There’s one sure way to grab headlines in America today: claim that some group is being discriminated against. Recently all the major dailies gave front-page coverage to a report issued by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) charging that schools discriminate against girls.
But the report itself is a prime case of bias.
You see, it’s easy enough to find statistics showing differences among people. But it’s much more difficult to prove that the differences result from discrimination.
Take, for example, the statistics cited in the AAUW report: girls make better grades than boys in school yet score lower on SAT tests; girls do worse in math and science; girls are called on less often in classroom discussions.
Clear examples of bias against girls, says the AAUW.
But even assuming that the numbers are valid, what do they really mean? If girls score lower on tests but make higher grades, is there a bias against girls in testing–or is there a bias against boys in grading?
If girls perform worse in math and science that means boys perform worse in reading and writing. So which group is being discriminated against?
If girls are called on less often, does it mean that teachers favor boys–or that boys have inferior verbal skills and have to be pulled into the discussion more?
The truth is that boys do lag behind in the verbal and fine-motor skills required in the classroom. In fact, the numbers show that girls outdo boys on several counts.
Girls are more likely to succeed in the regular classroom, while boys are much more likely to need remedial education. Girls are more likely to pass each year, while boys are more likely to be held back.
Even with teen-age pregnancies, more girls than boys graduate from high school. More girls than boys go on to college. More girls finish up with a degree.
So what is the AAUW complaining about?
The truth is that the AAUW report is badly behind the times. If you think back to the basal readers used in the 1940s and 50s, many of them were sexist. Little boys were portrayed as courageous and adventuresome; little girls were often pictured as coy and fearful.
But since the 1960s, educational materials have been extensively overhauled. Textbook companies have issued formal guidelines to eliminate sexual stereotyping.
In fact, they’ve done the job so well that today some surveys uncover reverse discrimination. A study of textbooks for the U.S. Department of Education could find no images of women in traditional roles like mother or teacher. All women were shown driving dump trucks or sporting brief cases.
Today’s history books overstress the contributions of women
to the point where, in one survey, more students could identify Harriet Tubman than Winston Churchill. More students were familiar with the World War II influx of women into the work force than with the Great Depression.
Contrary to the AAUW report, schools aren’t a hotbed of discrimination begging to be corrected.
Going around trying to smoke out discrimination may just be a convenient way to avoid the real problem: not that girls are doing poorly but that all our students are doing poorly compared with the other industrial countries.
That’s the real scandal of American education.