Regular reader Frederick often likes to send me “grist for the mill”, as it were, and last week sent me this Telegraph article: White working-class boys becoming an underclass. In one of those periodic reminders that the UK and America are very different indeed, the paper reports:
White teenagers are less likely to go to university than school-leavers from other ethnic groups – even with the same A-level results, according to official figures.
The gap is widest among male teenagers from poor backgrounds, raising fresh fears that working class boys are becoming the education “underclass” in England.
According to a Government report, just over one-in-20 white boys from poor homes goes on to university.
This compares to 66 per cent of Indian girls and 65 per cent of young women from Chinese families.
The full report is here, in a PDF file.
The causes of “male under-achievement” are many and complex, and this study does not concern itself much with them. But it does seem clear that whatever the matrix of influences that lead young men to underperform their female peers, feminism is unlikely to be one of them. The study notes that even among recent immigrant groups in Britain, groups in which it can be safely assumed that the Western model of liberal feminism has not yet been fully accepted, girls outperform boys:
Overall, 58 per cent of men from Indian backgrounds and 66 per cent of women go on to university. Among Chinese families, 60 per cent of boys and 65 per cent of women go to university.
Anti-feminist voices, under the guise of concern about the well-being of young men, suggest that contemporary pedagogy doesn’t meet the needs of boys, who aren’t suited to long periods of concentration. The underlying racism of that charge becomes apparent very quickly when one looks at the much-stronger performance of boys from, say, Indian or Chinese descent. For a very long time, white European men have questioned the masculinity of Asian men, seeing the latter as somehow more effeminate. When we posit the ability to concentrate and “do school well” as essentially a feminine trait, then bigotry and anti-feminism collude to explain why so many East and Southeast Asian lads are doing so much better than their white male counterparts. The implication is that Chinese and Indian males are “more like girls” than “real” (white) boys.
I do think we see a performance gap between boys and girls in many places in the Western world. Much of that gap is attributable, I think, to a kind of masculine anti-intellectualism that has developed in response to the relatively recent success of young women in school. In both British and American society we define masculinity as, first and foremost, the absence of feminine characteristics. “No sissy stuff” is the first rule of Western manhood. As long as girls were systematically excluded from education, boys showed great aptitude for intellectually rigorous activity. Once girls began to be admitted to the same schools as boys, and began to demostrate the same intellectual abilities, the life of the mind lost its exclusive masculine cachet.
Boys can sit still. Look at any group of young Marines on the parade ground; paying attention is something well within the range of masculine capabilities. “Boys can’t concentrate as well as girls” needs to go the way of “girls can’t understand science as well as boys”, discarded as a vile myth that shortchanges the full range of human potential with which each and every one of us is born.
The real problem, as I see it, is a culture of “masculine anti-intellectualism” that seems increasingly rife among certain sub-groups of young men. Young men, particularly in Britain perhaps young working-class white men, are more likely than their sisters to see little practical need for education. Too many of these young men under-estimate the value of education, and over-estimate their ability to “make do” on their own, perhaps by doing “a little of this, a little of that.” Many of these lads are filled with ambition, but with little sense of how vital formal education actually is to realizing that ambition. And too many of these young men are eager for a perverse kind of masculine distinctiveness with which to assuage their own anxieties. Dropping out of school to work gives them that masculine distinctiveness, particularly as school is no longer (as it once was) an exclusively male province.
Does everyone need a formal university education? Perhaps not. But I do lament the unwillingness of many boys to buckle down and work. Knowing that earlier generations of the be-penised and the be-Y-chromosomed were able to master complex material and learn by rote, I don’t accept that men as a rule can’t thrive as well as women in the contemporary educational model. The problem is a lack of strong male role models who value education, the problem is a culture that emphasizes to young men that anything of real importance lies in an arena from which women are largely excluded.