible about these issues) tend in all other areas of discussion to dismiss that concern (which egalitarians like me press).

4

gr 07.18.06 at 5:08 pm

In my high school, girls probably outperformed boys on average. But it was pretty obvious that the reason was that the girls were much more willing to do what they were told to do, to be polite, not to question teachers, and to at least feign interest in even the most insultingly stupid instruction. Boys, for some stupid reason, at least had to pretend not to care about school in order not to risk their reputation amongst peers. But I doubt that there were any underlying differences in natural intelligence.

I’d be interested to hear, though, why the higher life expectancy of women is supposed to be an indication that women are, other things being equal, naturally more intelligent. The fact that women have a higher life expectancy doesn’t make them run faster, so why should it make them think better?

5

nik 07.18.06 at 5:21 pm

This thread’s going to run and run. You shouldn’t approve of Sara Mead’s analysis, it is nonsense:

(1) Just because the gap emerged during a period of improving achievement for boys and girls doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. If there was an improving economy, and whites got most the spoils, we’d be complaining. I just can’t see why the same thing is suddenly not a problem when educational success is being dished out and one gender is getting most of the spoils, you can have issues with the justness of a scenario even though both groups lots are improving.

(2) It’s also interesting that both Mead’s objections to worrying about the gender gap applied when girls were behind and feminists were campaigning to improve educational outcomes for women: (a) achievement was improving for both boys and girls and (b) racial and class differences outweighed gender differences. But no-one thought this meant gender gaps were just a distraction then. Do we really think that it’s unfortunate that these brilliant counter-arguments weren’t known at time and that we wasted so much effort on girls’ education? Or is this line of thinking not really as convincing as people are giving it credit for?

6

Chris Bertram 07.18.06 at 5:25 pm

In the UK there has been a shift towards modes of assessment that favour the long-term organized over the person that shines in the 3-hour exam. I’d have come nowhere if I’d hað

7

me2i81 07.18.06 at 5:36 pm

These people claim that boys are incapable of turning in homework on time, and when adjusted for that boys and girls do about the same.

8

harry b 07.18.06 at 6:08 pm

nik — I don’t disagree with either of your points. But to 1) what Mead shows is that while there’s a gap in reading, there’s not much of a gap all-told, and if there is its not clear whether it favours boys or girls (because of indexing problems). And to 2), in that context, worrying about “boys versus girls” is a diversion. When the gap favoured boys a lot (and whites etc) insofar as we thought it was a result of what schools were doing we had as much reason to deal with it as there was a gap: but sure, if those efforts worked against black or hispanic achievement that counted against them. Of course, it didn’t, because half of all hispanics and blacks were girls (still are); whereas half of all boys are not hispanic or black.

gr – I didn’t say more intelligent, just superior, and I didn’t say it meant they were, just that the thought that they are doesn’t stretch the imagination.

What all the sceptics are pointing to, though, is something else that I’m bemused by about the new conservative social constructivist analysis — the assumption that schools are the only operative social institutions here. Couldn’t it be that boys are more vulnerable to family fracture, or more damaged (in their dispotion to take up education) by the new commercialism, or that our ideals of masculinity are badly attuned to male academic achievement in an environment in which girls get equal )or roughly equal) opportunities. Should schools have to compensate for that, if so? (I ask that as a real question, not a rhetorical one).

Anyway, it turns out that boys aren’t doing as badly as the new conservatives say. If I hear someone like Teirney saying that we should give boys a pass because they’re incapable of turning in homework, though, I’m never going to take them seriously as conservatives again.

9

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 7:32 pm

Something clearly went badly wrong with Bobo’s education, and I guess he’s just trying to understand what happened.

10

Steve 07.18.06 at 7:40 pm

My understanding has always been that boys have always dominated the extremes; boys tend to dominate top and bottom of the bell curve. What that means for the average, I don’t know-whether on average boys are smarter than girls or not.

If that is true, what would Harry say? Gender differences are ok, even though those gender differences suggest boys are the smartest -because those gender differences suggest that girls are smarter on average? Or gender difference is socially constructed, because it suggests that boys really do make up the elite (i.e. Larry Summers was right)-the only acceptable science is that which suggests girls are on average better than boys, and at the top just as good? The fact that this is even a reasonable question to ask-that Harry (and his reality -based community ilk) will decide to accept research or not based on whether they like the results-tells me all I need to know about Harry. David Brooks may very well be wrong on this, but at the very worst, he’s merely as wrong as a liberal.

It really reminds me of the OJ case; who does a liberal root for-the black guy, or the battered wife (ps. the black guy won-the battered wife was forgotten)? Who does a liberal root for? Science is acceptable because it suggests girls are on average smarter than boys, or science is suspect because it suggests at the top boys are smarter than girls? It appears we split the difference; science is right when it suggests girls are on average smarter than boys, but it is wrong if it suggests boys dominate the elite.

Try again, Harry.

Steve

11

nik 07.18.06 at 8:21 pm

harry-

I’m not sure we’re really even on the same page. It just seems crazy to me to suggest there isn’t a gap and that girls don’t do better in school than boys. Speaking from the UK, girls clearly outperform boys substantially at 16, at 18, and are more likely to go to HE than men, and so on. And this is all very easy to demonstrate because of a fixed national set of exams.

I don’t know much about the detail of the US educational system, but Mead’s report has a lot of evidence showing pretty much the same thing – more girls do AP exams, SATs, and go to college, etc. But she has to look very hard to avoid stating the obvious. She seems to do this by playing up marginal differences (slight advantages for boys in maths and science) to downplay substantial differences where girls have the advantage (large advantages in reading and writing).

