So the fashion among educated people these days seems to be the somewhat reluctant acceptance of an ancient notion: That boys are boys and girls are girls.
The most prominent cultural bellwether of this is the surprising hit book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, a cheeky how-to on slingshots, tree houses, poop, and all the other things that are meant to define the life of a young boy.
I haven’t read the book, but I recently came across this op-ed piece in the Washington Post in which one of the book’s authors, Conn Iggulden, lays out his case in defense of the book.
It’s a well-written and funny piece about how the author, and his little brother, constructed the book out of their shared memories of a childhood spent jumping off of sheds and burning deceased pet attack ravens on a makeshift funeral pyre:
The Black Cat Club gathered in the garden to give it a warrior’s cremation. We used my father’s lighter fluid and poured it over the bird where it lay in a nest of bricks. We lit it and stood back with our hands clasped in prayer. The flames roared, and I think we wept until the flames died back down again and the bird was still there. We poured more lighter fluid, and eventually realized we’d cooked the bird instead of cremating it.
But I’m afraid the Wa-Po article suffers from importance mongering. Iggulden argues that the book, and the backlash against the backlash against boys, are important vehicles for righting the wrongs of public education and culture:
It’s all a matter of balance. When I was a teacher, I asked my head of department why every textbook seemed to have a girl achieving her dream of being a carpenter while the boys were morons. She replied that boys had had it their own way for too long, and now it was the girls’ turn. Ouch.
The problem with fighting adult gender battles in the classroom is that the children always lose.
Fair enough, but Iggulden is too quick to state more-or-less conventional wisdom as fact (“Boys don’t like group work. They do better on exams than they do in coursework, and they don’t like class discussion.”), without relying on any kind of science, hard or soft. I’m not saying he’s wrong in any way — I’m saying he owes us more than vague conjecture if he wants to drive a point home.