Exclusive:The Feminization of American Education – Destroying Western Civilization?
by ROBERT WEISSBERG
October 2, 2009
A sea change has occurred in the education of American women: young girls often academically out-perform boys, are more likely to succeed in college and have flooded once all-male professional schools, notably law and business.
For example, U.S. Census Bureau figures show that while the male and female population is about equal, males comprise some 58 percent of all high school drop-outs. Similarly, the number of females entering college between 1967 and 2000 increased by 20 percent, while the proportion of men declined by 4 percent. The American Council on Education’s statistics revealed that in 2005 women earned 57 percent of all BAs. Among African-Americans in college, females outnumber males by a 2 to 1 ratio, the highest ratio for any racial or ethnic group. In fact, at historically black colleges female graduates out-number males by 10 to 1!
Less visible is how this influx of women has shaped what might be called the “style” of knowledge creation and dissemination, and here the news may be less welcome. To be blunt, burgeoning feminization typically emasculates males and their resulting flight from education is a huge though almost invisible national loss. This is an awkward to discuss phenomenon and statistical evidence sketchy, so explication must be largely anecdotal. Still, the appalling potential consequences of feminization warrant discussion.
Let’s begin by distinguishing two educational “styles” – masculine and feminine – as they might emerge in classrooms, conversations or a meeting. The masculine style (and many women certainly embrace this approach to knowledge) exhibits the following general characteristics.
First, finding the objectively correct answer drives inquiry and that truth exists is axiomatic.
Second, social niceties – being tactful, not interrupting – are subordinate to the quest for truth. Bruised egos, put-downs and the like are just tolerable collateral damage.
Third, forceful give-and-take is not to be viewed personally. The model is the friendly pick-up basketball game – roughness washed away by post-game beers.
Fourth, not all views are equal, demonstrable expertise is central, and some comments are not worth hearing. “You’re ignorant of the facts, so stop talking,” is a legitimate rejoinder in a masculine-style debate.
One can certainly imagine a group of physicists arguing about an experiment – a heated debate, snide rejoinders, claims and counter-claims of special expertise, even some table pounding, all followed by a clear outcome on how to proceed. Then a friendly lunch. This style, obviously, hardly guarantees The Truth but few can deny it has proven remarkably effective in advancing knowledge, especially in technical fields.
Now consider what we shall deem the feminine approach (and certainly many men embrace it).
First, the quest for some hard-edge objective truth, while outwardly affirmed, is subordinated to social etiquette. It is impermissible to cut off speakers, belittle their facts, roll eyes, or otherwise demean participants.
Second, knowledge emerges from consensus building not strong arguments demolishing the weak via sharp confrontations. Masculine discourse is authoritarian; the female version democratically flavored. In the latter one “shares” information (and is always thanked for sharing) while speakers eschew making incisive points to destroy opponents.
Third, arguments must be subdued lest they undermine personal relationships far beyond the immediate agenda. Ongoing friendships cannot be checked at the door so proper diligence must be exercised. While combative men may wash away ill-feeling immediately afterwards, women may use perceived slights to build new long-term alliances while junking old ones.
Finally, the feminine style subordinates time constraints to satisfying social needs. Discussions, no matter how seemingly pointless, may ramble to collective exhaustion. Everybody gets their say. The parallel is shopping – men want to get in, buy and get out as quickly as possible; women see shopping as a total “experience” to be extended, if possible, to socializing with friends,
These two approaches are, admittedly, sketched with a broad brush and hardly limited to immutable biological differences. Nor are we suggesting that one is more universally applicable than the other. It depends on what is to be accomplished.
So, are the two styles just a matter of preference akin to preferring chocolate over vanilla? Hardly. The distinction is immensely important in today’s education from kindergarten to the university, and failure to recognize the differences helps explain the growing male exodus from education. That men will flee this feminist style and the approach’s growing popularity explains why some colleges have even discussed affirmative action programs for males, regardless of race. Its growing popularity also helps explain why urban colleges largely attracting African-Americans are two-thirds or more female. To repeat, the feminine styles, merits aside, emasculates men, pushes them out of the classroom and thus deprives Western Civilization of the very brains and energy that made it all possible.
Cold statistics cannot, however, reveal the odium for those with a “male” mentality forcefully exposed to feminized learning. Consider John, who just enrolled in a small, trendy, female-majority liberal arts college and takes Economics 101 taught by a feminine-thinking instructor. John chooses Econ to learn business and eventually get rich so knowledge is, hopefully, objective and instrumental.
