September 27 2013
by Caroline Kitchens, AEI
What’s happened to The New Republic? On Tuesday, it published a mistake-ridden piece by Alice Robb that sought to trash a recent event hosted by National Review and the Independent Women’s Forum. Most of Robb’s efforts focused on disputing Christina Hoff Sommers’s claim that boys are neglected in the nation’s schools.
According to Robb, high-school boys “study science, engineering and math at much higher rates than girls.” Her source was a news story about students – in Australia. Here is what she would have found, had she thought to look at U.S. Department of Education research.
Robb also says that “high school boys participate more actively in class discussion.” To prove this, she links to a 1992 AAUW report that says boys are eight times more likely to call out answers than girls. This claim about the “call-out gap” has been refuted over and over again. As Sommers showed in the first edition of the War Against Boys – and other journalists and scholars have confirmed (see here and here) – the research backing up this claim is nowhere to be found.
In one of her more trivial accusations, Robb suggests that a game Sommers mentions called “Circle of Friends” might not be real. Sommers, says Robb, is baselessly “winding people up” with misleading stories about intolerance of competitive games.
Circle of Friends, a non-competitive version of tag, is featured in an anti-bullying guidebook called “Quit it!,” published by the National Education Association and the Wellesley Center for Research on Women (funded by the Department Education.) The Quit it! curriculum is alive and well, and according to its academic authors “has been implemented in schools in Connecticut, Manhattan, and New Jersey.” This popular handbook contains many activities designed to render rambunctious children K-3 — especially boys — less volatile, less competitive, and less aggressive.
Robb rashly concludes, “Tag is not under threat.” Wrong again. As a practitioner of Google-search journalism, Robb could have typed “tag banned” in the search box. She would have yielded numerous examples: Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif.; Willett Elementary School in Attleboro, Mass.; Van Buren Elementary School in Placentia, Calif.; Marengo Elementary School in South Pasadena, Calif.; Discovery Canyon Campus, Evans International, and Meridian Ranch Elementary Schools, all in Colorado Springs, Calif.; and McLean Elementary Schools in McLean, Va. – to name only a few.
For this dazzling feat of investigative journalism, Alice Robb’s piece was selected by the Atlantic Wire as one of this week’s “five best Monday columns.” At Slate, Amanda Hess was so exhilarated by Robb’s “Circle of Friends” revelation that she decided to write her own drawn-out analysis of the merits of freeze tag. (For what it’s worth: Amanda Hess says that schools aren’t hostile to boys because she thinks that freeze tag is more fun than regular tag. Good for her.)
True, the campaign against tag is not evidence alone that our playgrounds and schools have become hostile environments for boys. But this is just one telling example of an increasing intolerance for boys’ play preferences and interests. Rather than debunking the boy gap with “ms.information” or challenging the popularity of Circle of Friends, critics should fix their eyes on a relentless problem in urgent need of solution – the academic plight of millions of boys and young men.
— Caroline Kitchens is a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.