12

Slocum 07.18.06 at 9:19 pm

As recently as the 1980s, males and females attended college in the U.S. in indentical numbers. Since then, the ratio has gone from 50-50 to close to 60-40. That is unacceptable (the raw numbers and, especially, the trend). Some of the changes that have been made since then were intentionally intended to make school more compatible with girls learning styles, for example:

– A de-emphasis on competition
– A de-emphasis on high-stakes tests (both in school and in university admissions).
– ‘Reading across the curriculum’ programs that introduce significant reading and writing elements to math instruction, for example.
– A steady diet of you-go-girl, ‘girls can do anything messages’–especially with respect to math and science (There are no programs that emphasize, for example, the fact that so many of the great writers in human history were male as a way of encouraging boys to enter humanities — or if there are, I’ve never heard of one). Some of this is in school, but much isn’t. The Onion (naturally) provided the perfect commentary:

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38558

– The broad acceptability of expressing overt anti-male sentiments in ‘polite’ society (e.g. ‘testosterone poisoning’).

I don’t think any these, by itself, is the ‘smoking gun’–but the overall effort has been to focus on and encourage female achivement even if that meant neglecting or harming male achievement. And it seems to have had the intended effect.

13

Paul 07.18.06 at 9:43 pm

My understanding of the argument (of boys’ advocates) in the Australian context (where, consistent with what #8 says about the uk, there are very large gaps in high school results and university entrance rates) is that efforts to close the gap between girls and boys have operated directly on the content of exams and assessments – so that types of questions on which males tended to perform better have been removed or de-emphasised in favour of material on which females perform better.

I can’t comment either way on the accuracy of these claims, but it wouldn’t be surprising if, having made improving girls’ marks a policy goal, those improvements, and the gap which has opened in the other direction, are as much the result of rules changes as they are of unlocking hidden potential.

The enthusiasm with which people have embraced the “they’re not really falling behind, they are merely improving at a slower rate” non-argument is deeply worrying.

14

eudoxis 07.18.06 at 10:04 pm

I can understand the position that innate differences are easily swamped by other effects, but Brooks seems to be saying that innate differences translate into a disadvantage for boys where education treats genders equally. That’s doesn’t make any sense.

Elsewhere, Mark Liberman ignores the literature after 2002. There’s a review article at that contains a couple of useful references.

15

sixfootsubwoofer 07.18.06 at 10:22 pm

slocum, I agree fully. I think these findings (however accurate and trustworthy they may be) signal that those “you go, girl”, “girls rock!” programs are ready to be phased out of schools.

I always felt that they were ridiculous in light of the class/race discrepancy in academic performance. They were once necessary, but where were the “Too bad your dad’s a drunk and beats you and drinks your school supply money, but you can still succeed!” posters, pencils and videos? All the poor kids got was a free, fat-filled lunch and ridicule for having last year’s Trapper Keeper. The focus on these findings serve to further conceal the gross discrepancy in class/race performance, and conservatives will never seriously address that unless liberals get a backbone on education.

gr-Perhaps the fact that women cannot run faster makes them more intelligent? The teleological study of gender differences never fails to gloss over certain gender superiorities, but true gender egalitarianism, to me, would be to state that because women are physically inferior, they compensate with superior intellect. As a man, I am fully prepared to accept that women have slightly better information processing than men. However, it is the ability to have effortless multiple orgasms that makes me a little bitter.

16

cw 07.18.06 at 10:48 pm

Wasn’t “Boys in Trouble” a Newsweek cover the other month. I never believe anything that is on the cover of Newsweek (or time). That is the main tool in my amature social scientist toolkit.

Having made my joke, I agree with Harry. If boys are actually “in trouble” it proves that we can significatly effect the outcomes of sub-groups in our society through very subtle social means. For example, the social pressure on girls to be girly. When this is removed or even reversed, viola! Girls rule! And if boys aren’t “in trouble” the fact that conservatives are all het up about them being “in trouble” shows how expediant and hypocritical conservatives are in their use of our children as political tools.

Either way, it’s pretty satisfying to have a couple of my most strongly held beliefs confirmed by hard evidence.

17

pdf23ds 07.18.06 at 11:14 pm

#2: That specific claim (about the female amygdala being better connected to the cerebral cortex than the male one) may not be supported at all. But I do believe that it’s true that women have a higher percentage of white matter, and men a higher percentage of gray matter. I’m not sure Brooks ever said anything about this, or even what the fact means about sex differences in cognition, but I thought it was interesting enough to bring up.

18

T. Paine 07.18.06 at 11:15 pm

I remember all those articles about how women now make up significant majorities on corporate boards, in the US federal government, and in the faculty of all Ivy League universities.

Oh, wait, they don’t. Christina Hoff Summers has been pushing this line since at least 2000, which might suggest some sort of adjustment in the power distribution between men and women because the boys who have been terribly underserved are finally reaching the age where they’ll be denied the privileges they so obviously deserve. This suggests something about American education and society, but not that educators are failing boys.

19

bi 07.19.06 at 12:11 am

cw: Rock rock rock! Who woulda thunk that the most benevolent, most just, most meritorious social order in the world can be so easily subverted by a few left-wing movies here and there?

But you see, we need lots of gun-toting naked chicks to help spread the One True Ideology of Libertarianism, and the Free World’s currently facing a shortage of such hot unclad babes. And that, my friends, is the real reason why it’s wrong for girls to surpass boys in school.

20

Josh R 07.19.06 at 12:25 am

“There is a bit of nonsense around about boys not liking books as much as girls, but I doubt that even now many boys are told when thinking about taking a demanding English class: “Oh no, you’re a boy and boys are no good at reading, you know, they can’t appreciate literature”, which is what my sister was told about maths when considering taking Maths A-level in the 1980’s…”

Might there not be pressures in this direction (i.e. telling boys that reading or educational achievement is not “cool” or something along those lines) from sources outside of school? You needn’t have a teacher tell you that you cannot, or should not, read and appreciate Shakespeare to come to that conclusion. Perhaps a good amount of boys don’t even think of considering taking a demanding English class because they see reading as a girl’s thing due to some extracurricula societal lesson that they have iternalized somehow. Anyway, the boys not liking books as much question seems to be an empirical one.

