Pink or Blue Diplomas?

“If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” D&C 130:19.

So, even though Joseph Smith didn’t continue with gender neutral pronouns, women are collectively answering his call. In some parts of the country, female students make up 60% of students enrolled in AP or honors classes, and constitute 57 percent of undergraduates nationwide. The stats are making some hot-headed. In a weird reversal, some are making accusations that schools have been rewired to cater to girls while leaving the boys out in the cold.

Doug Anglin, a 17 year old high school student, has filed a federal civil rights case stating that Milton High School discriminates against boys. And while I agree that unfair practices based on pink/glitter paper and inequitable enforcement of hall passes should be abolished, some of Anglin’s suggested improvements are laughable. Honestly, letting students take AP courses for pass/fail and giving academic credit for sports absolutely negates the point, and abolishing community service requirements is just selfish.

Tyre posits that schools are ignoring male student needs. In her Newsweek article, she includes a lot of information about how boys need more space to run around, developmental stages of boys versus girls, hormonal influence, etc etc. All of which I can understand on a theoretical level, but it just isn’t convincing. She finally hits the nail on the head when she talks about family involvement.

I cannot argue against the fact that all students need encouragement and opportunity at school and at home in order to succeed. I don’t see it as a problem limited to gender. In his LA Times article, Landsberg discusses a variety of reasons why kids are doing poorly or dropping out of high school. And while some of the factors seem far removed from our clean, LDS style of living, a recurrent factor is the lack of support and encouragement at school and home.

As a child of east Asian immigrants, education has always held top priority. It was the great equalizer … the vehicle which brought my parents to this country, and by which their children would be able to carve their own places into society. Good grades and going to college were not choices, but mere hurdles (mile markers) to be passed on the road of life.

I only remember two things about the third grade. The first is that it was very boring … lots of sitting quietly and doing assignments in workbooks. The second is getting busted for doing handstands. I’d finished my in-class assignment, and had started chit-chatting with my desk-mate. Mrs. G got irritated and “punished” me by sending me out into the hall, where I promptly started practicing my handstands. Mrs. G turned all shades of purple and called in my mother for a conference on my aberrant behavior. The way my mother tells it, once she got the facts, she blasted Mrs. G for not keeping me sufficiently intellectually stimulated, and left in high dudgeon. The next fall I started at a nearby magnet program, and entered a world of creative exploration that left me no time to be bored.

Emerson wrote, “Education is the drawing out [of] the soul.” Childhood should be a time of exploration and discovery. Children need exposure to everything good we can throw at them, in order to find that place where passion and productivity intersect. And from that intersection, opportunities to learn, grow and share arise.

John K. Carmack, managing director of the Perpetual Education Fund, wrote , “Just knowing that our prophet is deeply concerned about [young men and women all over the world] and wants the best for them has been powerful. Knowing that he has declared that education is the key to opportunity has turned their hearts and minds to education, training, and a search for a satisfying career. Knowing that career training, guidance, and the means to obtain them are available is powerful medicine. This reaching out to the youth may yet prove the most important principle and brightest light of the Perpetual Education Fund.”

So, let’s quit with the “He said … She said …” blame game and actually do something. Encourage and be involved in our children’s education and our own. Be good parents, or if not a parent, then be a good example period. Get involved in a mentoring program. Develop our talents and share them. Promote all things virtuous, lovely, or of good report. Some may label it as seeking for advantages, but I’d rather call it, “the building up of the kingdom.”


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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  1. Deborah says:

    Dora: Thanks for the link to the Boston Globe article. I’m pretty up on my education news, but that one had escaped me. While I’m not a fan of contentious gender-wars in education — and goodness knows Newsweek loves a gender war (or a mommy war) — as a teacher, I am worried about the boys. OK, I’m worried about all of the students, for a myriad of reasons. This week it’s cyberbullying, next week it’s . . .

