In the 1974 classic movie Chinatown, there's a mind-searing scene in which Jack Nicholson smacks Faye Dunaway's face repeatedly from side to side, like a human ping-pong ball. In so doing, Nicholson persuades Dunaway to reveal the scandalous truth about a young, enigmatic character-a truth that Dunaway's been hiding: "She's my sister . . . she's my daughter . . . She's my sister and my daughter! . . . My father and I . . . understand?"
Sometimes, as an observer of Washington politics, I, too, feel like a human ping-pong ball. Most recently, in conjunction with the "boy wars," the debate over whether American boys are in trouble or whether conservatives are just hyping normal coming-of-age problems to counter all the gains liberals have won for girls.
Conservative author Christina Hoff Summers launched the counteroffensive some years ago with the publication of her book The War Against Boys. But the theme, that boys are losing ground in verbal skills, in academic achievement, and even in lowered college attendance has won a new round of coverage recently in magazines, a PBS documentary, online, and in a seemingly unending series of press releases and newspaper articles.
Two researchers fired back in the Washington Post this weekend with an article entitled "The Myth of 'The Boy Crisis.' " In it, authors Caryl Rivers (Boston University journalism professor) and Rosalind Chait Barnett (senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University) claim the boy crisis was concocted by conservatives lashing back at women's gains and media outlets hungry for hype. They say a closer look at the data shows that white, suburban boys (the boys around whom the latest group of Boy Warriors has circled) are doing just fine, thank you. They cite Urban Institute data showing that "76 percent of students who live in middle- to higher-income areas are likely to graduate from high school, while only 56 percent of students who live in lower-income areas are likely to do so. Among whites in Boston public schools, for every 100 males who graduate, 104 females do. A tiny gap."
They admit there is a crisis among low-income boys and boys of color. But they make the case that race and class trump gender every time as predictors of academic achievement. Lastly, they claim Boy Warriors' real goal-to separate girls and boys into same-sex classes (and by inference, ultimately turn back gains made by girls these past few decades) is one that takes the focus off the real problem: a deficit of quality public school teachers.