Invisible sons revisited: How boys got forgotten in a debate about boys

Last week, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, (for whom I have a lot of time and respect, incidentally) gave an interview to the Spectator magazine about the underperformance of white working class boys in education. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast, to be blunt, for reasons I have spelled out in a piece over on

Do please go have a read, but in summary, she got off on the wrong foot by implying the underachievement of boys was a consequence of a focus on girls and ethnic minorities, as if it were a zero sum game, which is a divisive and inaccurate way to think about the issue. It’s also politically clumsy and counter-productive, as it invites a reactionary response from government of purporting to help (white) boys by cutting back on support to girls and BME kids. Marginalised boys and their advocates need all the friends they can get, and it is really not helpful to suggest that providing them with greater support and attention is contrary to the interests of marginalised girls or BME communities. Recognising this is gender-inclusive politics in a nutshell. 

That was the section of the interview which captured attention and anger, but my piece focuses on a different problem that I have with what she said or, more pertinently, didn’t say. The solution to white working class boys’ under-performance, she argued, was ‘cultural change’ around values towards education in those communities. This, I reply, is a cop out. When politicians argue for cultural change, what they are saying is that they want things to change, they’re just not going to do anything themselves to bring it about.

Cultural change may indeed be necessary, but it is not within the gift of politicians. Policy change is. In keeping with the Tory government, and all previous governments and education secretaries, Angela Rayner is offering precisely nothing by way of policy to address the problem and that is simply not good enough.

But there was another issue arose this weekend, which I think deserves a bit of attention on its own.

To respond to the debate sparked by Angela Rayner, the Observer commissioned a piece from Kenan Malik (again, someone for whom I have enormous time and respect, incidentally.)

The headline alone is remarkable. I’ve written often about how vulnerable boys and men are marginalised from media and political debate, and how male-specific gender issues are quietly, subtly made invisible, but if Jonathan Swift himself were around to satirise the problem he could not have dreamed up a more perfect illustration. Commenting upon a debate about white working class boys, the Observer’s piece is titled: “In British education, the central issue is class, not ethnicity.”

Of course, headlines often lazily misrepresent the articles they present, but in this case it is a perfectly accurate reflection. These 850 carefully-considered words about the academic attainment of boys wrestles with the question of whether boys are underachieving because they are working class, or whether boys are underachieving because they are white, or perhaps boys are underachieving because they are a combination of white and working class. Within that there is not so much as a single line of acknowledgement that they may be underachieving – even in part – because they are boys.

I raised this politely with Kenan on Twitter and we had a friendly chat which quickly descended into a rather turgid exchange of statistics as we each attempted to demonstrate the relative significance of the different factors. I’ll resist that temptation here, partly because the statistical analysis of this multifactorial issue is immensely complex & the available data is really not up to the task.

The most useful synopsis I have found is this extract from a Department of Education document from 2014, which points out that while the ‘equity gap’ between free school meals [FSM] children and non-FSM children narrowed markedly over the previous decade, and the gap between white and BME children narrowed dramatically over the same period, the gap in performance between girls and boys was surging, and is now much larger than the ethnicity gap. It’s unfortunate (and telling) that the DoE appear not to have repeated that analysis in the years since, but all the evidence I have seen is that all those trends have been continuing uninterrupted.

But the other reason I’m not really interested in trading stats is because it is not the point. If we are talking about the situation of white working class boys there are three factors at play, all of which interact and intersect with each other: ethnicity, class and gender. Asking which is more important is like asking whether the flour, eggs or sugar are more important in a sponge cake.

Even if, like Kenan Malik, your principle concern is with the underperformance of the most economically deprived children, surely one of the most shocking and important details is that the achievement of boys compared to girls worsens dramatically among FSM children. You cannot understand or analyse that fact without understanding and analysing the role of gender.

In one sense this is not Kenan’s fault. He tells me (truthfully, I am sure) that he was commissioned to write about the issue of ethnicity versus class, not about gender. I would strongly suspect that the commissioning editor behind that decision wasn’t consciously, maliciously intending to exclude gender from the discussion. It was just that boys failing desperately in school isn’t considered newsworthy or of interest.

After all, it’s only boys.



  1. StillGjenganger says

    The measures you propose sound quite positive, and I do not have the knowledge to judge to what extent current education may be favouring one sex or the other. But, no offense Ally,

    1) There is no absolute standard. Underachievement is defined as (in this case) boys performing less well than the girls you are comparing them with. In purely statistical terms that is a zero-sum game – less underachieving boys means less overachieving girls.

    2) Resource expenditure is in practice also a zero-sum game, those extra teaching hours will have to be paid for from somewhere.

    3) We have had 30+ years of intense focus on improving results for girls. Apparently with success. Is it not a plausible scenario that education has been changed to be more girl-friendly over that time? And that this has also made it less boy-friendly? When you say that this is not, cannot be, a zero-sum game, is it really because you have analysed all possibilities and established from data that measures that improve results for girls have no possible detrimental effect on the results of boys? Or is it simply that you find it politically unacceptable to entertain the idea of making trade-offs between groups?

  2. That Guy says

    @ StillG #1

    1) There is no absolute standard. Underachievement is defined as (in this case) boys performing less well than the girls you are comparing them with.

    Have you ever sat an exam? there is absolutely an absolute standard. It’s the fucking exam mark.

    This isn’t a case of more girls are getting A* than boys, who are left with a measly A. It’s the case that more boys are failing the examinations. Sorry for the language, but your statement is mindbogglingly false.

  3. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy 2
    In this bit it is all about relative, not absolute, performance:

    a Department of Education document from 2014, which points out that while the ‘equity gap’ between free school meals [FSM] children and non-FSM children narrowed markedly over the previous decade, and the gap between white and BME children narrowed dramatically over the same period, the gap in performance between girls and boys was surging, and is now much larger than the ethnicity gap.

    But if you have any information to add, by all means do so.

  4. Ally Fogg says


    1) There is no absolute standard. Underachievement is defined as (in this case) boys performing less well than the girls you are comparing them with. In purely statistical terms that is a zero-sum game – less underachieving boys means less overachieving girls.

    Yes, I knew this would come up and I’m happy to explain it. I’d have liked to explain it in the text but it would have been a heck of a sidenote. I’ll try to explain, here then I might add a note in the OP.

    When I say attainment is not a zero sum game I mean it in several ways. First, attainment is not just statistical attainment or grades on paper, I mean the actual learning – being educated to a higher level, having more skills and knowledge etc etc etc.

