Over the past few weeks, the news that young men are rapidly heading toward being a superminority – 1/3 of the population – at America’s colleges and universities has seemed to come as a surprise to the bits and pieces of the media that have reported on it at all – like, for instance, this piece in The Atlantic,
Of course, this has been anticipated literally for decades. I first read the prediction in 2000, in Christina Hoff-Summers’ The War on Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Young Men
And it’s been a significant subject on this blog since the beginning, no less than when I spent quite a bit of time wrestling with modern education’s treatment of boys, most notably my son and stepson. . The Atlantic piece all but dismisses the notion that modern adademia (and its product and farm club, K-12 education) pathologizes boyhood, and that systematic discrimination sours boys on education even before modern post-secondary academia takes over and treats “maleness” like a mental illness. I think the article is wrong, and I’d welcome a serious, frank (read “no holds barred”) debate on the subject.
But I come here not to recap views of the disease, about which I have few doubts, but to ask questions about the treatment.
Boys are opting out of school – post-secondary education, in this case, but it applies across non-vocational higher education and non-engineering and hard-science spaces (which continue to be fairly male-dominated, despite decades of effort) . And it’s causing…
…well, “concern” may be an overstatement.
My pullquote from the Atlantic piece:
The implications of the college gender gap for individual men are troubling but uncertain. “My biggest immediate worry is that men are making the wrong decision,” Goldin said. “I worry they’ll come to severely regret their choice if they realize the best jobs require a degree they never got.” There is also the issue of dating. College grads typically marry college grads. But this trend of associative mating will hit some turbulence, at least among heterosexual people; if present trends continue, the dating pool of college grads could include two women for every guy. As women spend more time in school and their male peers dwindle as a share of the college population, further delays in marriage and childbirth may ensue. That would further reduce U.S. fertility rates, which worries some commentators, albeit not all.
I not only went to college, I got a BA in English. And, perhaps unexpectedly given the state of modern higher ed, I went in a fairly “progressive” but not very well-read Democrat, and came out four years later a Reagan conservative – because of my English major adviser.
I’m sure he’d have been cashiered from academia, or at least the humanities academy, these days.
I got, in short, the sort of humanities education that today trips a whole lot of social and political triggers, but set me up for not only the life I have today but system of beliefs by which I live (and about which I write on this blog and talk on my radio show) pretty darn well, conservatism and all.
Of course, higher ed has changed a lot in the past 35 years. The academy, which tended to lean left when I was in college, has toppled over to the left today. Conservative thought is not only scarce, in some cases it is actively hunted down, intellectually speaking (so far).
The response from a lot of my conservative and libertarian friends has been along the lines of “Good! Get our young guys to go to tech school or do apprenticeships and become mechanics and plumbers and HVAC techs!”
There’s a practical side to that; the modern secondary education seems to consider high school grads who don’t go to college as defeats, personal slights to them as teachers. But, obviously, not everyone wants, or is suited, to be a teacher, an administrator, a professional. Destigmatizing the trades would be a wonderful thing.
But there’s a social and political side as well; some say it’s high time for young conservatives to secede from academia, go into the trades. A pox on the whole house of academia.
I get it.
But thinking back on 17 year old me? The closest thing I had to an interest in the trades was working in radio, which I’d most definitely learned on the job (then as now) – and which, to be fair, turned out to be a career, albeit not a lucrative one. Beyond that? 17 year old Mitch, just as *&^% year old Mitch, lived in his head, not with his hands, for better or worse. Even with hindsight, I can’t think of a trade I would have been happy with. (Happy with learning to a basic level of competence is another story; I’d love to have retained some of the electricity or carpentry knowledge I picked up along the way, but that’s purely avocational, not a career goal).
But it was a moot point, because when I was 17, college was not only moderately affordable, it was presented as a place to learn the tools to think critically about the smorgasbord of ideas pelting one about one’s head.
And the first 13 years of school hadn’t beaten all love of learning out of most of us guys.
Eating The Seed Corn
So I completely support destigmatizing the vocational education track.
And I understand the impetus to chuck the whole thing.
But as the masculine half of this nation’s collective brain gets pushed out of the “Brain” half of this nation’s public life, what does it get replaced with?
The feminine half?
Forget for a moment that it’s a “Feminine” half trained by, well, modern academia, with all of its current adjectives (post-structural, proto-Marxist, anti-Western-Civilization, and I could probably go on from there). Leave that out of it completely for a moment.
What happens to a nation that cedes its public intellectual life entirely to its feminine half?
Men and women lead differently, process threats and stress differently, appraise situations very differently.
And that difference can be a good thing.
But what happens when the doors that do get opened to college grads – the thinking, rather than doing jobs – have nothing but women going through them?
It’s been de rigeur since the late seventies to reflexively bark “a society and world run by women would be perfect! No war, no hunger – it’d be like having Mom run everything!”
Which, like all “progressive” fever dreams, is reductionist baked wind. A society whose entire intellectual direction is run by women – especially a society which has become as centralized, bureaucratized, credentialized and driven by increasingly stratified institutions as ours is becoming – would have different dysfunctions than a completely masculine society, but dysfunctional it would remain.
And beyond that – quick: someone show me a matriarchal society throughout all of human history that has survived prolonged conflict with an aggressive patriarchal one? History bids us to look at sub-Saharan Africa, where indigenous culture is highly matriarchal…
…and was easily steamrollered by the aggressive, patriarchal, militaristic Bantu, Swahili, and other masculine mega-tribes.
Families, across all of society, need male and female influences to thrive and survive.
So do the societies themselves.
And we’ve known for a generation, now, that we’re slowly losing that, on an intellectual level. Some of the dumber among us are celebrating it.
It’s going to be a big problem in the future.