So, are you sick of the arguments yet? You know the arguments – Romney vs Obama. “Job Creators” vs Inequality. Creationism vs Evolution. Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life. Old Fashioned vs New Fangled. Text Speak vs Grammar Nazi’s. Toilet Seat Up vs Toilet Seat Down. Whatever it is, if we can figure out two ways of looking at an issue to divide ourselves into, we do it. And then we argue and argue and argue. We refine our arguments and wonder what the hell is wrong with the people who don’t agree with us. But aren’t you sick of it?
I remember years ago an older, wiser friend told me, “arguments don’t work. You never change someone’s mind through arguments.” At the time I was a bit flabbergasted. If we didn’t argue, how would the other person know they were wrong? And if we can’t get everyone pretty much on board, how do we keep the world from going to hell in a hand basket? I mean, what was the alternative?
Of course, today we have reams of research and endless gigabytes of internet conversations to prove that what my friend told me was true: arguments don’t work. They rarely change anyone’s mind. And I think all but the most die-hard believers are starting to get sick of them.
So what is the alternative to argument? Do we just agree to disagree – you have your opinions and I’ll have mine? And what about truth? Aren’t some things just true and shouldn’t we stand up for and advocate for them? If we can’t argue and persuade our way into some consensus about what’s true how can we function together to get anything done? The live and let live concept sounds fine until we need policies to get the economy going or fix serious social problems. Then what? Continue reading →
We’ve heard a lot lately about boy’s lack of success in our education system. However, in today’s Washington Post, writers Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Chait Barnett say, “hey, don’t worry – the boys are fine.” According to them, we shouldn’t worry because the only boys who aren’t doing well are the poor, minority, rural and urban boys. The boys who really matter, you know, white suburban boys, are doing just fine. Since it’s just the insignificants whose boys are struggling, there’s really no need to introduce dangerous notions about the inherent differences between boys and girls into our educational system. Uh huh.
Too bad even this isn’t true. At the bottom of this page, you can see a table listing the percentage of undergraduates who are male broken out by race and income group. When one looks at the data, the only way to make Rivers and Barnett’s proposition fit is if one assumes that all white, suburban males come from families with incomes of $70,000 or more. (They claim that among white, middle class boys, the gap between college attendance is very slight – 49% male vs 51% female – a statistic which is only true in the above $70,000 income bracket.) Since approximately 85% of white households earn less than $70,000, this seems highly unlikely. Basically what they are arguing is that the boy crisis is a myth because the approximately 12% of the United States population which is white and has a household income of more than $70,000 a year isn’t seeing this so-called boy’s achievement gap. Gee and to think we were all so worried! Of course white males from homes making less than $30,000 are outpaced 42% vs 58%. Those from homes making between $30,000 and $70,000 are outstripped by their female counter-parts 43% to 57%. I dunno, it sounds to me like this “boys in crisis myth” has some substance to it.
While the authors would have us believe that all of the gaps we are seeing are simply the result of race and income, what is striking about the actual data is that the gap in gender achievement for middle and upper income blacks and hispanics is nearly identical to that for whites. It is only low income blacks (and to a lesser extant hispanics) who show a significantly greater gender gap than their white peers. Of course, Madams Rivers and Barnett have made it clear that such people don’t count, so let us not dwell upon unpleasant facts now.
Of course, the source of the author’s incredible spinning of statistics isn’t hard to figure out when you look at the rest of the column. The authors insist that there is more difference between individual boys than there is between boys and girls. (Try telling this to a classroom teacher.) They dismiss all of the brain research which has documented differences between boys and girls by comparing it to theories from the 1800’s that men were smarter because their brains are bigger. They completely ignore the astonishing facts that boys account for 90% of all ritalin prescriptions and that 1 in 10 ten-year old boys is on medication for ADD. Then there’s the fact that boys are stuck in special education classes at much higher rates than girls, are responsible for most disciplinary problems and on and on. Basically, since the boys who really matter (rich, white, suburban) are doing just fine, we should continue to mindlessly accept the outdated, disproven notion that differences between boys and girls will never be anything other than manufactured societal constraints.
Don’t they have fact checkers at the Washington Post? This sort of amateur statistic spinning really doesn’t deserve a prominent spot in a prominent newspaper.