Dr. Sommers on MSNBC About Boys’ Education, Mocked & Dismissed by Hosts

A picture says a thousand words. That’s why I still love doing videos. I just uploaded a new video to my YouTube channel. Below is the script from the part of the video where I dissect the “conversation” between Dr. Sommers and the MSNBC hosts (6 minutes in, onward). Also, see Dr. Sommers’s follow-up article in The Atlantic for more about her presentation.

Script:

You notice that the host starts off with a kind of snide condescension as well as a parroting of Feminist ideology. They point of course to the wage gap, that men make up most of the CEOs, and so forth. That is code for the true believers among them for “let’s join in and laugh.” Now of course, men are the majority sex at the top of society – i.e., they have the best jobs, they are most of those in congress, the judiciary, and so forth – but that is not the whole picture.

They are also overrepresented at the bottom of society, among the homeless, among suicides, the incarcerated (including the wrongly convicted). They take upon themselves the most brutal, filthy, and deadly jobs, and are consequently 93% of workforce deaths, and they die 5-15 years earlier depending on their race and far more often from nearly every major disease.

Now take a look at these graphs on college graduation rates:

Four Graduation Rates, Degrees, Associates, Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate, by Sex and Percentage, United States (new version)

I made these graphs myself last year, by the way, because I could not find all four of them anywhere else, including when I searched educational publications.

Imagine if, in the 1960s, we had said, “oh, please. I’ll start caring about women’s issues when men are no longer most of the homeless, those dying in the workplace, suicides, those in prison, and so forth. And not only do I not care, I think that no one in society should care about them either.” If someone were walking around today saying things like that, these people on MSNBC would call that sexism. But when they do the same to men, it is not called sexism. It is called the status quo, both at MSNBC, as well as in academia –  which, by the way, is the primary reason male education issues have been ignored for so long.

Now if you notice, this host right here – Mr. Touré – is pretty slick. What he does first is establish a broad framework – that we “live in a patriarchy” – a framework through which the rest of the debate (if you want to call it that) will be filtered. And then what he does is ask Dr. Sommers a very specific and narrow question about the rough and tumble play boys. By asking her this question, he effectively denies her the chance to reframe the argument – to say, perhaps, that the world is not as one-sided as Mr. Touré is presenting it. It is not truly a “denial” per se, however, but rather a trap that Dr. Sommers falls into.

Instead of answering the question about the rough and tumble play, I would say, “well actually, Mr. Touré, I would like to go back to what you said earlier about the idea that the world is one-sided, with men on the top and women on the bottom and that’s the reason why we shouldn’t care about boys.” After listing the fact that men are at the bottom of society as well, I would then say some things that should be obvious – that gender equity is not a zero-sum game, and that we all have issues, and that both sexes deserve our compassion and support. But this idea is apparently not something that is shared by these MSNBC hosts, and if you have been following along with the videos on this channel you know that it is not something shared by a great many Feminists and academics as well.

If you notice, Dr. Sommers waited until the very end of the segment to reframe, to say that men are the majority sex at the bottom of society as well and that there are far more men at the bottom than the top. But it is too little too late at that point. The consequence of her not immediately reframing is that she allows the MSNBC to just keep going back to that framework and keep beating her up with it throughout the conversation, which they do at the beginning, middle, and end of the segment.

So if you’re an advocate for men and boys and are ever in a debate, beware of that kind of setup where they introduce the frame, and then attempt to deny you the means of reframing. The first thing you should always do is make sure your framework is, if not dominating the conversation, then at least on the table.

Now, the ironic thing is that Dr. Sommers revised her book The War on Boys to be less critical of Feminism. That is why the old version of the book says “how misguided Feminism is harming our young men” and the new version talks about “how misguided policies.” There is this presumption among some people that if we would just be less critical of Feminism, that if we play nice with Feminism – indeed, if we stop criticizing Feminism at all – then the message will be received. Because Feminism is not about dismissing the needs of men and boys, and so on, and so forth.

Bear in mind that throughout this tv segment, every time Dr. Sommers says that boys are doing poorly in terms of educational attainment and well-being, these hosts just keep coming back and saying “yeah but, yeah but, women are more important, women are more important,” as if the mere existence of any issues for women negates the vulnerabilities – and indeed the humanity – of men and boys as a group. And at the end of the day, that’s what Feminism is: the idea that women, as a group, are more important than men. That may not be what these people believe on an individual level. But in terms of men and women as a group, that is what these people believe. They start the segment with a foregone conclusion. They don’t even hear Dr. Sommers; she is speaking into the wind.

