Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is his tongue in his cheek?

Every Wednesday NPR's Morning Edition airs a three minute (or so) commentary by Frank Deford. In this morning's airing, Deford decided to jump on the boys-are-lagging-behind bandwagon.
But not really...
...I think.
It was hard to tell.
It went something like this (my interpretation is in {}):
Studies {dubious as they may be} show boys are lagging behind in school at all levels. More women enter college now than men.
Deford claims it is because men, as boys, are pushed towards sport. They are rewarded for success in sport more so than success in the classroom. {Interesting hypothesis. I certainly agree boys are rewarded for playing sport and are very much encouraged to play sports more so than girls.}
This has lead to the decrease in boys in college because girls--who aren't encouraged to play sports--spend time studying because they are not preoccupied with sport and thus get smarter. {Hard to tell at this point whether he is presenting this as a legitimate theory we should consider or if this is the moment we should chuckle to ourselves and say, "Oh, Frank."}
And then he started talking about sport management programs for male athletes (who are not so smart but in college because of their athletic abilities) and how they just produce not so smart people to run athletic programs thus perpetuating the stupidity cycle. {While this is not universally true it does seem there are a lot of male athletes in sport management. But if one really wants a position in athletic administration you will definitely need a master's degree if not a PhD. So the stupid that Deford mentions probably get weeded out along the way. Alas I haven't come across a lot of sport management people--even those with higher degrees--who have a very nuanced understanding of critical issues such as gender and race and class and how they play out in sport. Not because they are bad people but because it seems like sport management degree programs don't really stress these things.}
Then Deford notes how smaller schools are adding football to increase the number of men in the student body. {Yes, happened at a school I used to teach at that had gone co-educational in the last decade. He fails to note however that this usually means Title IX numbers are even more skewed with this addition because the percentage of women in the undergrad population is probably higher than the percentage of women playing sports. Adding more male athletes hurts these numbers even more because their addition to the undergrad population has less impact than their addition to the athletic department population.}
Deford defends Title IX however, telling men to stop fighting it because studies show {again, nothing cited or specific} that female athletes start to become more like male athletes. Their grades fall and they participate less in university activities. {OK I have read something like this but it was from the 80s. And it's interesting that when grades fall and interest wanes this makes one more like a man...what's that about?}
So, Deford concludes that the only way to decrease this widening gap between boys and girls is to get more girls playing sports and thus make them more male-like {not masculine because implicit in that adjective is the issue of physicality which Deford stays far away from here.}

In the end of course we can't really take Deford's "suggestion" seriously. It seems like a big joke on the social scientists that are proclaiming boys are suffering in school. But in the process of making this joke, Deford relies on and perpetuates so many stereotypes of men, women, and athletes that I can't even get to them all here.
So it seems his tongue is indeed somewhere in his cheek. My suggestion: next time he should just bite it.

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