    You can have both boys and girls doing well or both doing badly, compared to the standards we set, not just to each other. Exam results are not standardised

    This is the basis of the annual media hooha about standards of GCSEs – if results go up across the board, is it because the children are getting smarter or is it because the exams are getting easier? Bottom line is it is difficult to measure, but attainment is real and valuable, whether or not it is being reflected in exam results (and we have to assume that it is being measured for this statistical debate to make any sense.)

    In this case, when we are measuring attainment of students with different characteristics (ie gender, ethnicity, fsm status) you can compare the results of boys to girls but you can also compare results of better off boys to poorer boys, then better off boys to better off girls, Bangladeshi origin girls to black a/c origin girls etc etc etc and with that you build up a picture and see how things are changing.

    And while it is really messy, what appears to be happening is that over recent decades girls, across the board, have got better at most academic subjects. Some have got much, much better, (ie they are learning more & demonstrating that knowledge in exam papers and coursework.) Some categories of boys have also got better in some or most subjects, but their improvement has been less impressive. The most recent stats I’ve seen, boys across the board are still very slightly better at maths, but that gap has almost vanished and will soon be reversed (of course 50 years ago they were ahead in pretty much all subjects.)

    But most significantly, there are some groups of boys where demonstrable learning has actually got worse – not compared to girls, but compared to the standards set by exam boards.

    But it is also not just about the statistics, it is about the implications of the language. It is one thing to say that boys’ under-achievement has happened alongside girls advancement, it is a profoundly different thing to say that boys’ under-attainment has happened as a consequence of girls’ advancement.

    I think it is much more accurate to say that boys’ under-attainment has happened as a consequence of a vast array of causes including cultural & socioeconomics change, education policy, teaching and – most relevantly to this discussion – the indifference of successive governments & the broader political-media establishment to the issue,

    I should add too that the economics of growth are relevant here. If we use the measure of university/higher education as an outcome measure here… In crude economic principles, better educated people do more to grow the economy, which then makes it more possible to educate more people to a higher standard which grows the economy further etc etc etc.

    It’s not as if there’s a finite number of jobs or university places or whatever, which have to be filled by a boy or a girl so what’s it matter which…. If you educate people more successfully you end up with two jobs where one was before.

    Hope that covers it!

  5. Ally Fogg says


    You are right about that section, the equity gap is relative, but that is just one measure of attainment.

    I think it might be most useful to look at the equity gap in conjunction with attainment graphs, ie, use both together & you can really see what is going on.


    Just to add, this stuff is really fuzzy and inconclusive, I quite agree.

    It is a nightmare for social statisticians because it’s a bit like the data is all being produced by rubber rulers wielded by people in blindfolds then colour-coded using a black and white monitor!

    That in itself is another part of the problem, people haven’t even cared enough about the issue to quantify it properly. But there is huge amounts of testimony & anecdotal evidence that points the same way, so I think it becomes a bit wanky to argue too much about the statistics, everyone knows what is going on.

  6. StillGjenganger says


    OK, so this is not just a matter of relative performance numbers, we actually know enough to be able to say that girls have learnt a lot more, some boys have learnt more, but less so, and some boys have gone backwards. Good.
    There could be a lot of reasons – including the proposed one that the focus on girls and minorities have caused it – but that is all speculative, and the sensible thing to do would anyway be to look for something that helps first, and then look for causes later, as part of the process. All fine.

    On a slightly different subject, a few years ago someone had taken the PISA studies and had looked at the relative performance of boys v. girls across a range of countries, comparing it with a measure for gender equality in each country. The results could be summarised ore or less as follows:
    – Boys’ and girls’ results did NOT converge as countries got more ‘gender equal’.
    – Boys did about 30 percentage points better in maths than in languages, relative to girls, across all countries.
    – Girls scores increased with gender equality measures.
    – The net result was that in Turkey (least equal) boys were equal in languages and 30% ahead in maths, whereas in Sweden (most equal) boys were equal in maths and 30% behind in languages.

    This did suggest the hypothesis that boys had a built-on advantage (biological?) of about 30% in maths, and that the gender equality index correlated with a more female-friendly environment (but that we do not know where, and under which conditions the two sexes could be fairly compared). I am not asking to discuss the hypothesis (it is way too speculative and not what we want to spend our time on). But, do you know if those numbers are still reasonable, or have they been disproved by newer ones?

  7. lucythoughts says

    Everybody probably has their own theories about why this is happening but I personally believe that the problem takes root in the very first two or three years of primary school and just gets worse afterwards. The national curriculum has got more and more academically demanding at a younger and younger age. There are a lot of kids from very deprived backgrounds, and this is especially common with boys, who come to school with very, very poor verbal skills; they aren’t ready to learn to read, or even learn letters, until they have done a huge amount of catching up in learning simply to express themselves verbally and understand verbal instructions. The expectations in the national curriculum are challenging for a child from an educated, involved family with a positive attitude to learning. For a child who has never been read to and who has hardly even been conversed with, they are just setting them up to fail. My personal belief is that all the gender specific stuff, like male teachers or mentors or whatever, will not help these kids. What they need is a huge investment of time early on, which means more teaching assistants and one on ones in their classrooms, and the frequent, repeated experience of succeeding, which they will get only when they are set the kinds of tasks which will engage them and that they can achieve.

    So why are boys failing not girls? It isn’t because the current curriculum is girl friendly, it isn’t, it isn’t child friendly. But, to use really broad generalisations, girls usually come to school with two advantages as learners, they have slightly better verbal skills on average and, more importantly, they are more compliant. Both boys and girls find it stressful, but they react to the stress differently: girls internalise it and become anxious, boys externalise it and act out. Girls are more likely to keep trying to meet the expectations to avoid being told off; boys are more likely to realise they can’t win this game and just knock over the whole damn board.

  8. Paul says

    The issues raised by this article are extremely complex and a one-size fits all approach to addressing them is unhelpful.For instance there’re those who believe that the under-achievement of boys in schools could be rectified if boys became more like girls.Which fits in nicely with those seeking to demonize males at every and any opportunity.Or having more male teachers will help boys especially those whose fathers aren’t around and who haven’t any other positive adult male role models in their lives.

    When Labour was in power between 1997-2010 there was a big drive to raise standards in schools here in London which were seriously under-performing and it proved successful for many working class pupils of both sexes but boys of White ,Black Caribbean and Mixed Black Caribbean/White ethnicity were still proving to be the laggards and were the most likely to face exclusion.And recruiting more teachers from the Caribbean didn’t help as they were used to teaching in a very different cultural context and couldn’t cope with the disciplinary problems that are a real problem in some schools in this country .