And as it is with all such ideologies, the politics of appeasement do not work. You can try to sneak past it or camouflage it by merging it with other social justice issues, like race or sexual orientation issues, but in the end there will have to be a confrontation, as we have seen in Canada.

Now I don’t agree with all of Dr. Sommers’s solutions – in particular, single-sex schooling – but I can at least look at the data and agree that there is a problem and that we need to create a national conversation about it. And that is not something that the vast majority of Feminists do. Instead, they direct the majority of their efforts to trivializing the problem.

Now to balance it out a little bit, there are some people who say that boys’ educational problems are entirely due to Feminism. I do not think this is true, although I do think Feminism has played a substantial role not only in the problems, but also in preventing any kind of action in boys’ behalf.

I have yet to read the new version of Dr. Sommers’s book, although I did read the old one. I’m currently reading The Minds of Boys by Dr. Michael Gurian, so maybe I’ll pick that up afterward.

See you next time.

A Voice for Male Students aims to create a community of writers on men’s and boys’ education issues. If you would like to submit a guest post to be published here, please read the submission guidelines.

About Jonathan Taylor (TCM)

JT/TCM is an advocate of educational equity for men and boys who believes that the world is in desperate need of more good-natured mischief. He is a former college instructor of composition and argumentation and the founder of avoiceformalestudents.com.
  • https://www.facebook.com/aldir.gracindo Aldir Gracindo

    When you look at all that without being a feminism believer, it is actually cruel. “Is ‘tag of peace’ hurting boys?”; “We live in a ‘Patriarchy'”. Very good work, Jonathan!

    • http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com Jonathan Taylor (TCM)

      Thank you! And yes, cruel indeed. In the future we will look back at it all and, with the benefit of hindsight, say “wow, how could we have done this?”

  • http://gravatar.com/externalangst externalangst

    Thanks for the article. We do need to be more media savvy.

    Can I ask why you think more single-sex schools might not be an improvement? I may be wrong but suspect they could be beneficial to many boys. Boys have, on average, different learning styles than girls. There are less distractions from the ‘opposite sex’ during biological development. Differential assessment favoring girls’ styles would be reduced and outright discrimination against boys with respect to girls would not be possible in an all boy class.

    • http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com Jonathan Taylor (TCM)

      A good question. I ended up writing a longer post than I thought I would in response, and may turn this in to an article in the future. Based on what I know right now:

      The educational reasons:
      First, single-sex schooling makes the best difference at the middle-school level during puberty and all the chaos it brings (differences at other educational levels would be negligible – if they are beneficial at all). In the future I might be open to supporting it at the middle school level, but not beyond that (i.e., up and down most of the school system). In addition, much of the benefit from single-sex schooling for boys derives from a constructive male peer group/same-sex support, and this could probably be offset by remedies in other areas, such as bringing dads back in to the family and bringing in more male teachers.

      There are other considerations. I think that right now it will do more harm than good to boys to start educating each sex in isolation. Dr. Gurian, the champion of the idea that boys and girls learn differently (he wrote a book with that exact title) and an advocate of single-sex schooling, says in his book (page 215):

      “Let us offer a word of caution as you consider implementing single-sex educational options. The research consistently shows that the most successful initiatives in single-sex education are those that provided teachers with initial and ongoing professional development to truly understand how to translate theory into action in the classroom. Without this professional development, a number of [as in, many] single-sex classrooms and schools have failed.”

      Schools really aren’t ready to “jump in the deep end” and commit a substantial amount of resources (time, money, staff) to boys right now. At best, they want to tap their feet in to the water. With single-sex schooling it has to be an “all or nothing” approach, or it will be worse than if they never tried it at all. They can’t half-ass it. Unfortunately, half-assing advocacy for boys is the best a lot of schools can do right now, and many don’t even do that.

      Also, there is a chance that single sex schooling will move beyond encouraging boys to do masculine things alongside other feminine things, to instead requiring them to learn only or overwhelmingly in stereotypically masculine way – a way that may actually conflict with their individuality and educational needs. Not all boys are good spatial, abstract, or kinesthetic learners, and a not-insubstantial minority of boys are (as Dr. Gurian puts it) “bridge-brained” learners who would actually benefit less from such a setting.

      The political reasons:
      I have to agree with the Feminists on this one: single-sex schools run the risk of asking students to conform to traditional gender roles, roles which do men and boys a lot of harm in a post-industrial world. And a lot of “boys-only education” in the past has done that. This is also why I’m against women-only colleges, something Feminists are not against despite their opposition to single-sex schooling where it benefits boys. But that’s a Feminist for you.

