Bringing up the boys

Times columnist John Tierney criticizes the Education Department for focusing on girls' educational opportunities.

Published March 28, 2006 11:22PM (EST)

If you ever want to feel good about the success of feminism, just check out Saturdays column from the New York Times' John "Who Will the Smart Girls Marry?" Tierney.

In it, Tierney chimes in on the current debate over whether college admission boards should give preferential treatment to males with lower grades and test scores. Although such a practice might help balance the skewed gender ratio on many college campuses by bringing in more men, they would also set young men up for failure, he says -- adding that, for once, he is actually in agreement with National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy, who is also against such affirmative action. "It's not fair to the girls who are rejected despite having higher grades and test scores than the boys who get fat envelopes. It's not fair to the boys, either, if they're not ready to keep up with their classmates," Tierney explains.

Instead, he challenges the Education Department's attention to "educational equity" for women and writes that rather than focusing on girls, it should focus on helping boys reach college. He dismissively lists current programs: "The department is paying to encourage African and Slavic girls and women in Oregon to pursue careers in science. There's a grant to help women in West Virginia overcome 'traditional, outdated 19th-century attitudes' by pursuing jobs in blue-collar trades. Another grant aims to motivate women at the Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y., to study math."

"Those are all noble goals. I'd be glad to see the women in Brooklyn take up advanced calculus," he writes. "But the chief 'equity' issue at their college is the shortage of men, who make up barely a fifth of the student body. What happened to the boys who didn't make it?"

Boys may indeed need our attention. But I cant help feeling that its a shame for Tierney to frame this debate around the idea that if girls advance, boys somehow suffer. Can't we all advance together?

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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