Marty Nemko Enters the Blogosphere

My friend Marty Nemko has started a blog. Marty is a career coach, contributing editor to US News & World Report, and radio host in the Bay Area. Unlike a lot of "coaches" who are high on fluff and low on substance, Marty is a deep, provocative thinker who loves ideas and argument. Here’s his Best Careers of ’08 feature in US News. Here’s his interview with me last year.

So far he’s blogged on why work life balance is overrated and whether mommyhood should be afforded special privileges. Here’s Marty on why gifted boys are getting screwed in our education system:

1. The widespread abandonment of ability-grouped classes. In most of today’s elementary schools, gifted and slow are placed in the same class. That creates more equality–especially racial equality–but the result is that all children receive a worse education. Imagine for example, that you spoke good Mandarin but wanted to become expert. Wouldn’t you prefer a class with advanced students rather than one that also had beginners? Yet today, we don’t give smart kids (or their parents) that choice. We force them into mixed-ability classes, where dispositive metaevaluations reveal they learn less and are bored. And because, on average, boys are more active than girls, they more often can’t sit still for six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year, year after year. Rather than the harder task of accommodating to smart, active boys’ needs, countless teachers have urged parents to put these boys, long-term, on Ritalin–a meth-like drug.

2. That elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female. Today, the percentage is up to 92%, the highest ever recorded. Even if teachers believe they’re accommodating to all students’ needs, they can’t help but tilt their teaching to what appeals to them. Thus, books about male heroism are replaced by those of female relationships and heroines, typically in which an inferior male is shown-up by a wise female. Competition–a prime motivator for boys–is replaced by so-called "cooperative learning," which usually reduces to the bright doing the slow’s work, boring the bright kid and precluding him from learning new things.

3. The media’s continuing to perpetrate the myth that females are oppressed and males are the oppressor. For example, they continue to spout these disproven assertions:
— women earn 79 cents on the dollar compared with men. In fact, according to the definitive book on the topic, Why Men Earn More, for the same work, women earn at least as much as men do.
— women are underrepresented in high-level positions because of sexism. In fact, as documented in recent well-reviewed books such as Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox, women’s not being in high-office comes much more from choosing to have a less work-centric lifestyle.
— the schools shortchange girls relative to boys. (the long-debunked Reviving Ophelia canard.)
— men abuse women–in fact, studies show that 30 to 52% of severe domestic violence is perpetrated by women.

Thus, the feeling among educators, policymakers, and the public, is that we need to do more for females than for males, ignoring such statistics that boys are achieving far worse in school than are girls, much more likely to abuse drugs, commit suicide, and drop out of high school, far less likely to graduate from college, much more likely, as young adults, to be sleeping late unemployed on their parents’ sofas.

4. Society’s bias that says: let’s help those with the greatest deficit rather than those with the greatest potential to profit: "Those smart boys will do okay on their own. Let’s commit our resources to the lowest achievers." I deeply believe that such a philosophy will reduce our society to the lowest common denominator, ironically resulting in a worse life for us all. Besides, it simply is unfair for the public schools to not provide at least a marginally appropriate education for all kids, and right now, smart boys get the very least appropriate education.

5 comments on “Marty Nemko Enters the Blogosphere
  • Ben, I couldn’t agree with your buddy more. I spent most of my 12 years of elementary through high school education bored to tears with stupid, worthless B.S. that was designed for a self-congratulatory education system that ignores the high end and dotes on those slower than average. Conversely, smart teachers grow bored with boring subjects and students. I would also like to add that smart people are often very good in some areas, doing much poorer in others. For instance, I always led my class in Life Sciences and English Literature, while barely passing Math and chemistry. I always hated being forced to do things I knew that I was not interested in. Lack of mentorship and recognizance of excellence is a recipe for failure. There is alot less jealosy of scholarship when dumb kids are in one class and smart kids are in another. Sadly, I can only remember one class from all my years of education that I truly enjoyed. It was an advanced extra-curriclar english literature class given for students with an aptitude for that subject in the 6th grade by a high school teacher. The teacher was very enthusiastic about the subject, which he clearly truly loved. He also taught us to name every country/state in the world and its capitol. To this day I can place most countries in a map in my head. Not a single student misbehaved. I can attribute much of my enthusiasm and appreciation for literature to this man. Perhaps if schools allowed for more specialization we would see an explosion of intellectual growth and curiosity in this country, rather than the tedious barely survivable education that I remember. Basketball stars can suck at baseball, but that doesn’t preclude them from athletic success. Why should scholarship be any different?

  • I may get pulled over by the Feminist Police for saying this, but Ben, I agree with Marty on why gifted boys get screwed in our educational system. I’ve seen it happen.

    Sad thing is, when the schools were found to be biased against girls, and, yes, there was a time when this was the case, the problem was considered to be with the system. But, when that argument is turned the other way, is it the system’s fault? Nope, it’s the fault of the boys.

    PS: I’m glad my schooling was over before cooperative learning came into fashion. It would have driven me bonkers too. Same for those female relationship books. Ee-gads. They would have turned me off to reading in a New York minute.

  • I agree that gifted boys get screwed in the educational system. However, I also believe that gifted girls are just as disadvantaged. Having worked as an educator, I have seen the money and resources devoted to struggling students, while above average students receive nothing extra from the district. It is unsettling to know that a district will support a struggling student to work to his or her full potential but will not offer that same support to a gifted student.

    Additionally, I take exception with the comment that because elementary teachers are 92% female, “they can’t help but tilt their teaching to what appeals to them.” I am sure there are a small percentage of teachers that do this, but all of the teachers I know are professionals. What they teach is based on the curriculum guidelines. Based on what data can Mr. Nemko make the comments about book replacement?

  • Indeed, all the data supports that boys are doing worse in school.

    And while, in theory, you can say that teachers won’t tilt their teaching to what they like, indeed observe today’s elementary school curriculum: readings long on heroines and short on heroes, competition having been excised in favor of female-friendly “cooperative learning groups, etc.”

    My data? A lifetime of data–I have a Ph.D in education from Berkeley and been visiting classrooms for 20 years and seeing a REMARKABLE change in the schools–they are now terribly boy-unfriendly. I get an additional window on the problem because my wife is the Napa County Superintendent of Schools.

  • As a 17 year old male high school student I am very glad that someone is paying attention. Interestingly enough, I heard about Ben through Marty, and now Ben is connecting me back to Marty–otherwise I would not have known about the new blog.

    Thanks guys,


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