What is going on? Schools are not paying enough attention to the education of males. There's too little focus on the cognitive areas in which boys do well. Boys have more disciplinary problems, up to 10 percent are medicated for Attention Deficit Disorder, and they thrive less in a school environment that prizes what Brian A. Jacob of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government calls "noncognitive skills." These include the ability to pay attention in class, to work with others, to organize and keep track of homework, and to seek help from others. Where boys and girls score comparably on cognitive skills, boys get worse grades in the touchy-feely stuff. Perhaps not coincidentally, boys reportedly enjoy school less than girls do, and are less likely to perceive that their teachers support them, according to studies of Hispanic dropouts.Let me tie this to my usual point that whatever is discovered to be true of the female is portrayed as superior. Here, we see characteristics discovered in the male portrayed as a deficiency in "noncognitive skills." But isn't this because the scientists are defining "noncognitive skills" to fit what they find to be true of girls? Once could just as well spin what the boys seem to have as "noncognitive skill." You can easily translate Jacob's diagnosis into a positive one for the boys: Boys have wide-ranging, active interests and the capacity to deftly shift from one area of interest to the next. They resist becoming bogged down in details and meaningless exercises and hold fast to their independence. They are not subservient and are straightforward in their criticisms of authority figures. But then the girls might come out deficient. And, of course, designing a classroom to suit these skills would be much more difficult.
Harvard's Jacob is one of the few scholars to have studied the gender gap in higher education. His statistical analysis suggests it is boys' lack of skill in these noncognitive areas that is the principal cause of the gap.
UPDATE: Slate links to this post and ridiculously garbles my meaning!