21

fjm 07.19.06 at 12:41 am

To Nik

I’ll worry about whose getting the spoils when women start earning more than men. At the moment, men receive greater financial rewards for poorer performance.

But also, there is evidence that girls have always outperformed boys. When the UK system had a formal split between grammar schools than secondary moderns, there were actually fewer places in girls grammars. Studies suggested that blind submissions would have led to a predominance of girls. There are *eighteenth century* complaints by school teachers that boys were harder to teach, and less bright than girls.

In many of the ape groups, young females can be seen observing carefully, young males are frequently having to be dragged back and told to pay attention.

Exams v. assesssment make little difference in blind tests (and anyway, who do you want in charge of your rocket ship, someone who can cram for the exam or someone who can perform time after time after time).

Where there is a consistent difference is that boys dominate at the very top and the very bottom of scores in most fields. The increase of girls and women in higher education might actually be a contributing factor to the flattening out of scores to a “high middle”.

22

fjm 07.19.06 at 12:47 am

And forgot to say: the issue about changing the curriculum is a distraction.

The actual pattern observed by educational historians is that any subject identified as a “boys” subject is one in which boys do well. When girls start to enter in any numbers, boys start to leave. Subjects and topics shift constantly from being boy identified to girl identified. Just to give two examples, Literature and History used to be boys subjects: tough, manly, about universal values. Now they are girls subjects–although in history men still dominate at graduate level and in university posts. Medicine is currently shifting, 50% of entering students into medicine in he UK are now women. Expect medicine to turn into a “girly” subject some time soon.

The actual content of history and literature in schools hasn’t changed much. Teachers use books aimed at boys because girls don’t seem to care, and warfare takes up much of the history curriculum.

23

Dan Simon 07.19.06 at 2:58 am

Has anybody checked whether there’s a significant correlation between the recent surge in female achievement in academics, and the widespread replacement of phonics with “whole language” reading instruction a couple of decades ago? Given that girls are better at language skills than boys, and that “whole language” reading instruction amounts to leaving children to figure out how to read on their own, it follows, I surmise, that the widespread use of “whole language” instruction has severely hampered the reading progress of the linguistically untalented–who just happen to be disproportionately male.

One of the nice things about this theory is that it doesn’t rely at all on fuzzy claims about attitudes and atmospheres of expectation or discouragement–just insane educational theorist dogma undermining children’s learning (as it so often does). Of course, I have absolutely no empirical data to support or refute it, so if anybody does, I’d be interested to hear about it.

24

Cian O'Connor 07.19.06 at 4:25 am

A significant factor has surely got to be that at least in the UK and US there is significant peer pressure among boys to not perform. There doesn’t seem to be a similar pressure among girls. So that could be one explanation for better performance by girls – that they actually do the work.

25

Cian O'Connor 07.19.06 at 4:36 am

#23 Dan:
Phonics and Whole Language are not in opposition, despite what the ideologues on the phonics side like to claim. And Whole Language reading is not about “leaving children to figure out how to read on their own”.

As it happens the best way to teach children seems to be teaching the alphabet phonetically and words using “Look See” methods simultaneously, followed by Whole Language approaches (reinforced where appropriate by phonetic methods). If you were interested in the actual research, rather than political talking points, maybe you would be aware of this.

There ought to be a special hell for people who politicise educational methods.

26

Stuart 07.19.06 at 4:39 am

I would imagine another factor that likely has been exposed as performance levels between sexes evened out was that a significantly larger proportion of potentially intelligent boys spend their school years neglecting their studies to chase after the possibility of playing sports professionally (I can think of one very good example in my class at school, and a dozen or more within my year for whom academic performance was a distant secondary concern).

27

bi 07.19.06 at 4:44 am

Dan Simon: see fjm’s first comment.

It’s another front on the War on Science, really. The pattern seems to be like this:

= _Predict_ : Start with one hypothesis. There shall be no competing hypotheses.
= _Confuse_ : Do some highly technical stuff, or quote others’ technical stuff. Preferably, said technical stuff will go over many people’s heads.
= _Ignore_ : Ignore any inconvenient results. But leave them in your final report to give it an air of objectivity.
= _Score_ : Present the remaining results as evidence for your (only) hypothesis.

28

Daniel 07.19.06 at 5:05 am

and that “whole language” reading instruction amounts to leaving children to figure out how to read on their own

ahhh phonics nuts, the Atkins Dieters of education. No it doesn’t. It is often worth remembering that “the whole language approach” can be replaced by “the Janet and John books” in most contexts without loss of accuracy.

29

Saint Fnordius 07.19.06 at 5:10 am

So, let’s see, isn’t the whole issue here that human males and females have different preferences in learning styles, and that favouring one or the other will favour the one group or the other?

I mean, I keep getting the impression that the male mentality puts more emphasis on exploration, and the female mentality on instruction. Boys would rather go out and find out something new, and girls are more likely to sit and listen to what the teacher is saying.

The difference isn’t big, little more than a tendency, but it does seem to be a part of the whole concept of males patrolling the perimeter of a group as scouts and hunters, and females maintaining the infrastructure.

30

a 07.19.06 at 6:13 am

“We know that when men and women receive roughly the same educational, health, and nutritional resources over the course of their lives, women outlive men by 3-4 years. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that when, as at last, boys and girls receive roughly equal educational resources during their childhoods, girls outperform boys by a similar percentage.”

I’d have to agree with gr that this is about as magnificent a non sequitur as they come.

