Monday, July 30, 2007

Demystifying the Myth About Boys

American newspapers, facing severe financial pressures from the steady loss of circulation (at least in print) and classified ads (historically a license to print money, and the real underpinnings of their financial health), have been going on a tear recently, lopping off heads by offering buyouts to editorial staffers. I wrote about the situation at the local Plain Dealer here, but it's been happening everywhere, even at the vaunted Washington Post. One of the dangers of this strategy is that you can often lose not the weaker performers you would hope to take the buyouts, but instead your star reporters, the very people you need to keep on board in order to retain reader loyalty. They can grow discouraged by the loss of their friends from the newsroom, and by the unmistakeable signal that their news organizations are now places of lesser ambition.

That's apparently what happened to the Post's onetime star David Von Drehle, who jumped to Time Magazine not long ago. Because he's produced so much fine stuff over the years--including this stupendously well-reported and well-written piece on a couple of bloggers from opposite sides of the political spectrum--I've been watching for his byline. Sure enough, in what may be his first major piece for the magazine, he turns out this superb exploration on an important subject, at least in my house: the extent to which reports about boys' lagging emotional and academic progress are true. The reporting and thinking that went into it is first rate, as is all his work.

The addition of this guy to its fold almost--almost--makes me forgive Time for three earlier terrible personnel decisions and one catastrophic strategic error: the addition of Anna Marie Cox (the obnoxious, journalism-challenged former voice behind as a Washington editor and know-nothing party chair William Kristol as a columnist, and the dismissal of the crack investigations team of Bartlett & Steele (thankfully, the latter were picked up by Vanity Fair). And what was the catastrophic decision, you ask? Time Warner brass' appalling decision to turn over reporter Matt Cooper's notes to the prosecutor in the Valerie Plame investigation. Norman Pearlstein has written a book in the hopes of shouting out the stain on his reputation for that one, but it'll be to no avail. He's now out of journalism, running a private equity firm, where he belongs. Good riddance, I say.


At 9:10 PM, Blogger redhorse said...

I dropped Time when they compelled Cooper to hand over his notes. Not that it matters much, but since then I've picked up just one copy at the news stand.

At 9:43 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

It does matter cumulatively, insofar as there were many others similarly turned off by the decision, as I'm quite sure there were. And like you, they no doubt acted on it. Thanks for adding your take on this.

At 4:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you can say " it was a superb exploration". After quoting many statistics showing that boys need help, chose to say it’s a myth.

The fact that boys have gone from being the majority of incoming students in college to being outnumbered by girls 4 to 3 is a huge red flag. So, reguardless of the “feel-good” points that are made, the statistics show that boys have suffered which is at odds with both the title and conclusion of the article.

It would be one thing if the assault on boys educational opportunities had stopped. But, just 2 weeks ago, I was listening to “All things considered” on NPR and Noah Adams had 2 female guests on who repeated the often-quoted wisdom that has been the ralying cry for pushing girls to the forefront in educational opportunities (girls do better in all-girl classes, boys and girls put smart girls down, etc…). This ralying cry has had an impact - 33% more girls get into college than boys. Education transates into opportunity and income.

No-one wants to say that the gains of girls have been at the expense of boys, but to say there’s not a problem is beyond disingenuous.

The title should have been “Enough! It’s time to give boys equal opportunities.”

At 4:16 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The piece I linked to is worth reading on its own, because it's complicated and full of many shades of gray. So reducing its main point to a phrase or even an entire sentence is by definition going to be misleading. I hear your point, and don't completely disagree with it.

All I can say is that as the father of two sons and no daughters, I have every personal stake possible in this subject, and happened to find this piece to be a smart exploration of all the trends and the complicated statistics. As always, it depends whether one wants to focus on the glass half full or half empty. Your choice.

At 10:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point is not whether the glass is half full or half empty – it’s that a battle of sorts has been waged against boys (let’s take the high road and assume that it was part of the effort to bring girls into parity with boys). It’s a battle for money, resources and time and it’s going on in many areas, but particularly in schools. If the battle were over, then you might go so far as to say “OK, maybe we’ve gone too far and actually pushed girls at the expense of boys, but now we’re done and let’s drop it.”

The problem is battle continues because no-one is saying “Stop!” In fact just 2 weeks ago on “All things considered” (on NPR) Noah Adams had 2 female guests on who repeated the often-quoted wisdom that has been the unofficial rallying cry for the battle (“girls do better in all-girl classes”, “boys and girls put smart girls down”, etc…). As usual, Noah Adams did nothing - no attempt question their motives, or to point out that boys have been loosing ground to girls for the past 10 years, nothing.

Yet as the authors statistics show, the battle has had an impact – where it used to be that more boys went to college than girls, the tables have now turned and 33% more girls get into college than boys. And while we’ve all heard of the few lucky ones who’ve “made it anyway” - even thought they did poorly in school, that isn’t really the point is it? The issue is with all of those unfortunate boys who should have had the opportunity to go to college, didn’t and are worse off as a result. Education translates into opportunity and income.

That’s why it’s the wrong time to be calling it a “Myth” or implying that we should ignore it. It’s why I suggested the author should have said:

“Enough! It’s time to give boys equal opportunities.”

‘Course as you point out, I’m also going to do everything in my power to ensure my 2 sons also succeed anyway. But there’s no reason to make it any harder or accept that the cards should be stacked against them.


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