Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why Men Are Losing in Modern Universities

Trapped on a particularly slow-moving work station at the factory, I cast my eyes to my fellow line workers. The guy ahead of me was setting prepared filtration elements on the arrayed spin-on base plates, upon which I would place steel tension springs, and finally the guy behind me would place a metal sheath, called a “can,” over the assembly. A machine would set the seals, and then the product was off to be painted by the machine. Regular as clockwork.

My station was tedious, because it involved placing a small, stable component. The guys on either side became flustered easily, because their components were large, snug-fitting, and easy to knock off the line. I pulled a tiny spring from a huge bin, and set it down. They pulled bulky components off pallets that weighed hundreds of pounds and had to rest on pneumatic turntables to remain under control. My station was orderly; theirs were surrounded in detritus.

I realized I could kill two birds with one stone. If I stepped away from my station for a few seconds to pick up and stow their cardboard pallet layers, pull damaged components off the line, and do other spot checks on their stations, my own job accelerated in pace, and I took a load off my flustered colleagues. Everybody wins. But after I did that for a few minutes, I noticed another benefit: the harder I worked helping them, the more I got a rush of endorphins myself.

Men have a deep-seated need to compete and win. Whether it’s learned or innate I cannot say, but I’m hardly the first to observe that, given the chance to overcome obstacles or exceed goals, men feel happy. By exceeding my goal of assisting my colleagues, I earned the reward of inherent pleasure. In a sense, though the factory is a cooperative rather than a competitive environment, I had the opportunity to “win.”

This got me thinking about my other job at the university. Women now comprise about sixty percent of college students. Men aren’t enrolling, and when they do, they’re more likely to withdraw, especially from general education classes like mine. Since a college education is increasingly necessary for upwardly mobile employment these days, that means men are setting themselves up for future economic inferiority.

I lack the knowledge to draw statistical conclusions, but I suspect men sabotage themselves thus because modern academia gives them few opportunities to “win.” Sure, the university isn’t a horse race, and shouldn’t divide the in-group from the out-group. But school does not reward conventional masculine traits. Quite apart from competition, it structurally makes many men feel like “losers” in the very way it’s conducted.

The emphasis on reading books and writing papers, for instance, disadvantages many men. Written language is a complex process requiring both brain hemispheres. This means only those with a mature corpus callosum, the sub-organ that joins brain hemispheres, flourish at reading and writing.

Women generally have a heftier corpus callosum than men. No surprise, then, that stats say women are over fifty percent more likely to read recreationally than men. Women also do better at memorizing arcane grammatical rules. This of course gives men an advantage at monopolar activities, like math. Yet those same men get flummoxed, and flub their degree requirements, when asked to translate mathematical concepts into writing.

Men flourish in the one university domain that rewards their competitive nature, sports. Title IX notwithstanding, money and prestige flow to fields where men excel, particularly football. While classrooms increasingly become bastions of female privilege, football fields, baseball diamonds, and basketball courts still give men places to shine.

I see men leave my classes time and again, and wondered about this lopsided dropout rate. Only this semester did a student admit: he felt like the women were kicking his ass. It felt like a rigged competition, one he’d lost before he walked in the door. That emotional reaction then became a feedback loop, permitting him to put off assignments, get further behind, and cede more to the women.

If we want men to survive in our cutthroat economy, we need them to complete their degrees. But that won’t happen while school subverts their common competitive motivation. Men will get further behind as long as they feel they’ve already lost. I have no solutions yet. I especially struggle to envision “competitive” education that wouldn’t disadvantage women. Yet men deserve the opportunity to win, and we need to find ways to give it to them.

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