    Sometimes teachers are to blame for failing to engage and interest pupils and some parents refuse to support teachers when it comes to disciplining them.Indeed parental abuse can be a root cause of bad behavior amongst pupils.But certainly in the Black Caribbean community there’ve been academics like Tony Sewell who recognize that a combination of hyper-masculine peer pressure and lack of positive male role models are also factors that need to be understood in explaining why working class Black Caribbean boys under-perform at school and that it can’t be entirely explained away by institutionalized racism in the teaching profession.And i would suggest they’re also factors that need to be taken into consideration when looking at problems faced by working class White boys who’re still under pressure to behave like ”real men” but have fewer legal outlets to prove their masculinity.

  9. Paul says

    but have fewer legal outlets to prove their masculinity.

    What i meant by the above was that in the past working class boys grew up in communities where there was a strict gendered division of labour both at home and at work and when they left school they often had apprenticeships which on completion gave them lifelong careers in jobs which were seen as being mens jobs.They married relatively young and were expected to support their families.

    Post 1979 the loss of traditional working class mens jobs coincided with a sharp increase in lone parenthood in working class communities.And this has left too many working class boys growing up without either a working dad in the home or other positive male role models as well as going to schools which don’t prepare them for an adult life which fits in with their hyper-masculine ideals.For if a boy has grown up in an environment where ”Lord Of The Flies” peer pressure manifests itself in hyper-masculine ideals how do the schools go about changing that so as to prepare them for the world which is especially insecure and poorly paid for working class people these days.?.


  10. Paul says

    so as to prepare them for the world which is especially insecure and poorly paid for working class people these days.?.

    should have read :-

    ”….so as to prepare them for the world of work which is especially insecure and poorly paid for working class people these days.?.And where many of the jobs aren’t viewed as being ”real mens jobs”. ?

  11. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 7
    Could well be. And it has the advantage that it mentions specific mechanisms, not a more abstract ‘girl-friendly’ ethos.

  12. Ally Fogg says

    Really interesting comments, Paul.

    One explanation for the (partial) closing of the ethnicity equity gap is that a much higher proportion of Britain’s BME population lives in London and over the past 20 years or so there has been disproportionate funding of London schools – that has been partly about politics, funnelling money into free schools and academies to make them look better for ideological reasons. But it was also because London’s school’s were acknowledged to be all but in a state of collapse by the late 90s, they’d been persistently under-funded for decades, so improvements came rapidly from a very low baseline.

    However that in itself is a useful reminder that academic achievement rises and falls with proper investment.

  13. Carnation says

    @ Lucythoughts

    That’s really very interesting, and makes sense.

    Regarding the paragraph that I’ve copied from you below – why the gender variables, in your opinion?

    “Both boys and girls find it stressful, but they react to the stress differently: girls internalise it and become anxious, boys externalise it and act out. Girls are more likely to keep trying to meet the expectations to avoid being told off; boys are more likely to realise they can’t win this game and just knock over the whole damn board.”

  14. StillGjenganger says

    @Carnation 13
    Yes, that will be interesting to hear – because that is the basic male/female role difference really. Which my two children exemplify to perfection, as it happens.

    Males tend to be more focused on status and respect, more impatient with being put in a low-status position, more at home with conflict and competition (and more impatient with fiddly lack of action??). Females tend to be more focused on harmony and togetherness, more worried about exclusion and less about status, less happy with conflict, which is a threat to harmony. And boys apparently develop a little more slowly at that age (biology, I thought).

    What is your explanation, Lucy?

  15. That Guy says

    @ lucythoughts

    girls usually come to school with two advantages as learners, they have slightly better verbal skills on average and, more importantly, they are more compliant

    I think that this absolutely nails an element missing, hands down. Anecdotally, I have many stories of boys in a not-great performing school that could succeed, but made a conscious decision not to engage.

    Part of this is peer pressure, but I think the origin of this ultimately comes from how we teach boys it’s not a ‘boy thing’ to *submit*.

    And that’s how teaching works, or at least how it did when I was a kid, you have a teacher, who is an authority, typically female, that you submit to.

    The ones that *do* succeed are the ones that cast education as something that they do for themselves, and own improvement, rather than because the teacher says so.

    Of course, hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills that lag behind girls at that stage of development is certainly a factor.

    just my two pennies.

  16. lucythoughts says

    Carnation; Gjenganger

    Ah, so you’d like me to quickly sort out the nature / nurture debate for you? No problem… 😉

    Firstly, disclaimer: when we talk about biological differences between sexes we are talking about average differences across populations which are not very predictive for any individual. Glad we cleared that up.

    On boys developing slower in some areas, I think it must be largely biological. Boy babies on average start talking a little later than girls and, as That Guy said, are slower to develop their fine motor skills, they are also more likely to have developmental delays and issues like dyspraxia, which makes handwriting very gruelling work. That said, normally the differences aren’t huge and the lags usually aren’t for long, so they shouldn’t make a great difference to outcomes, and it is perfectly possible for educators to adapt to the needs of individual children if they have the knowledge and the resources (a big if). I think they become more of an issue when kids enter formal education and are faced with expectations they can’t meet and peers to compare themselves with.

    Then there are the differences in behaviour. Where they come from? Well, what do I know, your guess is as good as mine. I would guess that there are some underlying biological predispositions which are the seeding ground for socially constructed behaviour norms. I would say that people are probably a bit stricter about enforcing the social graces with girls – saying please and thank you, sharing, being helpful. Boys tend to be encouraged to be more active and to “show off,” maybe allowed to be a bit more demanding, but also probably shown less empathy. I also think some underlying biological differences probably result in different treatment along the way. So for example, small children have different temperaments naturally; when a child has a mild temper combined with a desire to please, the expectations on their behaviour can go sky high and they end up being jumped on for very small deviations. Conversely, when a young child has a more demanding and emotionally volatile temperament they can get very punitive responses to genuine emotions that they really can’t control, which doesn’t support them to learn empathy or self restraint, but they may also get their own way more, because parents will learn to pick their battles with them rather than precipitate unnecessary scenes. So supposing more girls had the former disposition and more boys had the latter, it is easy to see what you might end up with.

