Yggdrasil's WN Library

The Feminist Challenge

Campus Follies: Lesson Six

This week we move into the fever swamps of male hating, - specifically, white-male hating. Somehow, if the NBA ends up being 80% black, nobody complains. However, if the education system, and the skill sets necessary for success in business reward white males, then there are plenty of complaints.

If the system doesn't produce the desired rewards for the "right" people, then the answer is to "change the rules." Females are hardly of a single mind on the issue, as illustrated by the two excerpts written by females set forth below. From these excerpts, you will see that the militants unhappy with sex roles have distorted fact and have arrived at a set of social prescriptions which make the Afrocentrists of Campus Follies 5 look like moderates.

Yggdrasil had occasion to visit the University of California at Santa Barbara last year. As most of you should know, the school has a reputation for fun and parties. It has the lowest minority enrollment percentage in the UC System. When rating party schools, Playboy magazine concludes that it would be unfair to rank UCSB because they are "pros".

It is the kind of campus that attracts females interested in men.

But it also attracts a small but virulent cadre of midnight spray painters given to slogans not seen on Ivy League schools attended by much higher percentage of feminist male haters.

The feminist graffiti included such gems as "you are being trained to be breeding cows!" And "sex is rape! - keep your slimy hands off our bodies!". When the spray painters graduate, they doubtless move on to more professional protests of sexuality.

They graduate from graffiti to "remaking education" and ridding it of dangerous concepts like "excellence," as Peggy McIntosh, profiled in the first exerpt, has done. Or they move on to producing research tomes such as "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America," a study that argues that girls' self esteem is being wounded in tens of thousands of elementary and high school classrooms. It is a proposition heatedly disputed by the second and third excerpts in this lesson.

Again, the fascinating question is why so many who live and prosper within Western Civilization are so profoundly unhappy with it. Perhaps Western Civilization is not for all. Perhaps it cannot be tailored to fit all of the World's peoples. Perhaps access to it should be restricted to those who are, if not comfortable with it, at least neutral toward its prime tenets and its survival.

Yggdrasil recommends that you fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the following:

Jun. 14, 1994 Wall Street Journal p A1
Blackboard Rumble

For Peggy McIntosh, 'Excellence' Can Be A Dangerous Concept

Her Ideas to Remake Schools On Feminist Theory Get Praised--and Ridiculed


WELLESLEY, Mass. - "It's not their fault," Peggy McIntosh once observed of white males. "They didn't ask to be born white males."

Standing at a blackboard here, chalk in one hand and eraser in the other, the associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women looks like the classroom teacher she once was. Her manner is shy, but her words and writings challenge some of the most cherished assumptions of American culture. It's not their fault, she argues, that white males find themselves cast as "winner-killer" combatants in a struggle for power and position. And white females? It's not their fault that, although often oppressed, they themselves can be oppressors. Before congratulating themselves "I came up from nothing . . . from pink booties to briefcase on Wall Street" - they should remember that they may well be beneficiaries of "skin-color privilege."

No, she argues, these are the results of a culture that projects harmful roles upon people of both sexes and all races, shaping the way they see themselves. And so Peggy McIntosh is trying to reshape that culture - by reshaping the institution that, arguably, is more intimately bound up with the American dream than any other.

She wants to change what schools teach and how they teach it. At a time when "educational excellence" is a national catchword, she warns that excellence can be a dangerous concept. At a time when national leaders from President Clinton on down urge the nation to gird for global economic competition, she warns that competition in the classrooms can be hurtful, cautions against giving out gold stars, and envisions schools that go "beyond win/lose."

Such ideas make this soft-spoken, almost hesitant woman of 59 a protagonist in a broader upheaval in American culture. Shared values and traditions that once provided society's glue - notions of how to teach and how to learn, how to live and how to die - are fragmenting. Increasingly, they are now the province of academicians and lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants, politicians and pressure groups. Culture - the bundle of values and assumptions that American society lives by - has become politicized.

Dr. McIntosh has spoken about her ideas in some three dozen states, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. She was a contributor to the Wellesley center's report for the American Association of University Women, "How Schools Shortchange Girls," which, in turn, helps underpin a package of education bills moving through Congress. She co-directs a program, Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, or SEED.

