Boy sues; schools are “designed to the disadvantage of males”

It was only a matter of time.

Seventeen-year-old Milton High School senior Doug Anglin (whose father just happens to be a lawyer and just happened to write his son’s complaint) has filed a federal civil rights complaint against his school with the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Milton discriminates against boys.

''The system is designed to the disadvantage of males," Anglin said. ''From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders, and listen to what they say, you'll do well and get good grades. Men naturally rebel against this."

…[Anglin] proposes that the high school give students credit for playing sports, not just for art and drama courses. He also urges that students be allowed to take classes on a pass/fail basis to encourage more boys to enroll in advanced classes without risking their grade point average. He also wants the school to abolish its community service requirement, saying it's another burden that will just set off resistance from boys, who may skip it and fail to graduate as a result.
Okay, I think I’ve got this straight. Men “naturally” rebel against a philosophy which rewards sitting down, following orders, and listening, but women “naturally” respond to it. That must explain why there are no male priests, doctors, psychologists, teachers, judges, or attorneys, for a start, all of which require not only the ability to get through a school system which has always required students to sit down, follow orders, and listen, but also require the same as part of the actual job. Oh wait—isn’t Daddy Anglin an attorney? How did that happen?

Well, never mind that. Let’s look at Anglin’s suggestions.

Give students credit for playing sports, not just for art and drama courses. Interesting obfuscation, except students are already given credit for gym class, which is the actual equivalent of art and drama courses. If you start giving school credit for extracurricular activities, then the plays and art shows which drama and art students participate in outside of school hours ought to garner school credit, too—which brings us right back to a level playing field. And, let’s face it, if implemented, this idea is really just going to be discriminatory against boys anyway, since playing a sport requires discipline, adherence to rules, following coaches’ orders, and listening, and boys “naturally” rebel against all those things.

Allow students to take classes on a pass/fail basis to encourage more boys to enroll in advanced classes without risking their grade point average. So, basically, make school easier. Anglin says this isn’t about girls being smarter than boys, but it certainly sounds that if girls are “willing to risk” their GPAs to take advanced classes, but boys aren’t, that it’s about girls being braver and working harder than their male cohorts. Of course, Anglin would undoubtedly argue girls take less risk and don’t have to work as hard, since school favors them and they’re “naturally” disposed to sitting down, following orders, and listening. It’s quite the snake eating its tail.

Abolish community service requirement; it's another burden that will just set off resistance from boys, who may skip it and fail to graduate as a result. See, now this is where I start to think that this really isn’t about a school that discriminates against boys, but boys who are simply unwilling or unprepared to meet the demands of school. There’s no earthly reason that girls should be able to complete a community service requirement and boys shouldn’t. No small number of community service groups—the Elks, Moose International, the Exchange Club, YMCA, etc.—began as (and some still are) exclusively male organizations, so any argument that women are “naturally” predisposed to community service and men aren’t would be a tough sell. People who are socialized to have a selfish and entitled nature, however, are not difficult to find at all. I suspect some of them are boys.

I don’t want to minimize the possibility that boys are struggling more in school in larger numbers than girls are, but I’m going to turn it over to Mannion for a moment to explain why addressing this as a gender-specific issue is a bad idea:

In his New Republic article, Richard Whitmire reports some statistics that show that while 72 per cent of eighth grade girls are reading at or above their grade reading level only 61 per cent of boys are and he uses these numbers as more evidence that boys are in trouble…

There are several ways to look at that… But here's how I look at it.

If you have an incoming high school freshman class of 100 boys and 100 girls, you have 61 boys who are reading at or above their grade level and 72 girls who are and you have 67 kids, boys and girls, who aren't!

67 kids out of 200 who can't read at their grade level? That's a big problem. And for 28 of those kids you can't attribute the trouble to their being boys, because, well, they're girls. Which suggests that reading skills aren't necessarily a matter of gender and that those 39 boys who are having trouble might very well be having trouble for the same reasons the girls are.

Obviously, then, if you set out to solve the problem in a boy-centered way you are going to end up slighting or even ignoring all those girls.
And that’s really the issue here. We have a large failing of very many students in both genders throughout our educational system, but because girls who are doing well are doing well in higher numbers, this is becoming a question about How To Rescue Boys. Inevitably, this leads to all sorts of discussions about the innate tendencies of boys and girls, which has the dual ill effect of generating solutions that may benefit only struggling boys (thereby ignoring the girls who need help, and in some cases, potentially undermining the success of the majority of both boys and girls who are already doing well) and allowing us to collectively ignore the possibility that there is a reason completely unrelated to gender which can account for the problem. It wasn't the inherent, gender-specific qualities of girls that kept them uneducated for so long; it was lack of opportunity, justified by the repeated invoking of those supposedly immutable qualities. Just as we were right to be suspicious of such claims in denying educational opportunities to women, so we should be reluctant to view what is, in reality, a more complicated issue through the lens of gender now.

The disdain for intellectualism we see in evidence every single day is heard equally by boys and girls. The teaching-to-test rather than teaching-to-learn made prevalent by No Child Left Behind effect both boys and girls. The increasing tendency of parents to intervene on a failing or misbehaving child’s behalf by criticizing—or suing—the school instead of demanding the kid get its ass into gear affects both sons and daughters, assures them that they don’t have to earn their grades; they just have to shout until they get what they want.

Is Anglin’s problem really that he’s a boy—or that he’s been overly indulged? He’s got a 2.88 GPA and plays both soccer and baseball. His father thinks that “the school system should compensate boys for the discrimination by boosting their grades retroactively” so they can get into college. Is it crazy to suggest that if your kid can’t maintain a GPA appropriate for a college-bound student, then perhaps he should have spent less time playing two sports and more time doing his homework? Apparently so. Better that we twist and contort the school system to allow Anglin to have it all, rather than expecting that he give a little more.

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