Women Beat Men on IQ Tests for First Time. Why?
American media are excitedly reporting that women are smarter than men, according to IQ tests. Not equal to men -- supposedly the goal of feminism -- but superior to men.
That is quite a jump, and all in a matter of decades. How could such a thing happen? After all, biology tells us that genes tend to be stable over generations.
An ABC News blog reported: "James Flynn, a New Zealand-based researcher known as an IQ testing expert, said ... that women have closed the gap and even inched ahead in this battle of the intelligent sexes[.] ... Deciding which is the smarter sex is an ever-controversial topic of conversation and scientific research."
But one major aspect of this puzzle is completely clear. Virtually every teacher agrees that boys have greater trouble with one skill in particular: literacy. You can find dozens of articles with titles such as: "Research Says Boys More Likely To Have Problems Reading."
About.com continues: "The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that boys are more prone to having trouble reading than girls[.] ... Researchers found that in all studies, about 20 percent of the boys had reading disabilities compared with 11 percent of the girls."
Scienceblog.com sums up: "The research implies that reading disabilities are genetic. Boys are more likely to have a range of developmental difficulties."
These researchers are eager to make sweeping (and sexist) generalizations. But nobody seems to want to notice the 800-pound joker in the room -- that is, how reading is taught. The method of instruction could be a critical variable. But we are supposed to ignore that while accepting without reservation all the outlandish claims that researchers want to make. It's time to back up.
Let's approach this problem with the fewest possible preconceptions. It is probably safe to assume that boys are a bit more physical and restless, more likely to want to run outside and play a sport. Girls, on the other hand, are almost always described as being more comfortable sitting at a desk and playing by the teacher's rules. We don't have to talk about physical problems, inborn disabilities, or very much else. It's quite sufficient to posit that girls, on average, will show more patience in completing an assignment and more eagerness to please teachers. Boys, on the other hand, may decide after a period of genuine effort: I'm bored; this doesn't make sense; I'm not doing it anymore.
Freeze that frame. Everything we need to explain our literacy problems and the supposed gains in female IQ is right there in plain sight.
Starting in 1931, the education establishment banished phonics and introduced a new reading method that required more effort. Students were told to memorize words by their shape or design. While doable, this is hard work, whether you're talking about words, flags, chemical symbols, or famous paintings. One hundred designs is doable; 500 is a long, hard struggle. Initially, the experts announced that children would easily memorize 500 sight-words each year. In fact, very few children can learn even 100 per year. Many gave up before they got that far. By a great margin, those who gave up were boys.
A few kids, very smart and highly motivated, actually learned to read with sight-words. These were more likely to be girls. It's obvious: make reading instruction more tedious, and you penalize boys, because they are less willing to put up with the extra work. Note that this is an intelligent reaction, given that the instruction is gratuitously onerous.
(In the book Why Johnny Still Can't Read, Rudolf Flesch tells the astonishing story of a woman who graduated from Barnard College able to read novels for pleasure in French and other European languages. When she read novels in English, her native language, she got headaches and eye strain. Almost all sight-word readers report similar ailments. Remarkably, this woman actually reached the age of 36 without realizing that what she did with French words, she could do with English words. That is, read them phonetically. The horrific point is, Whole Word can hide the true nature of reading from even the smartest people.)
Reading is the gateway to all academic subjects. Cripple reading, cripple a life. Increasingly, even math requires that children be able to decipher verbose "word problems." Marginal literacy basically means that the child's schooling is over. Ten years later, these marginalized students will test lower in every subject and on every kind of test, be they SATs, college-level exams, or IQ tests.
The poor readers are children who will disproportionately drop out. The dropouts will be disproportionately male. No one should be surprised to find that today's college undergraduates are only 43% male.
Here is another dimension to this unnecessary tragedy. Almost nobody actually learns to read with sight-words. The more verbal kids, however, might use them as a springboard to figuring out the phonetic clues. These children may be slowed down a year or two. But by the fourth or fifth grade, they are reading phonetically even though they have never been taught phonics. They figure out empirically that letters can be translated into sounds according to predictable rules.
In short, Whole Word turns out to have a more brutal impact on the slower, less verbal kids of both sexes. When we think of boys, then, we have to imagine a double-whammy. They are less likely to accept the labor-intensive effort required to memorize sight-words, and thus less likely to make that leap into reading or phonics. If boys do learn to read, the schools often assign them books intended for girls. So we might speak of a triple-whammy. For years, experts have lamented that there is "A War Against Boys." That war is all too successful.
QED: Whole Word seems almost engineered to magnify the small (and heretofore insignificant) differences between boys and girls, to hold the boys back, to push the girls along, and to do all this surreptitiously.
As noted, this approach to reading is not good for anybody of either sex. But focus for a moment on the fourth-grader who is making some progress and is not therefore going to give up on school. That person is more likely to be a girl. Focus on fourth-graders who are depressed, angry, sullen, and becoming behavioral problems because they just don't "get" reading. These are more likely to be boys. The schools will say that such boys are ADHD and were born with dyslexia, but that's not what is actually happening.
So it might well be that women are not smarter -- not innately, anyway. Rather, the education establishment picked reading instruction that hurts everyone, but hurts girls less. In most English-speaking countries, this decision has had unexpected ramifications.
I've become cynical about our education establishment. Everywhere you look, these people seem to favor ignorance and illiteracy. So did they have all this wreckage planned out in advance? Dumb down everybody, but especially boys? Or did they merely stumble into these results and think, "Yeah, that works"?
In any case, if you like social engineering with a vengeance, you have to love Whole Word.
Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, and education reformer. He founded Improve-Education.org in 2005; his site explains theories and methods.