Vital Signs

Dumb and Number

Girls mature physically and socially earlier than boys, God's way of bettering the survival odds for female children. This accelerated maturation coupled with the intrinsically feminine culture of public education, where the ideal student is a little woman, accounts for the scholastic dominance of girls in the early grades.

But as puberty strikes the old order abruptly changes. Boys forge ahead physically and intellectually, while girls sometimes feel as though their very selves are dissolving. Many crash into a miserable pit of self-doubt, a slavish boy craziness, a semi-hysteria not exactly conducive to academic achievement. Also, at least until the recent past, the middle and high school curriculum begins to involve some serious math and science. Having stoically endured years of a demasculinizing system, boys start to come into their own at last.

But not if Big Sister can help it. That pubescent female "crash" has become a call to arms for feminists and their agents throughout the educational bureaucracy. Such books as Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia, Colette Dowling's The Cinderella Complex, and Karen Blaker's Born to Please, and such powerful policymakers as Donna Shalala and Ruth Bader Ginsburg argue that this slough of female despond is a crisis calling for full scale revision of all our institutions, assumptions, values, customs, norms, and methods, not least...

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