31

John Emerson 07.19.06 at 6:53 am

Around here the “whole language” approach replaced phonics 54 years ago, when I was in first grade — my year had two classes, one phonics and one whole language. Phonics is the silliest, most overblown controversy of all, an ideological fossil like antifluoridation, and it was charmingly quaint to see it ressurected here.

The outcome for me is that I frequently mispronounce multisyllabic words from languages I don’t know, for example “Chappaquiddick”. I don’t watch TV, either, which makes the problem ten times worse.

I think that all countercultural and youth cultural trends in the last 40 years have been more damaging to boys than to girls. Despite what young guys end up believing, this world is much more hospitable to cautious bureaucratic types than it is to wild and crazy guys or thugs.

32

Harald Korneliussen 07.19.06 at 7:04 am

“But there is no similar obvious pressure in the case of boys.”

It seems pretty obvious to me. Having good grades does not make you popular if you’re a boy, it makes you a nerd, a target for bullying, unless you can make up for it by also being athletic and nice-looking.

33

Stuart 07.19.06 at 7:38 am

I would agree with #32, and also point out it is relatively easy to fix the institutional prejudices that used to exist against female students in a number of subjects because government has fairly direct control in the matter of teachers, so that disadvantage was able to be progressively removed in the last generation or two. Changing the attitudes of children is not something that you can do as directly, so unless we get a culture shock (say the equivalent of Harry Potter has done for reading to make being intelligent ‘cool’) it would seem likely that male students are likely as a whole to underperform for some time. This factor has likely not changed a whole lot in the last 50-100 years, its just becomes more apparent as female students have gained more equality of opportunity.

34

Laura 07.19.06 at 8:10 am

great post, harry. I love how you turned Brooks on his head.

35

Bro. Bartleby 07.19.06 at 8:33 am

“Chappaquiddick?” how about that, you remember my anniversary! … 18 July 1969 … that reminds me … it was late at night … and boy were we tanked … took me ten minutes just to get the key into the Olds Delta ignition … well, that’s all I remember … except for the water … cold, it was cold … and I was swimming and thinking, by golly, this will be my PT-109 moment!

36

yan 07.19.06 at 8:37 am

I don’t see why this gap is terribly in need of explanation–there could be millions of reasons other than “natural superiority.” One possibility: women have only relatively recently had significant access to educational and career opportunities–this could easily translate into a higher general degree of motivation and enthusiasm for education and the perceived benefits it will bring. Boys, on the other hand, have absorbed, through their fathers, the realization that this is decidedly _not_ a truly meritocratic system and that hard work and good grades will not necessarily pay off for them any more than it did for their fathers. Girls do better because they were insolated from identifying with disallusioned fathers.

37

nik 07.19.06 at 8:56 am

The big problem I have with any of these theories are they don’t explain why gaps are increasing. Again, from the UK, girls were equally likely to go to Higher Education as boys some time ago. They were 6% more likely to progress than boys in 1996, 18% in 2000, 25% in 2005 … I’ve seen it speculated that girls entering secondary school now could be 50% more likely to go on to HE. Unless the explaination for the gap also explains the trend I’m reluctant to buy into it. Are books getting less cool? Are teacher making boys sit more still? Is more coursework being introduced? I don’t see it.

38

John Emerson 07.19.06 at 9:18 am

I obviously should have used a different multisyllable word, like Missolonghi or Semirechye or something, but the word I cited was the one whose mispronunciation proved most memorable.

My apologies to all — I was not aware that the odious Bartleby was in the house.

39

Slocum 07.19.06 at 9:35 am

I remember all those articles about how women now make up significant majorities on corporate boards, in the US federal government, and in the faculty of all Ivy League universities.

Sounds like somebody other than Larry Summers hasn’t heard of time lags. When did those corporate directors and university presidents go to school? What were the relative male-female success rates then?

These people claim that boys are incapable of turning in homework on time, and when adjusted for that boys and girls do about the same.

Well, it’s certainly possible to learn the material and get mediocre grades for failure to jump through all the hoops. It’s also the case that grades depend more on daily homework (and even non-academic factors such as attendence, tardiness, and disruptive behaviors) than they did a generation ago. When I was in school, you might have been sent to after-school detention for these things — now, in my kids’ school, semester grades are docked for violations. And these factors almost certainly disadvantage boys (who exhibit more behavior issues and are punished more heavily for the same behaviors as girls). Boys do as well as girls (and better than their grades would predict) on college entrance exams. But those exams count for less in admissions than they used to. Part of the reason for that is that the tests were considered unfair to girls because their scores did not reflect their grades.

I’m sure this is not the whole story, but surely it’s part of it.

40

John Faughnan 07.19.06 at 10:00 am

I believe the average brains of women and men are quite different, so I’d expect women and men to have different albeit overlapping cognitive/social/behavioral performance. I’d be surprised if it were otherwise, but I can believe the data’s not in to prove that however.

In terms of school performance I’d take a closer look at grades 5-7. Anyone who’s seen a 6th grade class knows boys and girls mature at different rates. I wonder if that’s when the performance gap really opens up.

In Canada, btw, I’ve been told (rumor, not verified) that about 3/4 of medical students are now female and that schools are struggling to provide any semblance of “gender balance”. Whether they should or not is another question …

41

fjm 07.19.06 at 10:09 am

36/Nik

The explanation may simply be that girls, when not disadvantaged, are smarter than boys. I don’t know that I believe that but given that for years it was thought to be the other way around, I wonder why men have so much trouble accepting that it might be the case. One correlation to consider is that so many learnng impairments effect more boys than girls.

The other factor distorting the figures of course is that so many more children go into HE anyway, almost ten times as many as twenty years ago. So now most kids get the opportunity, we may be seeing patterns previously invisible due to class and gender discrimination.

A point for someone who talked about peer pressure: in some communities boys do very well indeed. Communities where education is considered macho.