So far, SEED has enrolled about 3,000 educators, in some 30 states and nine other countries, in voluntary, teacher-led seminars on multiculturalism and what she calls "gender-balanced" curriculums. Drawing upon feminist and multiculturalist theories, SEED programs aim to sensitize teachers to the perceived perils of "male privilege" and "white privilege." They encourage teachers to put more emphasis on cooperation among pupils, and less on competition between them. They advocate fundamental changes in what students learn; history, for example, should be "the history of inclusion" - a history that heralds the doings of ordinary people (often women and minorities) doing ordinary, unheralded things. But critics assail such views as egalitarianism run amok, a kind of schoolhouse socialism that both trivializes and politicizes course work.

Indeed. Dr- McIntosh's critics, who cut across traditional liberal-conservative political lines, see her as a threat to academic standards - even an affront to Western Civilization itself "She has a Pol Pot approach to education" charges Brookline, Mass-. parent David Stillman. "She seems to be trying to make everybody equal by making sure that nobody knows anything."

Mr. Stillman and his wife Ronni Gordon, were civil-rights marchers in the 1960s and Dukakis liberals in the 1980s. But they have since helped found the Brookline Committee for Quality Education, a 100-member organization that is fighting what it regards as politically correct thinking, fostered by Dr. Mclntosh among others, infusing Brookline's public school curriculum.

"The very type of stereotyping we fought against on the Civil- rights lines is now the basis of her educational policy," he says. "What we fought against was the assumption that race or ethnicity or sex determined character, cognition and ability. And now we find someone like Peggy McIntosh arguing that they do." Should American schools emphasize American culture - and just what is "American" in today's welter of ethnic groups and cultural traditions? Or, to take the opposite tack, is it possible the American curriculum is already too "American "--that is, too bound up with the classic American dream of striving and winning? Is it elitist, or worse, for parents to want their children to strive for the gold star and the brass ring-or simply common sense?

Notions of Controversy

A measure of the explosive nature of such questions is the passion Dr. McIntosh's ideas provoke. Gender-equity advocates are cheered by her theories. "She simply put into words what I had observed in myself," says Cathy Nelson, a former Minnesota teacher and now co-director of that state's SEED project. "I had taught for years without talking about women in history. I just assumed they hadn't done anything."

But Lynne V. Cheney, while chairman of the National Endowment for Humanities during the Bush administration, wrote a broadside against political correctness that singled out Dr. McIntosh, and her notions, for sharp criticism. "The aim of education, as many on our campuses now see it," Ms. Cheney wrote, "is no longer truth, but political transformation - of students and society." Now a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, she argues that Dr. McIntosh represents a strain of feminism that regards truth and evidence as simply a 'perspective' that white males have on the world. . . . This is the most basic assault on the West that you can imagine, because it is an assault on rationality itself."

* * *

Fading Stars?

* * *

Dr. McIntosh didn't design the Brookline curriculum, but she clearly left her mark on it. She was hired several years ago to address Brookline staff-development conferences; later a then- assistant superintendent for curriculum praised her ideas at length before a League of Women Voters forum. Today, superintendent James Walsh says that Dr. McIntosh, while "terrific" in her presentations, had "no systemic effect" on the Brookline curriculum.

Critics think otherwise, and she has come to symbolize much of what they are fighting against. A videotape of one of Dr. McIntosh's staff-development talks - obtained by the Brookline education committee, then copied and recopied like a kind of underground movie - has become Exhibit No. 1 for critics of the curriculum generally, and Peggy McIntosh specifically.

In that talk Dr. McIntosh decried a culture that assigns a "deficit identity" to many people except "young, preferably blond, white males" - and burdens even them with a "win-lest-you- lose" mentality. This culture, she said, "has made a few, especially our young, white males, dangerous to themselves and the rest of us, especially in a nuclear age." She envisioned a curriculum freed of this male "ideal of excellence."

Accusations of Hypocrisy

Such thinking appalls her critics, who accuse her of the very things for which she berates others - rampant sexism and condescension. "Let me take a bold stand here," wrote Robert Costrell, then president of the Brookline education committee, in a letter to the Brookline Citizen newspaper. ". . . We want our children to strive for excellence, even if they don't achieve it.... Who could have dreamed this would be a point of contention?"