    Another way this can work is that the different speeds of development can have an indirect effect. For example, when very little children have good verbal skills (more girls than boys) we tend to have higher expectations of them, because you can explain things to them and they understand, you expect them to be reasonable beyond their years. Equally if you get used to the idea of your small boy not speaking and understanding very well and not being able to reason with him, those lower expectations and simpler speech patterns can become a habit that sticks, even when his capacities have improved. A real life example, my first child loved books from when she was a baby, she liked to be read to and to point things out in the pictures when she was first developing words. My second would lose interest after about a page, you couldn’t get him to sit still and pay attention to a book if you tried. It wasn’t until he was over two and could understand the stories that he suddenly started to enjoy being read to, and by then I had got so much into the habit of not bothering to offer him books that it took some conscious effort to change what I was doing. He could easily have ended up missing out, not because he was a boy per se, but because his development had moved on and I hadn’t been sensitive to it.

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  18. StillGjenganger says

    @LucyThoughts 16

    So, real but limited biological differences that serve as the nucleus to form and stabilise social roles? You know, I agree completely with that. Amazing.

    The next questions become:
    – Can we get stable, automatically transmitted gender roles without this difference, or can we at most suppress it by relentless social pressure?
    – If we can do either, should we, or should we concentrate on getting a functioning society that leaves room for both?
    – How would we want alternative gender roes to look? Do we want all those little boys to be like liittle girls, or what?

    Ally’s mantra – roles that are ‘always a help and never a limit’ – sounds to me like a way of ducking the question and wanting the best of two incompatible worlds – like Dubcek, maybe. My stance you can probably guess: accept the difference and limit ourselves to limited role changes. But I would be initerested to hear where the rest of you stand

  19. WineEM says

    Quoting from the Politics UK piece: “Rayner’s phrasing was poisonously divisive and unhelpful”

    This just sounds like a conclusion you’ve come to because the idea offends some of your liberal prejudices to be honest Ally.

    I remember listening to a professor of education on Radio 4 some years back, and he went into quite a lot of detail on how, when the old O level curriculum was replaced with GCSE, there was a deliberate effort to make it more far girl friendly, including, for instance, scaling back on questions about diagrams of mechanical systems in science exams, a move away from the learning of hard ‘facts’ in science, and a greater emphasis on the expression of subjective emotions in the English curriculum.

    It’s true that gender ought not to be a zero sum game with regards to education but that is often how it has been used, there’s no getting away from it, for if you make changes to those aspects of the curriculum which disadvantage girls, whilst ignoring any aspects of the curriculum which may have similar effects for boys, this cannot be described as anything other than deliberate discrimination on the part of government over the years.

  20. Marduk says

    I was amused to see Tim Lott got away with his bet that he could publish the Damore/Peterson (Tim quite likes JP it seems) material if he did it in an obsequious manner. Its the lead article in the feminism section. But karmic balance has returned as Laurie Penny played the same game and has really gone to town mocking Damore’s autism with cruel barbs about him being a “special person”, “not being allowed to scream and pull your pants down in public” and “weaponized ignorance” (echoing /pol/’s famous “weaponized autism” meme) just because she disagrees with the guy (strictly speaking, what Owen Jones misreported about him).

    What they’ve both proved is that you can publish anything (hate speech in Laurie’s case) if you pretend its feminism, editors and reviewers clearly operate on a form of autopilot. Its not that they think transphobia or mocking autism is OK, its just “feminism good” over-rides actually reading the pieces closely. Which brings me to Rayner. If you read her entire interview, she goes off in the weeds from time to time but I’d say (1) thanks for at least recognizing class, this is a bigger taboo than gender these days as it isn’t a protected characteristic, so I do commend for this and we shouldn’t overlook it. Even if she’d phrased things better it would still have ruffled feathers. (2) when she said stupid stuff, she didn’t mean it, she was on identity autopilot. This is why habits of rhetoric and thought are dangerous. Its nearly always the right way to speak about these things in 2018, apart from when it absolutely isn’t. If it was any other group she was identifying, comparing with other groups, talking about relative privileges and oppression points, she would be in no trouble at all. My point to you Ally is that she’d be no more correct either but I doubt anyone would say anything about it. This habit of speech rather than what she actually said is perhaps the more telling thing. Its not that she doesn’t have a concrete plan for helping white boys, its that she doesn’t even have the language to discuss or think about them.

  21. Carnation says

    @ Marduk

    Only a troll could read LP’s article and decide it’s “hate speech.” Interestingly, wasn’t it you who claimed that a “comedian” inciting a dog to move it’s arm in a “Nazi salute” to the command “gas the Jews” *wasn’t* hate speech?

    Do you understand what hate speech is?

    LP didn’t at any time mention Damore’s Autism. She, correctly, noted his sexist beliefs and, again correctly, that he (along with the Nazi dog clown) is a darling of the Alt-Right.

    So, a woman who critique’s hateful racists and misogynists is guilty of hate speech, but the Alt-Right’s current crop of mascots are simply misunderstood?

    Dude, you’re deluded.

  22. Marduk says

    I honestly don’t remember a Nazi dog! How bizarre.

    Yes, I am trolling, I’m treating Laurie Penny to a bit of her own medicine. Really I’m accusing her (and whatever editor glanced at this after a liquid lunch) of having not done any research, she clearly hasn’t read what he wrote, and hasn’t read the Guardian’s own ‘long read’ coverage. I’m also illustrating how easy it is to fit someone up for this kind of stuff. Laurie Penny obviously has no idea he is autistic or she would be using a different set of analogies, I genuinely believe this. But its always really unfortunate and regrettable stuff like this where she wouldn’t give anyone else the benefit of the doubt for a second.

    Damore expressed regret at being used by the alt-right, you and Laurie should really read it, its a surprisingly sympathetic portrait.

    The wider point was really the automatism around certain ideas and patterns of speech that don’t get examined in their own light. The TERF/eugenics articles are a clearer but less recent example. In case its not clear to you, I’m actually being sympathetic to a labour politician I think has good intentions but bad habits.

    You say Laurie is critiquing “hateful racists” so she can’t be wrong, you’re doing the same automatic thinking. I think were Woody Guthrie here he’d have had a question for you because she is actually attacking someone for bringing a case under nine violations of the California Labor Code against a notorious corporation. The form of these complaints has very little to do with anything Ms. Penny is blundering on about and the evidence is compelling. I believe people shouldn’t be threatened with violence at work for example. I also believe their employer shouldn’t reward this behaviour directly with a financial bonus. There are good reasons for this, similarly the curse of blacklisting should never return (you can ask Woody about the blacklist in California too). If you and Ms Penny dissent, I have nothing to say to you further, clearly you’ve discovered a new form of socialism somewhere to the right of Margaret Thatcher. Or more likely, you aren’t reading and you aren’t thinking.

