Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Approaching | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends March 1. Register today.
Education Opinion

William Bennett: ‘Culture’ Is the Problem

By Richard Whitmire — October 04, 2011 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I give the former education secretary points for speaking out in a CNN commentary on an obvious problem:

The data does not bode well for men. In 1970, men earned 60% of all college degrees. In 1980, the figure fell to 50%, by 2006 it was 43%. Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two. Women's earnings grew 44% in real dollars from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men. In 1950, 5% of men at the prime working age were unemployed. As of last year, 20% were not working, the highest ever recorded. Men still maintain a majority of the highest paid and most powerful occupations, but women are catching them and will soon be passing them if this trend continues. The warning signs for men stretch far beyond their wallets. Men are more distant from a family or their children then they have ever been. The out-of-wedlock birthrate is more than 40% in America. In 1960, only 11% of children in the U.S. lived apart from their fathers. In 2010, that share had risen to 27%. Men are also less religious than ever before. According to Gallup polling, 39% of men reported attending church regularly in 2010, compared to 47% of women.

I’ve never heard Arne Duncan acknowledge the obvious. I’m less of a fan, however, of where Bennett places the blame: toxic culture:

Movies are filled with stories of men who refuse to grow up and refuse to take responsibility in relationships. Men, some obsessed with sex, treat women as toys to be discarded when things get complicated. Through all these different and conflicting signals, our boys must decipher what it means to be a man, and for many of them it is harder to figure out.

Obviously, today’s culture produces uncertain messages and guidance on what it means to be a man. But every generation has its toxic culture. The Three Stooges were my generation’s cultural guiding light, and yet we never saw the lapse in academic aspirations playing out today.

From my reporting perspective, the majority of the problem lies in the schools Bennett oversaw -- the same system Duncan oversees today. Blaming toxic culture is like blaming poverty. Everyone shakes their heads knowingly and moves on. What are you going to do? Therefore, nothing gets done.

The opinions expressed in Why Boys Fail are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.