"What we see is the dumbing-down of the curriculum," argues Ms. Gordon. "Between social engineering and psychotherapy, there's little time for anything academic.... What's the ultimate aim of this? It's a way to redistribute power and money [in society]. And isn't that always the name of the game at the political level?"

Dr. McIntosh asserts that the committee is a "small, very powerful" pressure group that, in conjunction with conservative foundations, is part of a concerted effort to discredit multiculturalism. (Committee members deny this, saying the group grew out of strictly local concerns within the 5,000-student school district.) She says her critics carry an "ideology of individualism" to extremes.

"Some people cannot think beyond winning and losing," she says. "'Excellence'--they associate it with test scores. I'm about excellence, too. But there is another way of seeing where it doesn't have to be 'win' or 'lose,' their children against other children, dog-eat-dog."

In a sense. her way of seeing is a reaction against lessons she learned in grade school and junior high in the New Jersey suburbs. Her schools, she says, rewarded "the ability to be right. The ability to be controlling. The ability to be judgmental, in the sense of knocking down others' arguments. The ability to work in isolation. The ability to compete against each other."

All those lessons, she now feels, were "incomplete" lessons. She excelled academically, in fact, she would eventually graduate summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College. But what she remembers vividly from those early days is her "terror of being wrong."

* * *

As grand theory, Dr. McIntosh's thinking is too much for critics to swallow. "What she's expressing is a kind of '60s counter-cultural baggage," says historian and educator Diane Ravitch, an assistant education secretary in the Bush administration. "It would be nice if there were no winners or losers. That was the socialist dream, wasn't it? And as we know, it hasn't worked out very well."

Moreover, as applied in the classroom, the McIntosh thinking has some parents up in arms. Mr. Stillman and Ms. Gordon, the Brookline parents, pulled their 12-year-old daughter Mimi out of school last September and are educating her at home. They say their decision was the result of several years of agonizing about curriculum changes brought about by McIntosh-like thinking. But a particularly telling incident for them was when a fourth-grade teacher placed Mimi, a gifted student at a table with three children of lower achievement levels and directed the four to work as a team on math problems. Then the teacher gave a collective grade to the table as a whole.

"I thought the collective grade was a message," says David Stillman. "She will be penalized if they don't learn." (Superintendent Walsh doesn't dispute the parents' recollection, but says that collaborative learning is used by "every school system in the country" to teach "teamwork and respect for differences.")

It also alarmed Mr. Stillman and Ms. Gordon, authors of foreign-language text books, when the school system removed an advanced-placement European history course from the curriculum; angry parents got it put back after a year of skirmishing with administrators. To Mr. Stillman, the removal was part of a more pervasive "hostility toward anything European."

David Stillman and Ronni Gordon have never met Peggy McIntosh. In the end, their world views pass like ships in the night. Of Dr. McIntosh, Mr. Stillman says: "What she's done has turned her own guilt into an education program."

Of no critic in particular, Dr. McIntosh says: "It can be a tremendous shock for some people to see themselves as oppressors, when all they're doing is what was expected of them. My sympathy is with anybody whose world falls apart."

Oct. 3, 1994 Wall Street Journal p A20
The Myth of Schoolgirls' Low Self-Esteem


The American Association of University Women was founded in 1881 to foster excellence in women's education. In recent years, however, its leadership has put the organization's longstanding reputation for professionalism and probity in question by aggressively promoting the sensational but empirically unfounded thesis that gender bias is causing a debilitating loss of self- esteem in our nation's schoolgirls.

In 1991 the AAUW announced the results of its survey "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America." The conclusion: American girls "do not believe in themselves." A massive and effective media blitz spread the word that the organization had uncovered "an unacknowledged American tragedy." Gloria Steinem, Anna Quindlen and other prominent feminist writers sounded the alarm. In the meantime, the AAUW jettisoned its starched image. You can now call an 800 number to order AAUW gender-bias products such as "Shortchanging Girls" T-shirts and coffee mugs.

