For the last few years, a large majority of the students we are sending to medical or veterinary school are girls. While female students have traditionally been a majority in elementary education and nursing, they are now becoming the substantial majority in nearly all fields.
In 1976, male students made up 52 percent of the undergraduates in U.S. colleges. By 2004, boys dropped to only 43 percent. And today, often seven out of ten students in American classrooms are girls. Not just in Kansas universities and colleges, but across all developed countries, male students are rapidly disappearing from higher education classrooms.
When I lecture in Chinese universities, I look out at a sea of 80 to 90 percent women students preparing to be high school biology teachers. My biology teacher trainer colleagues in England and Germany report the same decline in male students.
The percent of women biology teachers in Kansas high schools has risen from below 40 percent in the early 1980s to where they became a majority of the biology teachers in Kansas three years ago. This is not bad in itself. It is good to see the continuous climb in women entering all academic fields. But the even-more-dramatic decline in men in nearly all academic fields is worrisome.
“The Trouble With Boys” was recently published by Peg Tyre, a staff writer for Newsweek. She documents how boys are failing to keep up with girls not only in college enrollment, but also in literacy and classroom performance at all grade levels. She blames cultural changes of the last 15 years, including academic pressure and a narrowing of curricula. She considers boys’ disengagement from school as the result of more intense focus on testing, less recess and free time, and overmedication for ADHD (as high as twenty percent of the boys at some schools), among other factors. The thinks we can change teaching methods to solve the imbalance.
However, while U.S. schools have moved to testing and narrowed the curriculum, schools in Asia and Europe have not. Her reasons do not explain the decrease in male students across all developed countries.
An alternative factor that would correlate with the male dropout is electronic games which began about 15 years ago and have accelerated in popularity in the last five. While there is no more evidence to support this theory than the others listed above, there is accumulating evidence that the male brain is wired differently and responds to these hand-held and computer games differently than do female students. It is called “gameboy” and not “gamegirl” for a reason. A boy who receives these electronic toys soon is spending hours on them. Girls often grow bored after a few minutes.
China in particular is concerned with this potential loss of academic talent and has taken action to address the upsurge in male students who are addicted to handheld and internet games. China tries to enforce a three-hour-a-day limit. Nevertheless, some boys become truly addicted and foresake studies, food, and a normal life. Just as we have summer “fat camps” for overweight children, China has summer camps for overcoming electronic games and online addiction.
We ignore the problem. Boys will be boys.
To test the hypothesis, whenever I pass a strip mall with a videogame arcade, I look in to count the numbers of boys and girls playing. So far, the tally is overwhelmingly boys. When girls are present, they are usually enjoying the dance revolution games that are more of a body coordination workout.
I could write more, but I am male and therefore need to go play some electronic games.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia, KS.