The moment is close when the United States will be composed entirely of victim groups. For the last year, the press has sounded the alarm about a new gender crisis in education: boys reportedly make up a declining portion of applicants to, and students within, colleges. More than 56 percent of undergraduates are women; two-thirds of all colleges and universities report receiving more applications from girls than from boys, according to a recent New York Times op-ed. The implication is obvious: we—the federal government, state bureaucrats, and the endlessly expanding diversity industry—need to do something! Even New York Times columnist John Tierney, ordinarily a ruthless debunker of big government, called last week for the federal Department of Education to “figur[e] out how to help boys reach college.”
And so the future is clear. That rustling sound you hear is the migration of university deans and associate provosts, “managing differences” consultants, and ed school faculty to the next big employment bonanza: helping boys succeed! Boys are poised to become the newest victim class, requiring a sturdy structure of advisors, trainers, and counselors just to get by. The requisite helping apparatus is already in place: the professions and academia overflow with committees on the recruitment and retention of minorities and women; they will undoubtedly be only too happy to expand their mandate to boys.
But what, you say, about girls’ hallowed victim status—how can it co-exist with a newly designated male oppressed class? Not to worry. The great thing about victim thinking is that it is not zero-sum; it is win-win. Each individual, each group, can be a victim in his or her or his/her own special way. And victims can provisionally join the oppressor class for special occasions—the alliance between Western white liberals and Third World peoples of color, for example, was unceremoniously broken when Episcopal priests and congregations in Africa declared their lack of enthusiasm for gay ministers. No need, then, to dismantle the vibrant private and public Title IX and women’s “equity in education” offices. Girls can be victims vis-à-vis boys when it comes to sports and representation in math and science. And boys can be victims vis-à-vis girls when it comes to enrollment in undergraduate education in general, and in such majors as anthropology and psychology in particular.
Here’s a better suggestion for the alleged gender gap in education: do nothing. If boys lag in undergraduate enrollment, let them study a little harder, or stay a little more focused, on their own. They don’t need the inevitable new bureaucracies in order to pull up their own bootstraps.
Sure, it’s tempting to use the boy shortage to dismantle feminized progressive education. The contempt for competition and fact-based learning that dominates at education schools undoubtedly does contribute to some no-shows among the male student population. When schools place more importance on group collaboration and sharing than on the achievement of mastery in a subject, when the conquest of trigonometry becomes less important than the collective reconstruction of the Yoruba counting system, some portion of boys will tune out.
But the costs of creating a universal victim population outweigh the benefits of using boys’ victim status to overthrow progressive nostrums. Yes, group learning and enforced equality of achievement are probably not optimal for male accomplishment, but they are not fatal, either. Even in a classroom dedicated to the construction of community, a motivated boy can glean knowledge. And it turns out that boys aren’t underrepresented in college math, computer science, engineering, the physical sciences, or business, just in the soft subjects that are of less practical use anyway. The boy shortage may be more a product of colleges’ retooling themselves to attract females than of any study deficit on boys’ part.
The refusal to declare and minister to a new needy population could be revolutionary. It could launch a shocking proposition into the world: problems that an individual can solve are the individual’s responsibility to solve. Letting boys choose for themselves whether to compete academically, without the ministrations of bureaucrats and consultants, may be the only way out of the current “crisis.”