Matters begin badly when he is told that economics is not a science but just one of many alternative ways to view reality, and a “white male” way, to boot. John immediately objects, saying that while economics may be imperfect, it nevertheless offers clear-cut lessons for building a better, more prosperous society. The instructor does not rebut John; instead she asks the other students, one by one, what they think, and John is treated to a gushing parade of heartfelt air-head clichés, many of them having zero to do with economics (e.g., economics can help end world poverty). None are criticized by the teacher and when John jumps in to correct obvious factual errors, he is hushed so “everybody can contribute.”
He is also upset when the instructor informs the class that her role is not to impart knowledge top town but rather help guide students to their own understandings, and no two students may come to have identical understandings (her favored self-descriptor is “knowledge facilitator”). Though a Ph.D. in economics, she makes it clear that she respects everybody’s opinions on economics.
The pattern soon becomes plain. After a week on non-Western primitive barter-driven economies (not in the textbook), the lesson is about market pricing, John boldly asserts that “a price” is merely what buyer and seller agree to in a transaction, just as the thick textbook says. Forty-five minutes of class time is then spent in a rambling BS session about unfair pricing frequently illustrated punctuated with personal anecdotes from shopping or unaffordable AIDS drugs in Africa. A few even insist that consumers should not be forced to make trade-offs on important matters, and the instructor thanks everyone for their contribution. John grows increasingly agitated, repetitively cites the textbook’s value neutral definition of “pricing” and complains that this is all a colossal waste of time. He sarcastically suggests that time would be better spent on more practical topics such as how imperfect pricing offer opportunities for profit-making, profits that could help pay for the sky-high tuition at this small college (but the joke falls flat)..
By semester’s end, John is profoundly unhappy. Experiences in other social sciences are even worse (and forget the Humanities). His well-meaning Econ instruction has even suggested that he seek counseling to help manage his aggressive hostility. Now socially ostracized thanks to his deserved reputation as a wise-ass Mr. Know-it-All, he’s also concluded learning the textbook is pointless since the ill-informed off-the-cuff opinions of classmates count for as much as citing chapter and verse. Despite his technical mastery of the material, his grade is just a “B” (a “lack of respect for others, particularly for those struggling with the material,” said his teacher when John disputed the grade). What has saved his sanity, he believes, is the blogosphere where he now spends countless hours with varied high IQ technoids debating Austrian economics.
After a year of being out of sync, John drops out and increasingly gets his intellectual sustenance on-line where his knack for sharp-tongued rebuke and ability to master technical data are more appreciated. His love of economics continues, however, and with a few like-minded friends is developing a statistical model to exploit glitches in currency trading. The plan is to sell the model to Goldman Sacks and then finance Indie science fiction films and date B-level starlets. And rest assured, his “alma mater “of one year will not get a nickel from his new millions. Let his former classmates who began each sentence about economic policy-making with “I feel…” help restore the college’s decrepit buildings.
Our tale about John might be humorous, even a little exaggerated, but the male exodus from education, whether higher high school drop outs or shunning college altogether, is deadly serious. The loss of human talent is catastrophic enough but even worse, American schools are offering up an approach that is long on feelings and emotions and short on generating real knowledge. By shielding egos and sustaining self-esteem it is destroying western civilization on the installment plan.
This trend has yet to enter the sciences and engineering, but relentless government pressure for “gender equity” may soon alter that. Don’t laugh – one world-class physicist over a decade ago personally told me that his prestigious department was coerced into hiring a woman who took a “feminine” approach to physics! It also has the allure of making teaching hard subjects easy – soliciting everyone’s opinion certainly requires less class preparation than precisely explicating a tough-nut topic. Woe to America when classroom discussion of how to build rockets come to resemble free-wheeling, everybody’s opinion is worth hearing, ruminations on whether Jane Austin’s voice reflected her bourgeois gender identity.
America’s economic competitors undoubtedly love every minute of it.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Robert Weissberg is emeritus professor of political science, University of Illinois-Urbana and currently an adjunct instructor at New York University Department of Politics (graduate). He has written many books, the most recent include The Limits of Civic Activism, Pernicious Tolerance: How teaching to "accept differences" undermines civil society and the forthcoming, Bad Students, Not Bad Schools: How both the Right and the Left have American education wrong (early 2010). Besides writing for professional journals, he has also written for magazines like the Weekly Standard and currently contributes to various blogs.