Richard Whitmire Investigates Why Boys Fail

The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven’t.

That quote pretty much sums up the “why” of Richard Whitmire’s new book, Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons From an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind (AMACOM, January 2010, $24.95 retail). Of course, the book is about much more than that: Whitmire first makes the case that boys are falling behind in schools, then tries to examine the reasons for the performance gaps, the areas in which boys are falling behind the most, and potential solutions to the problem.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I know this is a touchy subject, with all sorts of political and personal agendas tied to it, and it’s certainly not a simple problem with a simple solution. Years ago, I remember hearing in the news that schools are biased against girls. It was counterintuitive—predominantly female teachers showed biases towards boys?—but with the way our society often confers advantages to men, I didn’t really question it. Plus, I was out of college, didn’t have kids myself, so the whole thing seemed less relevant at the time. Whitmire, formerly a writer for USA Today, admits that he reported on the story uncritically as well, and it wasn’t until the years following that he discovered that boys are falling behind girls at significant rates, and it’s gotten worse in recent years. Now, I have two daughters just entering school, and when I first read about Why Boys Fail in BookPage, I was very curious: is it true? And if so, then what?

The evidence that Whitmire cites repeatedly through the book is pretty compelling:

  • boys have lower grade-point averages than girls
  • more girls earn academic honors, even in traditionally boy-dominated fields like math and science
  • more boys repeat grades, drop out, get expelled, or have disciplinary issues
  • more girls are graduating high school
  • more girls are entering college
  • of those who do enter college, girls are more likely to graduate within six years
  • women are earning more higher education degrees
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