  23. Marduk says

    What happened to him is really important and if we are to discuss any contentious issue, his case will inevitably come up. He doesn’t get talked about enough.
    And yes, she really did write those things about an autistic man in defence of a corporation that is being prosecuted under the California Labor Code which protects workers from discrimination. Read the article, I’m making none of that up, its a fact and a bizarre one. Socialist activism isn’t what it used to be huh.

  24. lucythoughts says

    This will be a post in three parts:


    Look, I have said before that I feel rather sorry for Damore because he has been treated in a very shitty way, but let’s not be misleading here. Tim Lott and Peterson quote research about gender differences in psychometric tests, and that is one thing. Damore took a huge leap further than that, because he proposed not that women have higher levels of neuroticism than men, but that those differences are directly responsible for fewer women in managerial posts, because they can’t cope with the stress. That was the controversial bit, that was what got people upset and that was the bit that he had just made up out of his head. For me that was a huge problem, because when you write something like that and stick a peer reviewed reference on the end of it, people who are not scientists (most people) find it very hard to tell which part has some evidential basis and which part you just pulled out of your arse. It was very obvious that people just couldn’t tell. That document was not meant for the public but he did disseminate it amongst his colleagues and for someone who supposedly does have a scientific background it was a fairly irresponsible fudge of the facts for ideological reasons. After all, you could use that data to demonstrate anything. Women are more conscientious, that must be why they have all the most responsible jobs. Women are more agreeable, that must be why all the best-loved and most highly paid celebrities are women. Women steer well clear of stressful jobs because of their neuroticism, that must be why 85% of social workers are men. Oh hang on…. You see? It’s stupid stuff. And personally, if I had been his boss I would have been satisfied with pointing out that it was stupid and that he had made his colleagues very uncomfortable, and then sending him back to his desk. Google on the other hand is a giant American corporation and it takes no prisoners. I happen to agree with you about the legitimacy of firing him, but the hypocrisy cuts both ways here: after all, aren’t those outraged American conservatives the very same that you can usually find crying into their beer over the oppressive labour laws that make it so difficult for the poor corporations to hire and fire people willy-nilly? Socialism gone mad! Your problem, if you don’t mind me saying so, is that you think that people who position themselves anywhere on the political left wing, even Google for Christ’s sake, should have a unique and unsullied morality in a corrupt world. People are not like that, the shit gets spread thinly and evenly. If you are lucky sometimes something unusual and worthwhile flowers in it.


    The GCSE / O-level argument is one I have very little time for I’m afraid. GCSEs were designed to be easier anyway than O-levels because they were supposed to be universal. The boys who are failing their GCSEs now wouldn’t even have been put in for O-levels. In any case the problem is not at GCSE, boys are behind in key stage one sats (7 years old), key stage two sats (11 years old) and unsurprisingly, still behind at GCSE. The problem is much more systemic than one set of exams and however “boy-friendly” you make the syllabus or the testing you are not going to get around the fact that girls are doing better in education at every step along the way. It takes me back to what I said before, you can’t wait until these kids are 15 to try to put something in place for them, we have to find a better way of engaging them right from the off because if we don’t then they will have turned away long before GCSE to get their needs for self-esteem met somewhere else.


    Question: am I right in thinking that girls outperforming boys in education is a cross-national phenomenon? Are there any countries that are bucking the trend? (not counting the ones with misogynist education systems)

  25. Sans-sanity says

    When I was growing up girls were outperforming boys which was very important, clearly due to the school environment favoring boys, and something which must absolutely be fixed.

    Parity was reached and those who did the things took credit for having fixed the environment and made things fair for girls.

    Parity was then lost in the other direction and what? Years of programs and initiatives have nothing to do with it? Funded efforts to restructure teaching around “girls’ learning” came with no impact on boys’ education? Now it’s not zero sum? To believe that all that stuff was implemented with zero negative effect – and given the emergent opposing disparity would now need to be rolled back – I’d pretty well need to think it did nothing at all…. which is about where I’m at.

    Not long ago and for quite a fair period of time I was on an organisational committee whose primary purpose was to raise the proportion of women employed at a particular level in our company to 33%. A lot of (what I considered bunk) ideas were passed around and I argued that for all I thought they were worth we might as well just wait five years for the existing trends to hit the goal for us. Not a very popular opinion, and probably unhelpful in its own right, but I should have gotten in minuted because when we eventually reached our target – after five years – there was quite a great deal undeserved backslapping about all of our clever and important work.

    This is how I see the “focus on girls” changes to education. I doubt they’ve done anything to harm boys because I doubt they’ve done anything to help girls. They just got implemented at a time where the same changing social conditions that were always going to improve girls’ educational performance made them popular measures to take.

  26. Sans-sanity says

    As a sidenote, I’m not saying that nothing ever works so don’t try, just that there is an appalling lack of attention paid to evidence of effectiveness for interventions addressing popular issues of inequality (and far too little concentration on whether interventions once implemented truly worked (compounding the first problem with a lack of evidence)).

    To echo lucythoughts, it’s well established that school is very bad at helping students who fall behind do anything but fall further behind. That’s a problem for poor performers of any gender, but the biological realities of timing of maturation that have been pointed out above mean that it’s a problem that falls particularly heavily on boys. Drawing on my experience more so than proper evidence (hey I’m doing blog comments, not policy work here) individualised back to basics remedial education programs can be great for kids whose class is moving on to division when they were just on the cusp of grasping multiplication.
    But for the love of god, can they not be restricted to boys only? Gender inclusivity ftw.

  27. Sans-sanity says

    While I’m already committing the sin of multi-positing, can anyone think of any common conditions that interfere with classroom learning that *aren’t* over represented in boys? I mean color blindness, hearing impairment, dyslexia, ADHD, and ASD are the main “problem pupil” conditions and they all primarily or majority affect boys.

  28. StillGjenganger says


    I know this will not lead anywyere, but look:

    Damore did not do a social science research project. He made a contribution to the debate, With the following points:

    – Men and women are significantly diffferent in attitudes, interest and behaviour. Which is true, even Ally agrees. Ally just blames it on ‘discriminiation’ at the infant stage.
    – This difference may (note, may) in part be biological. Which is pretty much what you just said.above. It is for certain that we do not know for sure, either way.
    – These differences are likely to affect the choices people make, the qualifications they acquire, the roles and situations they feel most comfortable in – potentially enough to influence how many of each group apply, get hired, and get promoted at Google. Which is surely a reasonable supposition, at least, or why are we making all that fuss about role models etc.?
    – It is therefore possible that differences in numbers are not due to discrimination (except in Allys -pre-kindergarten sense) and that the number of people able and willing to become a top Google employee are not equally divided between the sexes. Do you dispute that, based on the above?
    – He then leaves objectivity and makes the political argument that it is unfair to discriminate purely on sex except where you can prove either an actual need for gender balance or at least somehow substantiate that the differences you want to correct are due to discrimination. And proposes alternative means to make the environment more woman-friendly without explicitly favouring one sex over the other. There are different political viewpoints, of course, but why is this so objectionable? Unless you simply find any disagreement intolerable?

