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TMQ Follow-up: Boys, Football, and College

TMQ last week offered some thoughts about boys and college success, and how football may be contributing to the decline. Read my thoughts here. One of the things I love about Easterbrook is his willingness to offer up reader feedback in support or opposition. Here is the feedback he received:

Boys, Football and College: Last week I supposed that ever-more boys spending ever-more time on football may be one (of many) reasons women are doing so much better in college than men. Sean McIntire of Los Angeles writes, “Your argument regarding football holding back males from the grades necessary for college admission is correct, but it’s not tackle football, the problem lies with too much Madden football. I’m a high school teacher, I see the disparity between the achievement of male and female students. I believe boys spend too much time playing “Madden” and many other video games. This is what is causing them to not achieve in high school.”

Anders Vorum of Randers, Denmark, writes, “I teach in the Danish public school system, and we see the same development here, though we have almost no American-style football. The general education level of girls is increasing much more than that of the boys. Our kids play a lot of soccer and handball, where concussions are a lot less common than in gridiron football, so neurological damage isn’t likely a factor in the Danish trend to girls doing better in school than boys.

“What I think is a larger contributor is change in the structure of the public school system. The position of teaching has transformed from a highly respected, well-paid job to a reasonably paid but highly criticized one. This caused men to begin leaving the school-teaching profession; women, then leaving the home for the workplace, found teaching a desirable occupation. Today 70 or 80 percent of teachers in Danish public schools are women, and the fraction may be similar in the United States. One of the effects is a school system that caters to girls but views boys as problematic. As a result, many of our boys don’t feel like they fit in and a fair few begin to ‘bail out’ when they hit the teenage years. A higher percentage of girls end up going on to our universities.”

That column further said high school football had become too time-consuming, preventing many boys from posting better GPAs. Joe Lindsey of Boulder, Colo., writes, “My nephews, age 7, are playing little league football this year. They love it. But it’s a significant time commitment for their family. The boys practice two hours two nights per week then have games on Saturdays, which can involve up to an hour’s travel each way. They play eight regular- season games this year. Their club may qualify for a three-week playoff season that culminates in, I kid you not, a bowl game. When I was in junior high school, our JV team practiced twice a week for two hours. We played seven games, all at the school or a short drive to a nearby school. There was no postseason. Now we have 7-year-old kids in their first exposure to organized football potentially playing an 11-game season.”

Ben Wachsman of Lancaster, Pa., writes, “You wrote, ‘Traditionally, high school football players struggled in the classroom during the season, then made up ground in the spring.’ I disagree from my own experience. When I played high school ball, my grades were best during football season. Having a set schedule and little free time helped. Lifting at 6, school from 8-3, practice 3:30-6:30, film study until about 7:30, I would come home and start homework right after a quick dinner, every night. But in the spring I would be home at 3:30 and would always find something more intriguing to do than schoolwork.”

Personally, I’ve heard from students that echo the bit at the end: structure helps me succeed during the season. I’ve also heard the concern authored by TMQ’s Danish reader. Most schools are structured to benefit those who can sit well and listen for long periods of time. This is often not something young boys are good at.  Girls tend to gain this skill earlier, and therefore may experience earlier success in school. Boys may react in numerous ways to this deficit, but I would not be surprised if some take a fatalistic attitude that education isn’t for them, and so they give up on the institution. Sure, some take it as a challenge, and try to prove the system wrong about its early characterization of them. Others just gain the skill early enough not to be affected greatly by a negative early impression (I was likely one of these). Either way, I’m glad that Easterbrook has decided to take up the discussion and allow us to interact with some of the responses.

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