Hoff Sommers’s ‘Times’ Article Misses the Mark—Again


I was probably sitting in one of my brother’s boring school ceremonies when I noticed it. I wasn’t much more than 8 at the time, but I leaned over and asked, “Mom, why are most of the people getting awards girls?”

This was at least 16 years ago, mind you, that I realized the thing that Christina Hoff Sommers Time Ideas article (and the book it is promoting) finds empirical data to support: girls are better at school than boys.

First of all, I seriously doubt this is a new trend; succeeding in school requires sitting and being quiet for large spans of time. This is something that women have been trained to do in our culture for a while. I’m pretty sure we have it down by now.

But alas, Christina Hoff Sommers says, boys are not succeeding in school at the same rates that girls are. This is surely due to the decrease in recess, the increase of so-called “zero-tolerance” policies, and the fact that boys now play “tug of peace” instead of “tug of war.” Boys are naturally rambunctious. They need time to expend that energy, and they need special resources to channel that energy.

Except, wait. Once they leave school, things seem to get much better. Men have the most top CEO positions, hold the most government seats, and, at best, earn on average 3% more on every paycheck than do women, where in some fields its even worse. If school is supposed to be the precursor of a successful career, as is the implication of Sommers’s piece, you would expect women to be outperforming men in careers. But they aren’t.

The logic does not follow here. It cannot be the case that school is a necessary component of success when boys are failing so badly at school yet come out on top in almost every economic indicator that matters.

What is actually happening here is more disturbing than Sommers would like to think. The school system isn’t failing boys. It’s failing everyone, but not how you’d expect.

If Professor Steve Davies of the Institute for Humane Studies is to be believed, the modern school system is not really about education or success at all, but it is a system designed to produce submissive, loyal, obedient workers and soldiers. Loyal. Submissive. Obedient. Sound familiar? It sounds like the explicit and implicit ideas of what women should be like.

And, there, we have the exact reason why girls are better than boys at school. It’s not because the school system is biased against boys. It’s because we are so good at programming our children, that by the time they get to school age, girls are already conditioned to submit while boys are taught to stand out.

The real factors of success are what boys heading into school already know: take risks, be confident, take charge, innovate. We teach this to boys before they reach pre-school to the point that they do it by instinct, but we fail to teach it to girls for so long that we devote after college seminars to the subject. Women then spend the rest of their lives trying to master the subject.

Just because girls fit well into the school system doesn’t mean it is doing them justice. Our current system is a disservice to all students, but boys get the right lessons elsewhere. What about girls?