I didn’t read the New Republic article since I didn’t bother to register. But it seems from Instapundit’s comments that it doesn’t say much about the causes.
I have a theory that has to do with the idea of “ghettoization”. I don’t know what the original source of this thinking is, but the idea is that as an activity becomes associated with one particular group, others who don’t want to be associated with that group eschew that activity. So for example, no straight man dare like Barbra Streisand because that is widely perceived as a “gay” taste.
This theory is already somewhat developed in relation to race in schools. Black students who try hard to excel at academics are often accused of acting white, if they are in certain kinds of schools.
My theory is, that academic success in school has become associated with “girlish” behavior so that boys stop trying. I believe this to be an inevitable artefact of mixed-gender mass education.
We all know that girls mature faster than boys. I taught high school briefly, and my experience (confirmed by all the more experienced teachers I knew) is that in junior high and early high school, most of the best students are girls. This is true in all subjects. I was a math teacher, and even though math is often though of as a more male discipline, my best seventh through tenth-grade students were almost all girls. By eleventh grade it started to balance out and by twelfth most of my calculus students were boys.
But it is very hard for a boy to be bested by a girl at anything. Boys are very competitive generally, and it is hard on their fragile adolescent egos to be so completely dominated by girls at something. Further, the whole structure of school is geared toward rewarding more typical female behavior. Aggression and competition are both dirty words in most schools, yet these are the things that motivate males. So, I believe that out of defensiveness over their difficulty competing and their inability to fit easily into the modern school structure that seems at every turn to try to force them to act less like boys and more like girls, they opt out of the system entirely and bolster and affirm their manhood in other ways, ranging from the relatively harmless like video games, to the quite harmful like joining gangs and beating homeless people with bats.
We need to rethink our approach to education, especially of boys. Homeschooling and gender-segregated education both do a lot to address this issue, as there is no longer an unfair comparison being drawn between boys and girls generally in either system. The approach has lots of benefits for girls too I believe, though I’m not going to get into all that right now.
Education needs to be about more than just churning out lots of little cooperative worker bees. For boys, we ought to be engaged in training them to be men, and we ought to be thinking about the best way to do that. Encouraging them to be more like girls seems destined to fail, and it is.