Lately, the survey's results have taken on new life. A new book by Peggy Orenstein titled "Schoolgirls"--inspired by the AAUW survey--attempts to illustrate its conclusions with on-the-scene reports from two California middle schools. As might be expected, Ms. Orenstein's "findings" have been treated with reverential respect by reporters and TV hosts. The effect has been to reaffirm the "scientific" validity of the idea that schoolgirls suffer from low self-esteem.

Another Look

It is perhaps time to remind ourselves just how bad the AAUW survey really is.

Soon after the study began to make headlines in 1991, Science News ran a story noting the skepticism of leading researchers toward its findings. Indeed, the majority of scholars in the field of adolescent development see no significant gender difference in self-esteem. What the AAUW study relies on, instead of verifiable science, is bogus inference and shoddy methodology.

Consider this major piece of evidence adduced by the AAUW to highlight the difference in boys' and girls' aspirations for success: "The higher self-esteem of young men translates into bigger career dreams. ... The number of boys who aspire to glamorous occupations (rock star, sports star) is greater than that of young women at every stage of adolescence, creating a kind of 'glamour gap.' "

A glamour gap? Most kids do not have the talent and drive to be rock stars. The sensible ones know it. (The No. 1 career aspiration among girls, by the way was lawyer.) What the responses of the children suggest, and what many experts on adolescent development will tell you, is that girls mature earlier than boys, who at this age apparently, suffer from a "reality gap."

The AAUW was careful not to publicize one very awkward finding: African-American boys, who are educationally most at risk, scored highest of all on the AAUW's self-esteem indexes. This finding casts doubt on the critical assumption that what the AAUW is measuring as "self-esteem" is linked to academic and career achievement.

The so-called teacher attention gap is also unproved. Take, for example, this striking and much repeated AAUW claim: "Boys in elementary and middle school called out answers eight more times than girls. When boys called out, teachers listened, but when girls called out, they were told 'raise your hand if you want to speak.' "

The AAUW's "teams of scholars" are distorting the original source. Here is what the source they cite--but do not quote-- actually says: "Boys, particularly low-achieving boys, receive eight to ten times as many reprimands as do their female classmates.... When both girls and boys are misbehaving equally, boys still receive more frequent discipline."

Having surveyed 3,000 children, the MUW declared that girls are undervalued, "silenced" and ignored by their (mostly female) teachers. But according to the Education Department's 1988 and 1990 longitudinal study of 25,000 8th to 10th graders, more girls than boys feel the teacher is interested in them, and by 10th grade 72% of girls, compared with 68% of boys, said the "teachers listened to what I have to say."

Perhaps most important, the Education Department's Digest of Education Statistics and Condition of Education show that boys are not doing better than girls. Far more boys than girls suffer from learning disabilities, delinquency, alcoholism and drug abuse; five times as many boys as girls commit suicide. Girls get better grades; more girls graduate from high school and college. Even the frequently cited claim that girls score lower on standardized tests is misleading. In the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress Test of 17 year-olds, boys outperformed girls by four points in math and 10 points in science, but girls more strikingly outperformed boys by 12 points in reading and 17 points in writing. Girls are catching up in math and science; boys continue to lag far behind in reading and writing.

Yet even in the face of such evidence, the low self-esteem myth persists. Why? One reason may be the sensationalism with which it is presented. In "Failing at Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls" (1994), Myra and David Sadker, two principal AAUW researchers, predict the fate of a six-year-old girl on top of a playground slide: "There she stood on her sturdy legs, with her head thrown back, and her arms flung wide . . . full of energy, self-reliance and purpose. She feels confident about what she can do and who she can become.... Photographed . . . at twelve, instead of six, . .. she would have been looking at the ground instead of the sky, her sense of self-worth would have been an accelerating downward spiral."

Writing in Mirabella, Jane O'Reilly (a founder of Ms. magazine) contrasts two groups of girls playing at a lake shore, the younger "ardent, vital and confident," the older girls "mannered, anxious and doubtful." Ms. O'Reilly can "practically see the older girls' self-esteem draining away with the rivulets of lake water running down their legs." Anita Diamant (in Parenting magazine) says that she went on "red alert searching for ways to protect my daughter's God-given sparkle and snap."