Personally, I suspect class is the biggest factor: those missing boys are mostly from the lower middle and working class, There are *far* more *good* employment opportunities for boys in this class than there are for girls and that may be a factor. If this is the case, it may mean that “underachievement” is mislabelling sensible choices.

I can’t remember which Scandinavian village it was where the girls almost all went onto HE and most of the boys didn’t. It had nothing to do with nebulous ideas of “underachievement” but simply that there was a lot of very well paid manual work (fishing I think) for boys in the town, and almost nothing for girls.

42

Delicious pundit 07.19.06 at 10:27 am

I enjoyed this post so much on my RSS feed, I was sure Belle Waring had written it.

Can we at least agree that male and female brains, whatever their differences, are both delicious?

43

a 07.19.06 at 12:09 pm

Why are people making so many generalizations based on what happens in the US (and, to a lesser extent, the UK) about Women and Men. They do exist in other countries, or so I’ve heard.

What happens in Scandinavia? Sweden and Norway strike me as a good control as to whether this is just cultural.

44

erin 07.19.06 at 12:10 pm

Peer pressure to not excel academically is not gender-specific. A girl who gets good grades and isn’t attractive or athletic is as much of a target (though the bullying won’t be as physical) as a boy.
While we’re throwing alternate hypotheses against the wall, how about this one: until recently, girls were at a huge disadvantage in terms of educational opportunity. They had to work harder than boys just to keep up – not because of any natural predilection or aptitude, but to overcome the societal obstacles – and while the obstacles have recently shrunk, the attitude hasn’t caught up; so girls work harder.

45

CalDem 07.19.06 at 1:28 pm

Its pretty clear that Boys mature more slowly than girls on average. All of us in education have seen it. The educational system with its increasingly early judgement of potential hurts students who mature slowly, boy or girl. It just happens to hurst boys more becuase they get up to speed slower on average. A system that allowed kids to move a bit slower and have a more gradual transition to college would work much better. Really, many of the 1st and 2nd year men I get in college courses jst need a couple of years maturity and then they would be fine.

46

Hogan 07.19.06 at 2:57 pm

I mean, I keep getting the impression that the male mentality puts more emphasis on exploration, and the female mentality on instruction. Boys would rather go out and find out something new, and girls are more likely to sit and listen to what the teacher is saying.

And it’s only in the last twenty years or so that elementary and secondary schools in the US started using instruction rather than exploration as their primary method?

To the extent that the basis for all this is that fewer men are starting and completing college, it might be useful to keep in mind that both starting and completing college are largely voluntary activities. Lacking any evidence that this is a condition being forced on boys/young men, maybe the question is why they find it less necessary than women to get a collge degree. I can think of lots of non-biological reasons for that.

47

Jacob Christensen 07.19.06 at 6:43 pm

@43: With regard to education this discussion is well-known in Scandinavia as well.

48

Dan Simon 07.19.06 at 7:40 pm

There ought to be a special hell for people who politicise educational methods.

It’s another front on the War on Science, really.

Phonics is the silliest, most overblown controversy of all, an ideological fossil like antifluoridation, and it was charmingly quaint to see it ressurected here.

Wow, I had no idea what kind of hornets’ nest I was stepping into. I’d actually assumed that “whole language” had long been widely discredited–at least as a primary method for teaching reading–and am frankly surprised to hear that it still has its defenders. (I don’t know anything about the question of whether it’s useful as a supplement to phonic approaches, but if there’s strong evidence to that effect, then I’m happy to hear it.)

As for “politicizing educational methods”, I’m with Diane Ravitch on that one–the divide is between those who view education as intellectual development, and those who view it primarily as character-building, self-invention, moral development, or something else entirely. This divide has crossed most partisan boundaries, at one time or another. (“Sesame Street”, for example, was a phonics-laden left-wing rebellion against the conservative Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood-style of “educational television”–essentially, values-laden babysitting for comfortable middle-class children–that dominated the airwaves at the time.)

In any event, perhaps someone here might be willing to take time out from launching into highly political attacks on us proponents of phonics and our supposed tendency to “politicise educational methods”, and address my original query, which I’ll helpfully recast in more methodologically neutral terms: has there been any investigation of whether the trend in the gap between boys and girls in reading scores in various populations correlates at all, in one direction or the other, with the trend in overall reading scores? If my guess is correct, and the lower the overall achievement, the bigger the gap, then I’ll surmise that (1) the gap is primarily a result of girls’ linguistic advantage over boys; and (2) it’s exacerbated by poor reading education, which tends to disadvantage the linguistically un-gifted (disproportionately boys) more than the linguistically gifted (disproportionately girls).

I might add that the analogous question could be asked about mathematics scores. My impression of the “truth about boys and girls” study, based on media accounts, is that it indicates that (1) progress in mathematics proficiency over the period studied has been poor, compared with, say, reading education; and (2) the gap favoring boys over girls in math has in fact widened slightly. The phrase, “you do the math”, comes to mind…

Of course, my understanding of the math data may be way off, as might my guess about the relationship between the reading gap and reading scores. And either way, the debate over the best way to teach reading (or math), though lots of fun, is obviously somewhat off-topic here.

49

cw 07.19.06 at 8:22 pm

dan simon:

I’m in ed school and from what I can tell from the research I’ve seen, systematic, explicit phonics instruction (the kind the gov now recommends) has a very slightly better success rate than other instruction methods. Not at all big enough to effect much of anything. And systematic and explicit phonics instruction mainly improves the reading scores of poor kids, who get exposed to much less reading material and languge in thier pre-k years than middle-class kids. THis means they don’t develop as much phonemic awarness; an understanding of the various sounds that our language is made up of.

Actually, almost any reading instruction method will work fine with a good teacher, positive environment, and adaquate student/teacher ratios, as anyone who learned to read in the sixties in the US can attest to.

