If you consume any quantity of news at all, you will already be aware that right now The Gender Gap is one of those stories that’s just bubbling under the surface, with its proponents trying to spin it up into the National Crisis Of The Week some time soon.
The Gender Gap, this time, has to do with young men not graduating from high school, or going to college, at the same rate as young women. The graduation and college-attendance rate of young men isn’t falling; in fact it’s rising; but the women’s rate is rising faster.
There are a whole lot of annoyances here. The first is that there’s this underlying assumption, never explained or even directly stated, that Of Course this is some sort of Problem. Why is should be a problem is never really expressed; ‘collidge ejuhcashun’ is just taken as an a priori good, for everyone, all the time.
Second, and somewhat related, is that I don’t think the real story is being told. Private and good public schools have been sending a high proportion of both sexes to college for a good long while now. What has changed is that a lot of people from the kinds of schools that graduate a lot of students who aren’t strictly literate are now ‘going to college’. And in this community of barely literate scholars, women are very, very strongly overrepresented. It’s not that women are stupid; but that, these days, stupid (or at least mis-educated) women tend to go on to something called ‘higher education’, while stupid or mis-educated men tend to just get jobs digging ditches.
But because the associate’s-degree program in Word Processing at Bongwater State U. is ‘college’ in the statistics in exactly the way that Harvard and MIT are, people are panicking over the ‘gender gap’ in education. What they really should be worried about is the amount of money and time these women are wasting on what amounts to very expensive vocational training for low-wage jobs.
Seriously: I looked at the ‘areas of study’ web page for a state university not far from here, and found, among other things:
- Administrative Assistant (certificate)
- Child Care & Guidance
- Child Development
- Child Life Services
- Child Studies (apparently there are differences between these)
- Communication Disorders
- Companion Animal (presumably training them, not being one)
- Corporate Video (not to be confused with Communication Disorders above)
- Criminal Justice
- Exercise Science
- Family Life
- Family Studies
- Fashion Merchandising
- Fitness & Exercise Science (different from plain Exercise Science above apparently)
- Head Start
- Health Promotion
- Outdoor Adventure Leadership
- Retail Management
- Sustainable Energy Systems Management
This kind of thing isn’t education. It’s vocational training, at best.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with vocational training; but it’s not like studying Philosophy or Physics or Math or Literature. The chief difference is the specificity of the courses. The Head Start major includes classes like “U.S. Political Systems” — showing that they understand what Head Start is really about — and “Relationships in the 21st Century” and “Guiding Alternatives” (seriously, that’s the name of a required class), and so on and so forth. Vocational. Training. But it comes with a bachelor’s degree at the end.
Lately, a lot of these stories on the Education page of the newspaper have been next to other stories wherein the local college is patting itself on the back for holding tuition increases down to a bare 6% this year. If the reporter is any good, the story might mention that while this year’s increase might be only 6%, the cumulative increase in tuition and fees over the past 20 years has been something like 400%.
The local college will rarely, if ever, be asked to comment on this.
What’s going on is that there’s an enormous bubble in higher education; everyone is told that they absolutely must consume this product if they’re to have any kind of future that does not involve grease under the fingernails (and grease under the fingernails is assumed to be a terrible thing), and further the product is heavily subsidized.
So people go to college in vast numbers, and because of this increased demand tuition rises even more, and the product seems even more attractive as a result, because if it weren’t something that’s absolutely necessary and wonderful, they wouldn’t be packing the dorms full every fall at $20,000 and up a head, would they? And so the demand rises even more, and the subsidies rise, and so on and so forth.
At the same time, the real market value of the product falls, because the world is over-supplied with bachelors of arts. The result is to spur demand for more specifically elite education, since the the Bongwater State U. degree has been so devalued in the university’s rush to accommodate more and more and more students, many of whom should not be there in the first place.
This cannot go on forever, and I think the ‘gender gap’ is actually a sign of the beginning of the end. I think it’s being seen as a ‘gender gap’ for two reasons:
- The people doing the studies of such things are typically academics themselves, and so are going to tend not to entertain the notion that the academy is perhaps going off the rails;
- Women are, comparatively, herd animals.
Now I know I’m going to get attacked for that last one there, so let me explain what I mean. For a variety of reasons, the average American woman seems to be less likely to be a trend-bucker than the average American man. I think that some of this results from women being taught from a young age to value security and predictability, and to go with the group. Before leaving angry feminist rants in the comments, you should consider that this is the flip side of the feminist trope that women somehow innately value ‘consensus’ and ‘community’ and negotiation and harmony over conflict.
Men, on the other hand, are taught from a young age to value self-reliance. Very few men are self-reliant, and a lot more men than women get themselves killed while doing things that the consensus has already determined is a very bad idea, like driving a hopped-up Honda Civic down the freeway at 120 mph.
But the same cultural baggage that causes Johnny Patchbeard to bolt a fart-pipe onto his car and then wrap it around a tree also results in him being more likely to question whether spending more money than he’s ever had in his life to become an official Companion Animal Technician is really worth it. After all, he could always set up his own fart-pipe-and-ridiculous-car-stereo installation company.
This is the guy who isn’t on campus. Four years from now, he’ll either be established in the fart-pipe trade, or possibly doing something else; his girlfriend will be deep in debt and eligible for the specific dead-end job she trained for at Bongwater State.
(And this is before you consider that the Women’s Studies/Women’s Center/Runaway bigotry calling itself feminism culture on many campuses pretty effectively communicates to men that their kind really isn’t wanted there.)
The same thing happens, I think, at all levels of education. I obviously haven’t been in elementary school for a very long time, and I’m aware of the dangers of trusting the accounts of journalists; but everything I read — in blogs from teachers as well as newspapers and magazines — suggests that every year the stuff the schools teach gets less and less relevant to anyone except education wonks. The cost keeps rising, and we constantly hear about the need to lengthen either the school day or school year, or both. Nobody ever says that maybe schools should be pared back to essentials; the closest you’ll see is people arguing for teaching only the essentials, but ten hours a day and eleven months a year.
None of this is never addressed in these stories, even in passing. Boys not doing well in school, and not going to college? They must be dumber! This is more or less what people said about girls and women a hundred years ago, and today you’d be savagely attacked for even hinting that females are in any way at a natural disadvantage.
Suggest today that the problem with educational consumption is some innate failing of half of the population, though, and you can be a respected education pundit — if that half of the population is the male half. That’s far safer than suggesting that extraordinarily expensive has limited appeal.