    To put this into perspective, the reason that the people who claim that ‘blacks are less intelligent’ are so infuriating is that 1) it makes no sense genetically, 2) any effects would be too small to cause anythiing like the observed effects and anyway swamped by clear and known social factors – and in this case there is no set of social roles that could anchor in and amplify those ‘intelligence differences’. Explaining racial differences with inborn intelligence is too implausible to take seriously, and is an obvious excuse. Explaining different proportions of male and female top managers with statistical differences in education and career choiices, acceptance of lopsided work-life balances, or in how comfortable you feel (or society makes you feel) about commanding and conflict is perfectly plausible. Whether it is true or not.

    Now I do not at all think that progressives are more moral than other people. And anyone less autistic than Damore would surely have known that the call for open debate among employees was a sham, and that you had better agree with management if you valued your career. But there are certain limits. For instance, there was a story about blacklisting in the UK building industry a while back, and I am sure that I would find many of the blacklisted gentlemen wrong, obnoxious, and unduly combative. Just like I find Anita Sarkeesian aggressive, dogmatic, and bent on changing a popular entertainment form into a propaganda tool for her opinions. But if you care about any kind of rights and civil society there is still onlly one possible response: Political blacklists are wrong. Rape- and death-threats and doxxinng are wrong. And that must be said clearly, half-hearted stuff like what you are saying means you are chosing the wrong side.

    In the case of Damore the progressive left, to a man, have chosen to side with the blacklisters and condemn an extremely common and fairly well supported opinion as a form of nazism. Beyond the pale, To be excluded from public space, and justifying immediate firing. Which shows that any progressive talk about rights, fairness etc. is so much cant, which applies only to people with the right opinions. Anyone who is not on side should expect neither help nor sympathy if his dismissal ever becomes useful and possible for the movement. That may well be the world we live in, of course. But if so, my side too should throw away any pretense at respect for shared rules or the right of our opponentes, and work to make sure that it is our friends who end up firing yours, and not the other way around. It is for sure that you lose any claim on those principles that you openly scorn yourself.

  29. Carnation says

    @ Marduk

    Damore’s autism is irrelevant and you’re behaving in exceptionally poor taste by raising it as an issue in reference to his political views and LP’s subsequent critique.

    What does a person’s autism have to do with their right-wing, reactionary politics? You’re getting dangerously close to pretty disgusting stereotyping.

    “Damore expressed regret at being used by the alt-right”

    Oh, that’s why he appears on their sadcase little radio shows, then?

    I’ve no idea whether you’re trolling or not with the rest of your ramblings, and can’t really be bothered to try and tease out whatever it is that you’re hinting at, suffice to say comparing the treatment of Damore to the treatment of, for example, Ricky Tomlison in the 1970s is absolutely appalling.

    Damore has become a totem for the scum of the internet. The victim mentality of these arrested development, overly-sensitive, snowflakey bigots is excruciating to watch. And you’re one of them.

    *Slow clap*

  30. lucythoughts says

    Get over yourself Gjenganger, this is just the “failure to condemn” nonsense. “You failed to condemn it! Alright, you condemned it, but you failed to condemn it loudly and angrily enough! You failed to condemn every little bit of it separately and individually! That makes you one of them not one of us!” Unlike you I don’t feel the need to divide the world into my side and the enemy side and position everyone in it like little tin soldiers. I’m perfectly content to be a side all by myself with opinions of my very own which I don’t need to project onto anyone. I don’t need to Stand With Damore, or you or Ally or anyone else, I find myself perfectly capable of standing on my own two feet. What he said certainly wasn’t all wrong or horrible but it contained bits, particularly about women not doing stressful jobs but also other parts like his bald statements about the wage gap and social construction theory being myths (which encompasses your gender roles incidentally) that were far more controversial and downright aggravating than what you have represented. You would like to believe that what people objected to was the fact that he was opposed to affirmative action or positive discrimination or whatever but that was not the case. But honestly, I don’t really care, he is just a random bloke and entitled to his opinion and, as I have said before, has been unreasonably treated. If blacklisting is demonstrated to be going on, then I am opposed to it. And if that is not good enough for you then feel free to take your tin soldier with the Lucy label on and place it anywhere you like on your personal political war map. I’m really not interested.

  31. That Guy says

    @ Marduk

    Climate change threatens to turn this planet into an inhospitable hellhole, I’d say that that’s more important, and about as relevant, why don’t we discuss that instead?
    We’ve been over this time and time again, strictly, should he have been fired? Probably not, was circulating a broadly nonsense memo that was likely to cause offence to a significant number of employees and also at odds with his employer’s goals and aspirations asking for trouble? Absolutely.
    I mean, aren’t you meant to be smart to work at places like Google?
    Anyway, now we’ve for the fiftieth fucking time come to a consensus on this, can we stop obsessing over this guy?

    @ Sans-sanity WRT the problem conditions-

    I can’t think of any that aren’t over-represented in boys! I think this is two factors at play-

    1) IIRC, boys are more likely to inherit these kinds of conditions (such as colourblindness) because of the XY chromosome? I think?

    2) boys are socialised to ‘act out’ more and hence display obvious and disruptive behaviours that lead to a diagnosis, as opposed to girls (see suspected under diagnoisis of autism spectrum disorders in women and girls)

  32. Sans-sanity says

    @ThatGuy: Certain forms of hearing impairment are associated with mutations on the X chromosome as well I think (and therefore the phonotypes are more common in males) as well, I think.

    ASD and ADHD are believed to be under diagnosed in girls, but (certainly for ASD and I think for ADHD too) not to the the point of parity. I found a discussion on the situation on dyslexia that suggested that it had been believed that the disparity for dyslexia was due to ‘acting out’ but that that research was in the 1990s and more recent better studies have contradicted it.

    Depression and anxiety are the only relevant conditions I can think of that are over-represented in girls (although again we run into the question of different social responses confounding the issue) but I wouldn’t think those would have a large impact until teen years and I was thinking of issues that have an effect from the beginning of schooling.

