Opinion Columns & Blogs

Help boys succeed without lowering standards

So, ladies, it appears that big boulder we've pushed uphill is rolling back down after all.

After decades of grinding it out in classrooms, working to get into college and expand our universe of career choices beyond teacher, nurse, secretary or well-educated wife, we've apparently done too well.

For the past few years, college admissions offices have been seeing far fewer Y chromosomes, and they've been flummoxed about how to treat the new male minority.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has launched an investigation to determine whether universities have met this quandary by discriminating against qualified young women and lowering admissions standards for less-qualified male applicants.

On U.S. college campuses, women are 57 percent of the student body. We receive 60 percent of the bachelor's degrees handed out every year. And we just became, for the first time in U.S. history, the majority of the nation's paid work force.

Society is changing dramatically when it comes to gender, and more young women are applying for college than ever.

But that doesn't mean that standards should be changed for anyone based on gender. College applicants should be judged on who they are when they arrive at a university's gates and how far they traveled to get there.

Boys are simply going to have to learn to compete after years of coasting along on the relative certainty that they'll get into college, get their degrees and be masters of the universe they created.

So here's where I stop ranting and admit to being a bit conflicted, because I am the mother of two such entitled little creatures. And I want them to succeed.

Every time I volunteer in my 5-year-old son's classroom, I end up doubting my parenting skills. Although he is smart and confident and clever at home, in class, compared with the girls, he seems checked out.

In his art-focused public school, I ached when I saw the tidy drawings the girls had rendered of their families — neat grass, mommy smiling with a nice dress, a flower — all Little Miss Perfect. My boy's drawings looked a little like a madman's sketches. The maniacal figure that was supposed to be his father sprouted vast quantities of underarm hair. My likeness had several eyes.

"I hate drawing," he would tell me, glaring at the girls' sweet, celebrated portraits.

But at home, he spends hours building fantastical constructions out of bottles, blocks and fishing line. He can build a Lego model meant for 12-year-olds faster than any adult in the room, glancing at the intricate instructions just once.

Then one day, one of his fabulous teachers was beaming with news about him. They'd had a big breakthrough, and my son had decided that he loves, loves, loves to draw. That day he brought home detailed drawings of a rocket and a robot and a house.

"We knew he loves to build. So we suggested that he draw blueprints for what he wants to build!" Ms. Hannah told me.

Instead of lowering the standards for him or telling the girls to tone down their creations, she figured out how to make him work hard and be his best.

Women still make only 78 cents for every dollar that men do. Although women outnumber men in the United States by about 4 million, we are only 17 percent of Congress. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men have more leisure time than women, mostly because they spend less time caring for children or their homes.

Just because more young women are thriving in school, it doesn't mean that all is equal and right with gender in our world. It means that we have to help our boys do better. All it takes is a blueprint.