      Lastly, it’s not a good political move for men’s advocates right now. The ACLU has made a strong stance on single-sex schooling, and it’s hard to shake off the accusation of segregation, regardless of intentions. It’s also rather questionable for men’s advocates to advocate desegregated domestic violence shelters, but then advocate segregated schools.

      If single-sex schools clearly produced dazzlingly beneficial educational results, I might think differently. But when the benefits are only substantially present in narrow situations (middle school), when the education system is nowhere near competent or brave enough to implement it correctly, and when there is an incredible amount of political blowback from even advocating the idea (which would cost men’s advocates progress in other necessary areas), my risk/reward analysis looks at single-sex schooling and says – at best – “not right now.”

    • http://gravatar.com/aardvarkomega aardvarkomega

      Wondering how many of the CEOs went to all male secondary schools…

  • http://www.cotwa.info/ Pierce Harlan

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Jonathan. Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com Jonathan Taylor (TCM)

      Thanks. Will do!

  • http://gravatar.com/juliushmarx Rufus T. Firefly

    Mr. Taylor,

    Thank you for taking the time to report on Dr. Sommers’ appearance on MSNBC. I am very interested in this topic. As a father I have been surprised by the difficulties the male children of many of my friends (so far, so good with my own; knock wood…) are having coping with adolescence, education and work and I think you and Dr. Sommers are rightly focusing on some key areas where we need change.

    Twenty years ago I would have laughed at the notion, but I have become a big advocate of single sex education at the High School level. I attended a large, co-ed, public High School and have been astounded at the positive differences I have seen; observing the single sex, private High Schools my children attend.

    The mere presence of the opposite sex is an enormous distraction for High School aged kids. The boys have a natural tendency to act out and the girls have a natural tendency to compete for attention, often at the expense of the other females. And, even the kids who are mature enough to resist those temptations are still greatly impacted by all the reindeer games going on around them.

    Also, I have noticed teen-aged boys are much more responsive to male teachers and men are much more attracted to the teaching profession at all male High Schools. In other words, all male High Schools have a much higher ratio of male to female teachers than co-ed High Schools. I think teen-aged girls can do well with male or female teachers, but young boys typically respond much better to male role models. Whether conscious or unconscious, I’ve noticed that if a man is doing it young boys will be attracted to doing it, if a woman is doing it; not so much. So, many young boys are more likely to strive to learn and do well in class if taught by a man. It’s not right. Maybe it’s not even good, but it does seem to be how their brains are wired at that age.

    Also, I have noticed that young men do much better at school when there is clear, simple (and even physical) discipline. All male High Schools can orient themselves more to that structure, which is not what young girls need, or respond to.

    As I wrote, I would have never believed these things if I hadn’t witnessed them first-hand, but what I’ve seen from my own kids, their peers and my friends’ kids (a sample of uni-sex and co-ed schools) I have completely changed my philosophy and become a huge advocate of single sex High School instruction.

    Not to get too primitive, but imagine you have a goal of training a group of dogs (you can use any animal) to learn a series of complex tasks. There are ten dogs; five female and five male, and none of them are spayed or neutered. Will the ten dogs learn the tasks faster if trained as a group, or if you separate the males and females?

  • http://gravatar.com/melk1 melk1

    So typical. Far more worried about who’s at the top than about who’s at the bottom. For them, inequality is only about the top 2%. Reduce inequality by doubling the income of the poor? No. Rather tax the rich more. The same thing applies here. They are far more concerned about the Donald Trumps and the Mitt Romneys. They clearly epitomize all men. One wonders whether any of these MSNBC representatives are parents of male children.

  • William

    What percentage of combat deaths–deaths done in the act of protecting the women and men and children of this country–have been men?

    This is just a guess, but I’m thinking it could be as high as 99%.

    • Micha Elyi

      William, it’s not as low as 99%.

      And the statistic is about the same when one considers the number of civilian deaths resulting from rescuing females who are total strangers to the rescuers.

      Females are not cost-effective.

    • http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com Jonathan Taylor (TCM)

      And a lot of men have died protecting women (both genuine victims, and women who just pointed a finger at a man) outside the context of war as well. Male disposability runs deep.

  • https://plus.google.com/106139337299418500134 Nick Danielson

    LoL. So Mr. Touré is a female chauvinist pig? Who didn’t know that?

  • http://uwlmwia.wordpress.com annelocation

    Love Christina H.S. They sure did put the bully treatment on her.