    I’ve tried to look for data on vision impairment between boys and girls, but haven’t been able to find anything useful. In my experience that tends to indicate parity as boring findings don’t get publicity.

  33. Marduk says

    26. Trait Neuroticism, not neuroticism, Trait Agreeableness not agreeableness. These are just labels for things that come out of multiple regression and factor analysis. Damore was using these things correctly, he’s a statistical bioscientist. Perhaps its unfortunate that those terms haven’t aged well but they are correct for what he is talking about. Its interesting that you think this is problematic part, because Cordelia Fine doesn’t and Michael Weiderman doesn’t either. Indeed, Cordelia Fine (“Delusions of Gender”, “Neurosexism”) actually praised how nuanced Damore’s discussion was. She does however think his view of discrimination is very limited, fair enough. Anyhow, the continued insistence he was unreasonable about this material in excess of what is forgivable or an acceptable point of view is completely misguided.

    26/33. He disseminated it because his employer encourages people to do so. He was told he’d made a useful contribution by the head of Women At Google group who promised to promulgate the material for wider discussion. This is why his autism is relevant. He kept being told to do it, you and I know why he fucked up, he certainly didn’t and probably still doesn’t (neither does Google interestingly, they are trying to make a judge compel them to explain). This is exactly the kind of situation autistic people suffer in, being told one thing (over and over again) that nobody actually means. This is the funny thing about it, in his filing he reproduces all the stuff about blacklisting and Wired finds this deeply upsetting “Many are written with the earnest, unguarded candor of people who did not expect their words to travel outside of Google…The free-ranging discussions are highly valued inside Google, but until now, the they’ve remained inside the company.” Just like Damore’s essay.

    31. He doesn’t have “right wing reactionary politics” and I don’t think anyone but you has accused him of that. He describes himself as a centrist and not really interested in politics. I’ve noticed this with you before, you are mostly interested in condemning people, never understanding them. And you have the temerity to think that you are a good judge of who is a reactionary and who isn’t.

  34. Carnation says

    @ Marduk, re #31

    He describes himself as a “classical liberal.” Do you know who else does? That Prison Planet clown, and a host of other Alt-Right or close enough figures.

    You are sending out contradictory messages. Firstly, that Damore did nothing wrong and is being persecuted. Secondly, that OK, yeah, he did something wrong, but it was down to his Autism.

    You accuse me of temerity? You are offensively deluded to reduce a man’s politics to his disability. I think you have an internet nerd’s understanding of Autism; the jokey, meme inducing kind.

    Stick to what he man actually said and did.

    PS – it wasn’t you that defended the halfwit with the “Nazi dog”, it was that cheerily excluded idiot Adiabat.

  35. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 32

    Fair enough – and that is probably a good place for us to stop. Some other time and some other topic.

  36. StillGjenganger says

    @Marduk, Carnation,

    Damore’s particular situation is what makes him such an iconic case. He is not in a job with a media role, or representative functions (like Tim Hunt), or high up enough that he can be said to represent Google. He is also not a provocateur, or a political activist, or deliberately trying to make noise and trouble (like Germaine Greer, or Milos, or even the ‘Black people matter’ football players). He is just an earnest working stiff, trying to participate in the internal debate and being very careful to provide references and avoid provocations or misunderstandings. The thing is that anyone else in that position would understand that whatever it says on the intranet you are not supposed to argue a political line that goes against what the top managers say to the press. It is NOT that he ‘did something wrong’ because of his Autism. He did something that should be innocuous, like calmly stating a common and argued political opinion in an internal debate, without instinctively understanding that he had better not. And he thereby showed that merely arguing a conservative opinion on gender politics is seen by a whole lot of people ass grounds for instant dismissal.

  37. Marduk says

    38. This.

    Anyhow, back to the point.
    This is nice document:
    It contains parliamentary questions and answers about closing the equality gap and the stonewalling answers to them. I think you can see the problem here, frequently when people ask about gaps, they get an answer about everyone and girls. Its very reminiscent of the whole VAWG farrago and you see it in healthcare discussions. It seems men and boys don’t actually exist. There is “everyone” and there are women/girls. We need to understand why this is. If there isn’t the language available, no discussion can be attempted.

  38. lucythoughts says


    I understand the terminology thank you and if I have to repeat my point I will: there is evidence for differential personality trait distributions between genders, there is no evidence at all for how or if this affects career choice. He has as much right as anyone else to take a wild guess but that is what it is. Representing that as him being criticised for quoting the research findings is dishonest. It is not good intellectual practice to take research data and try to make it say something it doesn’t say for ideological reasons. Schmitt, who produced a large proportion of that data, was very uncomfortable with it being used in that way, but perhaps he is also misguided. And far be it from me to disagree with Cordelia Fine but I don’t think there is anything nuanced about stating that fewer women do stressful jobs and then attributing that to higher negative emotionality without evidence to support either the initial statement or the proposed cause. I mean, honestly, do you think that being a middle manager in tech firm is more stressful than being a doctor, a midwife or a social worker? You fuck up in those jobs and people can actually die. That’s a bit more pressure than having to pull an all-nighter because you’ve got a looming release date or whatever. But we’ll leave it here, you think I am misguided, fair enough. I think you are misguided, particularly because you prefer to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as not understanding what they are talking about than accept that there might be more than one valid opinion on the subject.

  39. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 40

    I can understand if you are not interested in continuing this – but there seems to be one clear, factual disagreement between us:

    You are quoting Damore as saying that these gender differences are what is causing the occupational differences we are seeing. And that would indeed be speculating far beyond available data. What I remember him as saying is that we do not know, but that the gender differences are a plausible alternative explanation compared to straight discrimination (and following it up with a “therefore we cannot simply assume that there is anything wrong with an 80:20 sex ratio”, which is of course a separate, political point).

    Do you have anything to say on this disagreement between us – or do you simply think that Damore is wrong either way, so that it does not matter?