And, I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but phonics instruction, along with english immersion and vouchers and charter schools, is very closely tied to conservative politics. I’m not sure exactly why. I think maybe the conservative temperment is attracted to the concretness of phonics instruction. It’s comonsensical and simple to understand. Plus it is teacher led. The authority of the power structure is maintained, something conservatives like.

50

Megami 07.19.06 at 8:25 pm

Can I just add my agreement to #44. I was mercilessly bullied at school because a) I read by choice, rather than only what we had to b) I was smart and c) I was not good at athletics. And I am a girl.It was only once I starting learning music in highschool and got in with ‘the musicians’ that I was considered anything other than a social reject. And once I realised that was a possibility, I concentrated less on my studies, my behaviour in class was worse etc. etc. It is not just a male thing.

51

Don Quijote 07.20.06 at 6:52 am

And, I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but phonics instruction, along with english immersion and vouchers and charter schools, is very closely tied to conservative politics. I’m not sure exactly why.

A nice solid dependable hatred of Unions?

52

John Emerson 07.20.06 at 8:11 am

Well, my point is that whole-language teaching has been around since 1952 or before (I doubt that my rural Minnesota district was pioneering it), and has been under attack by conservatives ever since then, while the educational collapses people talk, if they took place at all, about took place during the 70s and 80s. The cause and effect relationship sounds hard to prove.

It’s always like that. If someone gets alarmed in 1970 by, lets say, rising crime rates and wires rising crime rates into his ideology, he’ll still be worrying about rising crime rates in 2006, regardless of whether rates are falling, rising, or stable.

It’s like the medieval Christians waiting for Prester John to come from the East and save them from the Saracens: at the end of a century they were still waiting for their 130-year-old savior.

53

Steve LaBonne 07.20.06 at 8:55 am

cw, so what’s your point? You don’t think improving the reading skills of poor kids is important? You don’t think phonemic awareness needs to be taught to kids who didn’t grow up in an environment in which they absorbed it naturally? If this is representative of the current attitude in the ed schools, no wonder so little progress has been made in educating poor kids…

54

cw 07.20.06 at 10:27 am

Steve. Come on now, buddy. Did I say any of those things?

55

Steve LaBonne 07.20.06 at 10:31 am

Your dismissive tone certainly seemed to imply them. If I misjudged, I’m very glad.

56

harry b 07.20.06 at 1:45 pm

hey, can we not turn to the phonics debate? I should have squashed it in the first place. Its funny dan, but I read cian’s response to you as a kind of friendly amendement; there’s heavy politicisation on both sides of the phonics debates (if you’re in or near an ed school you can’t fail to be aware of that), which ought by rights to be a rather technical/empirical debate. I do not think there is the same level of polticisation of the debate in other countries, including other english-speaking countries (the more phonetic the language being taught, the less of an issue phonics/whole language is).
Bugger, I seem to be contributing to the hijacking of the thread. I’ll post on it again later.

57

Functional 07.20.06 at 4:36 pm

A girl who gets good grades and isn’t attractive or athletic is as much of a target (though the bullying won’t be as physical) as a boy.

That’s actually not true. [http://www.educationnext.org/20061/52.html]: “The social costs of a high GPA are most pronounced for adolescent males. Popularity begins to decrease at lower GPAs for young black men than young black women (3.25 GPA compared with a 3.5), and the rate at which males lose friends after this point is far greater. As a result, black male high achievers have notably fewer friends than do female ones.”

Also, since some of the politicized defenders of “whole language” have shown up: The National Reading Panel issued a report in 2000. [http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/nrp/report.htm] After performing a meta-analysis of several dozen studies, the panel concluded, among other things:

“Phonics instruction produced substantial reading growth among younger children at risk of developing future reading problems. . . . Students taught phonics systematically outperformed students who were taught a variety of nonsystematic or non-phonics programs, including basal programs, whole language approaches, and whole-word programs.”

It’s just common sense that ignoring phonics is as silly as trying to teach long division without the students having learned how to count to 10. If you don’t know the most basic components of math — i.e., how to identify numbers — you’re at a huge disadvantage, just as a student who doesn’t learn what sound “th” makes is going to have a hard time reading at a high level. Tying into the point made above, if you ignore the basic components of reading or math, sure, there are going to be some smart students who figure it out on their own, or who learned the basics at home. But there are going to be substantial numbers of kids who are left behind.

By the way: some people apparently think that teaching “phonics” means that kids simply do worksheets on diphthongs all day long and never read actual texts. That’s a complete straw man; no such program exists.

58

John Emerson 07.20.06 at 6:23 pm

The phonics argument has been driven by politicized pro-phonics people for 50 years or more. They were usually the same as the anti-fluoridation people — the phonics militants had a lot of agendas besides phonics.

If I’m not mistaken, by now most systems use mixed programs with some phonics — that’s what I would advocate, anyway. But Simon was using a change which occurred in the Fifties to explain problems that began in the Seventies or later.

59

cw 07.20.06 at 9:51 pm

functional:

If you really look at the National Reading Panel’s (the Governement) full report I believe you will see that the differences are not especially significant, especially when corrected for economics, certainly not enough to somehow efffect boy’s progress thirty years later, as Dan was wondering.

And your third paragraph about “common sense” contains a few errors. Almost no program excluded phonics, they just taught phonics in a non-systematic and or non-explicit way. And reading is much much more than decoding (sounding out with phonics). PEople use all kinds of strategies to figure out what words are. Context, orthography, syntax, memory, other’s I can’t remember. And as we get older we don’t use phonics at all. We recognize whole words instantly. In other words, use a whole language approach.

And the fact is that while reading programs have changed over the years, the vast majority of kids learned to read no matter what system they were taught with, as long as they had a good teacher and enough resources. You yourself were most likely not taught with systematic, explicit phonics, as it is a recent thing.