Such overheated rhetoric has had its effect--in popular culture, as we have seen, and even on Capitol Hill. Armed with its celebrated survey, the AAUW has successfully lobbied Congress to attach a Gender Equity Package to the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The package provides millions of dollars for gender-equity programs, workshops and materials that will supposedly (in Rep. Patricia Schroeder's words) "help make schools an environment where girls are nurtured and respected, where they can learn that their lives are valuable."

In a passionate speech Sen. Edward Kennedy referred to the AAUW's "landmark" research and vowed that, "wherever possible, we intend to incorporate gender-equity provisions in all federal education programs." The Gender Equity Package has passed both houses and is now in conference committee.

* * *

Real Problems Ignored

In sum: A politicized AAUW has effectively used its own advocacy research to promote the myth of a pervasive demoralizing bias against schoolgirls. It has created a cult of the persecuted girlchild among feminist writers. And it has gotten legislators to allocate millions to address a "gender gap" in the nation's schools.

And to what end? The sad fact is that the focus on "bias" and "gender equity" diverts attention and resources from the underlying causes that put children of both sexes at risk: the increasing incivility, violence and increasing sociopathologies in our society, and the decline in academic standards.

The main beneficiaries of congressional largess will inevitably be the apparatchiks in the thriving gender-bias industry, who will be called on to cope with the newly identified "American tragedy" of defeated schoolgirls-a tragedy that does not exist.

Ms. Sommers is author of "Who Stole Feminism?" (Simon & Schuster).

Mar. 1, 1994 Wall Street Journal p A16
Girls 'Cheated' at School?

By Rita Kramer

The past quarter century has witnessed a dramatic rise in the educational achievements of American women. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics of the U.S. Department of Educational Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, more girls than boys are going on to college (67% of high-school girls compared with 58% of boys) and women have gone from being only 41% of undergraduates 20 years ago to 55% today.

In graduate education the progress of women has been even more impressive. Since 1970, the percentage of women earning master's degrees has risen to 53% from 40%; that of women receiving doctoral degrees has jumped to 39% from 14%. Thirty six percent of those now receiving medical degrees are women, up from 8%, and this year 42% of first-year medical students are women, while the percentage of women earning law degrees has climbed to more than 40% from 5%.

These are impressive figures, but they are not impressive enough for Myra and David Sadker, whose new book, "Failing at Fairness" (Scribner's, 347 pages, $22), maintains that girls are systematically discriminated against in American schools from kindergarten onward. It's a subtle business, this discrimination, and you had best be guided by the Sadkers' writings or enroll in one of their workshops if you hope to have your eyes opened to the various ways in which teachers continue (the figures above notwithstanding) to ignore girls and fail to steer them to math, science, medicine and law.

It is the Sadkers' contention that teachers pay more attention to boys than to girls, call on boys more often, and wait longer for boys to answer a question before going on to the next pupil. But how scientific are their studies? The Sadkers have never had their conclusions replicated by an objective outside authority. Their book looks scholarly, with more than 30 pages of footnotes, but on close examination some of the sources prove to be out-of- date or unpublished, and many more footnotes cite either the authors' own previous work or that of their students.

Even if it were true that classroom teachers pay more attention to aggressive boys than to more reticent girls, it is a leap of faith from that observation to the conclusion that boys therefore are learning more. It may be that teachers employ various techniques that have more to do with keeping order among the generally more obstreperous boys than with pedagogy per se. It is even possible that quiet girls are processing more information, acquiring more knowledge than the more active boys in the class, since girls go through school getting better grades than their male counterparts, although boys do better on objective tests.

* * *

But that is still not good enough for the ideologically driven among radical feminists. Buying into the current trend toward the Balkanization of American society-- which has groups defined by race, ethnicity and gender vying with one another for victim status and compensatory entitlements--both the report and the Sadkers' book will probably be widely cited as evidence of the need for new legislation. That will, of course, require funding a bureaucracy to enforce the regulations, and eventually we can expect demands for tests that women will pass in percentages corresponding to their percentage of the population.

* * *

We should be worrying about why our youngsters of both sexes are near the bottom of the ladder in international tests of math and science and excel only in measures of self-esteem. The Sadkers' polemic will do little to remedy that situation.

Ms. Kramer is the author of "Ed School Follies: The Miseducation of America's Teachers."


© 1996-1998 Yggdrasil. All rights reserved. Distribute texts freely.