    But the young man at Milton High does have a point about the ratio of male-female teachers. Thirty-four percent male is pretty good for K-12 education, but be assured that the number is significantly smaller in the K-8 world. I’ve never worked in a school that has employed more than three male teachers. Teaching — especially at the K-8 level — has traditionally been a female occupation, and unfortunately the pay-grade and prestige level reflect this. I ran a student teaching seminar at a top education school for four years. I had a total of five male students. Thus, my students who do not have fathers in the home (too many) have a pretty high statistical chance of having no male authority figures in the first 14 years of their life. Problem for the girls? Yup. Problem for the boys? Yup, yupper, yuppest. My husband is also a middle school teacher — an amazing teacher — and I watch boys (especially needy boys) gravitate toward him in a way they do not, cannot with anyone else at school. Do I teach boys well? Sure. But as much as I have always searched for strong women to look up to — and not just in history — boys have that same need. I wish we could make teaching a more compelling occupation for good men (and I wish we could retain more bright women). But as long as “women’s work” (e.g. caring for and teaching children) is viewed as a “noble” — but lacking real status — our boys and girls (and men) will be missing out on a wonderful opportunity. In college I urged one of my LDS male friends to enter teaching — he was simply a natural. “I would love to,” he said. “But it doesn’t pay enough to support a family.” Sigh.

  2. Caroline says:

    Deborah, you bring up good points about the need for male teacher role models, particularly for boys. I am sympathetic to that and would like nothing better than a gender balance of teachers AND administrators. Perhaps when teachers are paid like they should be, more men will go into the profession.

    I actually did my M.Ed on the topic of gender in the English classroom. While there were a few articles that talked about the ways boys are shortchanged, the vast majority of research argued that girls are more disadvantaged than boys. Researchers talked about how girls might only read one book by a female author per year, as opposed to 6 by men. How girls study history that pretty much ignores women’s contributions. How boys are called on far more by teachers than girls. How the setup of the school – women teachers, men administrators – reinforces ideas about men being in charge.

    But your point about leaving behind the blame game is well taken, Dora. No doubt schools should do more to help both sexes succeed. I think you’re right about parents’ involvement. I can’t think of a single factor that contributes more to a student’s success than the level of involvement that the parents have in the schooling.

    One point about PPE fund, since you mentioned it. I think it’s a great idea, really I do. But until they give equal amounts of help to both men AND women, I cannot support such a program. My understanding is that it was created to raise up a population of priesthood leaders who were self-sufficient. Thus they award the money to returned missionaries – 90% of whom are male. Blech.

  3. Dora says:

    I do understand the difficulty with the off-kilter ratio of female to male teachers, especially at the sub-collegiate level. However, those who want to blame feminist teachers for slighting boys are just irritating. I think that men have just as much opportunity to become teachers as women, maybe even more so because male teachers are a scarce commodity. However, for a variety of reasons (low pay, prestige, etc) they don’t choose to enter the teaching profession, and won’t unless the field gains the recognition it deserves. For all the talk of family values and “do it for the kids,” we really don’t put our money where our mouth is.

    And about the PEF … well, I can understand the thinking, if not the actual practice. In many developing nations, the number of female converts far outstrips the number of male converts. So, there’s a dramatic dearth of worthy priesthood holders who can be called as church leaders. And if I’m not mistaken, many of these female converts/members are already married, &/or have children, which makes furthering their educations a bit more problematic. I’m not saying I agree with the policy, but I can understand why it was developed as such.

  4. stacer says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Dora. I’m glad to follow this conversation over from Linkup. I pretty much said all I had to say over there, but I’ll reiterate it enough to say that while classroom attention may have shifted toward the girls, it probably hasn’t happened for the reasons stated in the Newsweek article.

    What matters is exactly as you outline it, I think–we need to build our communities and families so that they support the education of both boys and girls. We need to pay teachers what they’re worth, whether male or female. And so forth.