My point is that teaching kids to read is NOT commonsensical, and the field is actually very complicated and there is all kinds of research to take in. The layman most likely is not going to have a good enough understanding of the subject to make accurate comments.

Your comment, for instance: “By the way: some people apparently think that teaching “phonics” means that kids simply do worksheets on diphthongs all day long and never read actual texts. That’s a complete straw man; no such program exists.”

This is not a straw man at all. The program you describe is called Direct Instruction and it is very popular, in conservative districts especially. It works, but the point is that it is over-kill for %90 of the kids and it takes all the meaning and fun out of reading.

60

cw 07.20.06 at 10:26 pm

I should say that I am not against teaching systematic, explicit phonics as part of a reading program (a reading program which also includes the features of a whole language approach). I am against the politicization of educational techniques by the uninformed. (I am moderately informed because I am in ed school and my wife works for a reading ciriculumm developer). If people really reasearched the history of begining reading instruction in this country they would see that for the most part it was a balance of whole word and phonics approaches, with a lunatic fringe on either side. They would also see that the socio-economic background of the student combined with the quality of the teacher and the amount of resources available to the student, have a much greater effect on the student’s outcome, than do the style of instruction.

61

Functional 07.20.06 at 10:43 pm

Yes, I agree with using both — as long as kids (esp. poor minorities who often don’t have as much background reading at home) get lots of training to make sure that they know how to decode letters, etc.

But this isn’t quite right:

Almost no program excluded phonics, they just taught phonics in a non-systematic and or non-explicit way. And reading is much much more than decoding (sounding out with phonics). PEople use all kinds of strategies to figure out what words are. Context, orthography, syntax, memory, other’s I can’t remember. And as we get older we don’t use phonics at all. We recognize whole words instantly. In other words, use a whole language approach.

Yes, yes, yes: After you’ve been reading for a long time, it’s all automatic. Just as if you’re familiar with math, you don’t have to count out 7 + 9 on your fingers. But asking a brand-new reader to jump into whole language reading is as stupid as asking a 6-year-old to do long division before he even understands what 1 is, what 2 is, what the = sign is, and so forth.

And this isn’t right either:

This is not a straw man at all. The program you describe is called Direct Instruction and it is very popular, in conservative districts especially.

In Direct Instruction, kids do worksheets on diphthongs, etc., all day long, and never read texts? Says who? Can you provide a link to a DI text that in any way resembles what you’re saying? Read this before you go off on a wild goose chase.

62

cw 07.20.06 at 11:42 pm

I’ve seen the books, I have been given a demonstration of a lesson. One of my cohort is a teacher’s aid who does direct instruction in New Glarus, WI. The kids sit in small groups and the teacher reads a script. They go through various exercises, I believe it is always the same exercises for each word part, then they do some works sheets. It is all strictly phonics. There are no pictures or stories, no literature. Becasue they write the letters in special ways to signal certain sounds, it doesn’t even look like english. I believe it takes about 40 minutes a day. I can’t remember the exact time. You can read books outside of the instruction, but there is no literature in the instruction itself, as far as I can tell. Not in kindergarten or first grade.

I believe it was created to help children who were at risk (of not learning to read ebcasue of socio-economic factors) or who have shown some kind of deficit and need intervention. Now, there are plenty of places that use it on everyone.

I think the program I saw was by a company called Direct Instruction, but it is also a generic term for a teaching method that people apply to all kinds of subjects. Basically, the teacher has a script, works with small groups, the subject is broken down into very small pieces and students are instructed on these pieces until they “achieve mastery.” Then they move on to the next piece.

I’m sure you can find plenty of websites promoting direct instruction. As I said, it is popular, especially in the south, in rural districts and in poor urban settings. Conservatives like it becasue it authoritarian. It is completely teacher-controled. There is absolutly no room for the kids to make any discoveries on their own. Urban schools like it because it is authoritarian and becasue it DOES meet the needs of some poor kids without much exposure to literacy in their homes.

You can also find plenty of websites against it, I’m sure. I’m not against it as a remedial tool for some kids, but it is a ridiculous, boring, and unecessarily anal method for instruction most kids.

63

aaron 07.21.06 at 2:46 am

I think what is really motivating the concern is not some idea of fairness. What is really driving this is that important characterisics and ideas are being sidelined and even driven out of our culture. There is too much emphasis on conformity, no value is placed on risk taking or agressiveness (it’s even discouraged), and slow and steady is emphasised.

We are loosing what many believe are the key traits that will ensure that we don’t become a third world country in the global economy.

64

Cian 07.21.06 at 7:35 am

Dan: Harry in #57 interpreted my response correctly. I get irritated by debates which should be informed by the research, ignore it in favour of simplistic black and white arguments. Its not a question of phonics good/bad, whole-language good/bad. Rather there are techniques which are useful for some kids (at certain points of development), and not useful for other kids.

My other irritation is that these debates always ignore the most important question “what is this skill for?”. Because the success of different techniques also depends on what you want the outcome to be. If you’re focused on the basic skill (can this child read this text), then some techniques will appear more successful than if you’re focused on whether children read for fun, or with skill (do they understand this text, how much do they read?). And this tends to be true of most debates on education. If you haven’t made your goal explicit, how can you ask questions about technique in any meaningful fashion.

65

Hogan 07.21.06 at 9:00 am

There is too much emphasis on conformity, no value is placed on risk taking or agressiveness (it’s even discouraged), and slow and steady is emphasised.

Again, is this something that suddenly appeared in elementary and secondary schools in the last twenty years? When did we have schools where boys were encouraged to run around and “explore” on their own?

Is this really an effort to find out what’s causing boys’ achievement to increase at a slower rate? Or is it just using the slower rate as a stick with which to beat on whatever people don’t like about elementary/secondary schooling (or the culture at large)?