  40. lucythoughts says


    I think the former, although it is rather a matter of interpretation. My memory of it is that he pretty much dismissed the entire field of sociology as unsafe because the researchers were all biased towards left wing political views and proposed that gender differences were at least primarily if not exclusively biological. That is probably an exaggeration of his views, but then I think your interpretation has also been exaggerated towards the idea that he basically thinks the same as you, which I doubt is true. You have rather a nuanced view of gender politics, I suspect his is much more black and white. But I will also say once again that he is entitled to his opinion, if I had read his opinions somewhere in this comment section for example I wouldn’t have even bothered replying. I only waded in this time because I was getting tired of the repeated claims that the only possible reasons anyone could have for being irritated by what he wrote were if they were a) too ignorant to understand what he was talking about (Marduk) or b) too venal to countenance any opinion which disputed their supreme right to whatever job they happen to want (you). The fastest way to shut down a debate is to write off everyone who disagrees with you as stupid or mendacious. It is perfectly possible for other people to have opinions which are so fundamentally antithetical to your own that they make your eyes water, and nevertheless be as intelligent and sincere as you are yourself. It isn’t always worth having a discussion with them, because there is nowhere you can possibly meet, but if you don’t believe that then you might as well leave the field.

    PS looking back on it I kind of laid into you earlier. Sorry about that. I could have been a bit more diplomatic there.

  41. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 32 (and 42).

    You did rather lay into me, yes, but then I did rather ask for it first. No complaints, and no need for apologies (unless you want one back – we can do that). Maybe I would profit from writing more posts like #41 and fewer like #30. Anyway there is a mile between being angry and tired of the conversation and letting people know it (which is fair enough), and systematically treating anyone you disagree with as deluded idiots (no names, no pack drill).

  42. Marduk says

    40. You are missing the point. The issue isn’t whether he’s right or whether you or I agree with him, its whether what he said was a reasonable idea to express in a spirit of open discussion and debate or so unreasonable as to be clearly designed to only be hurtful and offensive. That is the test that matters and the crux of the issue. I don’t particularly agree with him as it happens, but I don’t think it was unreasonable.

  43. lucythoughts says


    I’m not missing that point, but it is possible for more than one point to co-exist simultaneously. You have come back to the content about personality trait distributions more than once on different threads (including this one, #21) and I finally responded to that. Having done so though I’m very happy to let it drop.

  44. lucythoughts says

    34. Sans-sanity

    Boys have more behavioural problems and conduct disorders too, and these aren’t just “acting out,” a lot of referrals to CAMHS are for these issues. As you said, depression and anxiety are more common in girls and are growing problems in primary school as well as secondary school. Children’s mental health is a huge problem generally, CAMHS isn’t equipped to deal with the scale of it and only sees the most severe cases usually after long waits, even then too often they are fobbed off with a trip to a psychiatric nurse and a prescription. One of the hidden costs of academisation is that the LEA services which used to be provided to all schools in a joined up way have disappeared because they can’t fund them anymore, so if a school wants, for example, the advice of an educational welfare officer, they have to source a private one and pay for it out of their budgets. One service which seems to have been all but completely lost is the educational psychology service. Educational psychologists used to go into every school in their catchment regularly, the staff could talk to them about any kids they were concerned about and the psychologists would suggest strategies to help them, meet the child and their family if necessary etc. Now, if a school wants help for a child they have to hire a private clinical psychologist out of their own budget, and you can imagine how reluctant they are to do that. Again, unless a child has a diagnosed condition they are unlikely to get the help they need.

    I agree completely with this, and being able to assign a learning support worker to children when they start to struggle or become unmanageable is one thing that genuinely does make a difference from what I’ve seen. Personally I’d like to see major changes to the curriculum as well, but even without that I think this is one of those problems which could be significantly improved just by throwing money at it.

  45. That Guy says


    This is very interesting, re. mental health and children’s wellbeing. Is there a known reason for boys being diagnosed with more behaviour and conduct disorders?

    As deeply concerning as it is, is it the biggest factor responsible for gender disparity do you think? or rather a contributor amongst other factors?

    IT would be interesting to look at the data at this, and see how the educational outcomes change following these policy changes, I suspect on top of that that the disparity would widen as the money available to schools is choked by the economic downturn. does anyone know if that’s borne out by the data?

    (Additionally, how does women’s and girls relative increase in educational attainment square against this, surely cuts to these services affect them too?)

  46. Carnation says

    @ That Guy/ Lucy Thoughts

    “This is very interesting, re. mental health and children’s wellbeing. Is there a known reason for boys being diagnosed with more behaviour and conduct disorders?”

    I wonder if this is a tragic variation of male formative experiences not generally being taken into account to the same extent as females in the criminal justice system?

  47. Danny Gibbs says

    These 850 carefully-considered words about the academic attainment of boys wrestles with the question of whether boys are underachieving because they are working class, or whether boys are underachieving because they are white, or perhaps boys are underachieving because they are a combination of white and working class. Within that there is not so much as a single line of acknowledgement that they may be underachieving – even in part – because they are boys.
    I’m not sure how it is in the UK but that happens pretty often in the States where mention of helping boys get buried under declaration that the ones needing help being male has nothing to do with the situation or is just a tangential relation to some other factor (usually race and class). Its a classic and frankly lazy dodge.

    It’s the dark side of so called intersectionality. Playing axis against each other in order to avoid acknowledging the fact that they factor into the issue at hand.

  48. mostlymarvelous says

    lucy “Question: am I right in thinking that girls outperforming boys in education is a cross-national phenomenon? Are there any countries that are bucking the trend? (not counting the ones with misogynist education systems)”

    I know I’m super late to this party … but. Finland would be a good (counter) example. The girls v. boys in early education problems and later differences in outcomes are pretty standard in all English speaking countries as far as I know. Two reasons for Finland’s success.

    One. School doesn’t start until children are 7 years old. My experience with tutoring 5-6-7 year olds with reading difficulties would be nearly irrelevant in such an education system. All those minor glitches in development rates can’t affect, and especially have no cumulative effect on, average kids – boys and girls alike – whose development rates in essential education related attributes, fine motor skills, word knowledge, attention span and the like, don’t follow a standard pattern.
    Two. Finland puts a huge effort into the early years of schooling. Admittedly they have a huge advantage. If you want to diagnose dyslexia or other language-reading-writing problems, most diagnostic tools are not much use below age eight. So any kids who need special attention – which they will most certainly get – are in a position where teachers and psychologists can identify and deal with their needs.

    (At least, that was how it was 15 years ago. Not sure if the Finns are still doing it right.)

  49. lucythoughts says


    Thank you for that, that’s very interesting. I had always suspected that the age of starting school and particularly the age they start teaching them to read was a factor. I actually tried looking it up at one point but I couldn’t find any data so I gave up. I find it hugely frustrating that our education system here is so fixated on the idea that the younger a child learns to do something, the better. There is no reason why children who learn to walk or talk or read earlier should end up better walkers, talkers or readers five or ten years later and it is so evident that making a painful slog out of learning key skills before the child is developmentally ready is one of the most counterproductive things you can do.

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