Wrong Answer: The Wall Street Journal On England's Math Gender Gap

Here at VDARE.com, we must frequently stomp on stupidities found on the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Page. The WSJ's news staff famously despises the Editorial Page. But that doesn't mean the news reporters can't be as silly as the opinion-mongers.

Page One of the March 30th WSJ featured an article by reporters Jeanne Whalen [email her] and Sharon Begley [email her] called "Improved Formula: In England, Girls Are Closing Gap With Boys in Math." It saluted the alleged disappearance of the gender gap in average math test scores in England, claiming:

"The English record goes against theories that boys are innately destined to dominate math and science -- a view that caused a firestorm after recent remarks by Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers. In discussing the preponderance of men in elite university science and engineering positions, Mr. Summers said 'issues of intrinsic aptitude' might explain why more males than females score at the highest levels on measures of mathematical and scientific ability."

I can see three major problems with all this.

  • First of all, Summers was not talking about the sexes' average scores, which is what Whalen and Begley's article seems to be about. He was talking about the extreme right tail of the bell curve, which is where Harvard professors are drawn from. In his extemporized speech, Summers pointed out:

"… if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. [In a normal bell curve, only one out of 44 individuals is that much above average.] And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean [or one out of 741]. But it's talking about people who are three and a half [one out of 4,299], four standard deviations above the mean [one in 31,574] …"

The greater variance among male scores means, as Summers noted, "You get five to one [males per female], at the high end." This is simply a fact.

  • Second, as my VDARE.COM colleague Howard Sutherland has suggested to me, it's not at all clear that England's introduction of the more girl-oriented math teaching methods extolled in the WSJ article actually improved the girls' performance—because the tests were changed radically to make girls score higher. Whalen and Begley eventually admit:

"Many math teachers in England attribute girls' rising scores to the changes in exam content, a view some scientists support."

For example:

"Math exams in England also now give students partial credit for showing their work, even if they ultimately reach the wrong answer. [My emphasis] This gives an advantage to girls, who are typically more methodical in writing out the problem step-by-step, educators say."

  • Third, toward the end, the WSJ writers admit one little negative amidst all the wonderfulness of making girls equal to boys: After all these feminist reforms in math teaching, students overall are now less interested in math:

"Despite gains for girls in math, problems remain. Over the past decade, the number of students age 16 and up opting to take A-Level [advanced] math courses after they finish the mandatory curriculum has been declining. And fewer students overall are studying math in college."

In other words, the math gender gap has closed largely by English boys becoming more ignorant.

What Whalen and Begley don't mention is that in recent decades, millions of Britain's young males have adopted a philosophy of "laddism." Being "one of the lads" is proven by one's dedication to cutting school, machismo, brawling, drunkenness, soccer hooliganism, anti-intellectualism, and property crime. The lads of Britain have been increasingly turning against schoolwork and honest jobs, with disastrous effects on society as a whole—as seen in the sky-high property crime rates in what used to be one of the world's most law-abiding societies.

This is a significant omission, because way back in 2000, the BBC inquired into the same phenomenon as Whalen and Begley … and came to very different conclusions:

"Britain's academics are asking why girls now outperform boys at A-Level. Their conclusion? The UK's anti-intellectual 'lad culture' and our, now notorious, lads' mags…

"Two British academics have blamed a culture of 'laddism' where successful male students are 'geeks;' and a cultivated indifference to intellectual pursuits is as de rigueur as having a mobile phone.

"Tony Sewell, a lecturer in education at Leeds University says a 'black youth culture' which prizes trainers [athletic shoes] and CDs over exam grades has now captured the imaginations of boys across the board.

"Dr Mary James of Cambridge University says such a climate is being stoked by so-called 'lad mags,' which in the absence of other male role models help define the teenage understanding of 'masculinity.'"

The brilliant British comic Sacha Baron-Cohen famously parodies white and Pakistani youths' infatuation with black American gangsta rappers with his character Ali G, a canary yellow sweatsuit and gold chain-wearing idiot.

Britain's crime rate is now substantially worse than that of the U.S. For example, the 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey reported that for every 100 people, there were 55 crimes committed in Britain compared to 40 in the U.S.

Immigrants, especially West Indians, have contributed heavily to this inglorious record. But the most important cause has been a moral collapse among Britain's white working class males—who in the first half of the 20th Century were famous for their honesty. The British prison psychiatrist who writes under the nom de plume Theodore Dalrymple has vividly described the decay of the working class in his book Life at the Bottom.

Not surprisingly, the massive government effort to feminize math classes praised by the WSJ women appears to have made the lads even less inclined to study math.

It's a reflection of how messed up feminists' priorities are that Whalen and Begley salute this latest triumph of "laddism" as a victory for women.

Those poor English schoolgirls, whatever their math scores, are going to have to live the rest of their lives with those dumbed-down English lads.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]