66

Functional 07.21.06 at 10:10 am

Conservatives like it becasue it authoritarian. It is completely teacher-controled.

No, conservatives like it because the evidence shows that techniques like this WORK for getting 5-year-olds to start being able to read. Why liberals don’t like teaching kids to read, I don’t know. The only thing that I can figure out is that too many adults have forgotten what it was like to be a child, and have been deluded into favoring their own preferences over actual results. I mean, read the quotations compiled here — most of which are self-evidently idiotic. No one would say that children are just going to learn swimming or driving on their own, without explicit and direct instruction in all of the basics of each activity.

67

cw 07.21.06 at 11:16 am

(non)funcutional:

You don’t have enough knowledge of the subject. I’m not saying this as some kind of rhetorical response; you literally don’t know what you are talking about. I’m sure you’re not going to believe me, but that is the ugly truth here.

68

Functional 07.21.06 at 12:26 pm

Anybody can write that sort of response. CW, you have literally no idea what you’re talking about. There now, we’ve settled that.

Or have we? Perhaps you’d like to provide some links to actual studies/data showing the effectiveness of reading programs that decline to teach kids the two sounds that “th” can make, but lets them figure it out (if ever) on their own. I’m waiting . . . .

And it’s rich to be accused of ignorance by someone who can write something as silly as this:

Almost no program excluded phonics, they just taught phonics in a non-systematic and or non-explicit way.

Define “non-explicit” teaching. What does that even mean? And how well do kids learn something that is “non-explicitly” taught? Data please.

And reading is much much more than decoding (sounding out with phonics). PEople use all kinds of strategies to figure out what words are. Context, orthography, syntax, memory, other’s I can’t remember.

Reading is more than decoding, but the error of “whole language” ideologues is in supposing that you can ditch decoding altogether. Just as driving is more than learning what all the types of traffic signs mean, but that doesn’t mean that a kid is likely to become a good driver if you just throw him on the road and expect him to figure out from “context” the difference between a 4-way stop and a 2-way stop. (Again, what a mercy it is that whole language advocates haven’t managed to get their idiotic ideas adopted in any other area of instruction.)

“Context” — what a silly idea. Yes, advanced readers may be able to use the “context” to figure out an unfamiliar word. But beginning readers? Nonsense. What whole language advocates are suggesting — if you put it in concrete terms — is that kids who don’t know how to recognize the letter “A” or the sound that it makes, are magically able to read the word “apple” merely by seeing the context (as in a sentence, “Jack fell out of an apple tree.”). If that belief isn’t self-evidently stupid, I don’t know what is.

69

anon 07.21.06 at 5:33 pm

‘Conservatives like it becasue it authoritarian. It is completely teacher-controled.’

This equation of anti-teacher with anti-authoritarian and anti-conservativism is nonsense. Today’s children are deeply, instinctively, reactionary, and adults are the last bastion of progressive thinking against a wave of student-consumers.

70

cw 07.21.06 at 10:56 pm

Do you have any education in this field? Have you read any reading textbooks? Have you spent time observing in kindergarten? Are you a teacher? Do you have a small child?

I think all you have is what you consider your common sense and the internet. You are just exactly the phenomena that I am so tired of. Someone who knows nothing about teaching reading who yet insists that a certain method is better because it’s the party line or because it resonates psychologically.

I will say it again. You don’t know what you are talking about. Take it for what it’s worth.

71

Functional 07.21.06 at 11:31 pm

What it’s worth: Zero, coming from someone who can’t produce one shred of evidence or reasoning to think that “whole language” — as put forth by people who would throw out phonics — is defensible at all.

72

Cian O'Connor 07.22.06 at 10:58 am

“What whole language advocates are suggesting—if you put it in concrete terms—is that kids who don’t know how to recognize the letter “A” or the sound that it makes, are magically able to read the word “apple” merely by seeing the context (as in a sentence, “Jack fell out of an apple tree.”)”

You’ve created a strawman version of whole language teaching (you’d have to search pretty hard to find someone who would advocate not teaching the sounds of the letters, or teaching kids some of the basic words. I’m sure they exist somewhere, but they’d be a tiny minority). I can see why CW finds you tiresome. And by the way, teaching kids to recognise the letter A would be a non-explicit and (typically) non-systematic form of phonics teaching. However it is not what is typically meant by teaching kids using ‘phonics’.

73

Functional 07.22.06 at 12:21 pm

I’d have to search “pretty hard”? No, I’d just have to click on the link that I myself provided above. Here it is again.

Sample quotes from whole-language advocates:

“Children can develop and use an intuitive knowledge of letter-sound correspondences [without] any phonics instruction [or] without deliberate instruction from adults.”

“Matching letters with sounds is a flat-earth view of the world, one that rejects modern science about reading.”

“To the fluent reader the alphabetic principle is completely irrelevant. He identifies every word (if he identifies words at all) as an ideogram.”

“The first alternative and preference is – to skip over the puzzling word. The second alternative is to guess what the unknown word might be. And the final and least preferred alternative is to sound the word out. Phonics, in other words, comes last.”

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Functional 07.22.06 at 2:13 pm

By the way, this sentence doesn’t even compute:

And by the way, teaching kids to recognise the letter A would be a non-explicit and (typically) non-systematic form of phonics teaching.

Non-explicit? How on earth do you feel that “non-explicit” is the appropriate term to describe someone who is teaching the letter “A”? What’s non-explicit about it? Does the teacher teach about the letter “A” while never explicitly mentioning the letter? That would be quite a feat. How does that happen?

This is why I don’t take whole language advocates seriously. They don’t seem to know the meaning of simple prefixes like “non.”

75

mythago 07.23.06 at 9:44 am

Having good grades does not make you popular if you’re a boy

They don’t make you popular if you’re a girl, either. Do you think “nerd” and “egghead” are gender-specific insults?

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