September
30th 2008
Intro to Speech Comm: No girls allowed?

Posted under: Gender, students

According to this article at Inside Higher Ed,“[a]dministrators at Northeast Lakeview College, a recently founded institution located outside of San Antonio, are defending a decision to bar women from a public speaking course launched in 2007.”  The article continues:

The male-only course, “Introduction to Speech Communication,” is offered in coeducational sections as well, which college officials say should satisfy federal discrimination laws.

“We’re not denying anyone access to a speech class,” said Eric Reno, president of Northeast Lakeview College. “That’s not the intent of it.”

Read through the whole article, which links this move to larger fears about the dwindling presence of men in college classrooms: 

There are, however, other data that indicate a pressing problem nationally. Male participation in undergraduate educationdropped from 52 percent to 43 percent between 1976 and 2004, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. At Northeast Lakeview, the male to female ratio on campus is now about 40 percent to 60 percent, according to college officials.

(That 60-40 ratio seems pretty typical for community colleges, by the way.  And Baa Ram U., my R1 institution, has a majority of female undergraduates, too.)  I’m not particularly opposed to this, but I don’t see any evidence in the article (or know of any evidence otherwise) that a men-only class might be desirable, let alone more effective than a co-ed class.  Are any of you Speech Communications experts who can provide some context?  Do college men have a paralyzing fear of public speaking before co-ed audiences?  Do men perform better when women are not in the classroom?

In my experience, men and women are equally bright and capable, but women apply themselve more in college than the men do, which is why they get better grades and have higher graduation rates.  (Remember that New York Times article a few years ago that vividly illustrated the difference between men’s and women’s achievements in college?)  I can’t tell you how many of my male advisees plop down in my office in their Senior year and announce their intention to go to law school or grad school.  When I open their file and see a 2.8 G.P.A. on their transcript, I have to tell them, “you should have thought of that two years ago, pal!”  And yet, from where I sit, it seems like men still rule the world.  They hold the vast majority of elective offices in this country.  They’re by far the majority of regular faculty members at Baa Ram U.  They still hold the vast majority of the world’s wealth.

What do you think?  Do men need all-male sections of intro classes in order to help them succeed?  Or do some college men just need a swift kick in the pants?

34 Comments »

34 Responses to “Intro to Speech Comm: No girls allowed?”

  1. Rose on 30 Sep 2008 at 9:13 am #

    This is really fascinating. My students are currently reading _My Freshman Year_, in which an anthropologist spends her sabbatical year enrolled as a freshman–and living in the dorms–at the university she works for. (Great book.)

    Anyway, one of the issues the author discusses is the weird sense of authority that gets exercised in dorms, where RAs are often only marginally older than their charges.

    I asked my students to write about this (among other topics), and interestingly, A) the only students who chose to write about the authority issue were guys, and B) they *all* had disturbing tales to tell about run-ins with their “unfair” RAs, which led in one case to the student getting arrested and thrown out of the dorms (!), and to several others being reprimanded or moved to other floors/buildings.

    In combination with what this other article suggests, it does seem like college-aged men do have issues that women generally don’t. I honestly don’t know what those issues might be, but all of this together is making me really wonder why 18-22 year old men find educational institutions so oppressive these days.

  2. e.j. on 30 Sep 2008 at 10:06 am #

    But look at how lack of success in educational institutions becomes a badge of pride for our leaders. John McCain routinely cites the fact that he finished 4 from the bottom of his class at West Point as a sign of early “maverick” spirit, and we all know how well George W did at Yale.

    I recently received an email from a freshman in a survey class telling me he couldn’t take an exam on the day it was given because he had an eye infection so he needed to retake it. Okay. But he told me this 4 days after the exam. When I told him retaking it wasn’t an option since we already discussed the answers in class, and asked him come to my office hours to discuss, he sent me an email accusing me of being “a disrespectful and rude person who didn’t know what help was”.

    I assumed he was planning on dropping the class after that. Not the case. He’s still there. Clearly, he doesn’t feel that his email was at all inappropriate. Who uses language like that to a tenured professor in a respected department and thinks it okay? I guess this guy does.

  3. Historiann on 30 Sep 2008 at 10:12 am #

    e.j., I hope you’re tucking those e-mails from him into a little folder marked “evidence for the future.” (It sounds like you are, if you’re quoting him directly!)

    Rose, I heard about that book a few years ago–it sounded really interesting. Will you consider doing a post on it (and your students’ reactions/readings of it) at your blog? Quite frankly, it sounds like the men in your classes feel more entitled to break the dorm rules than the women–which tracks with my sense that women students follow the “rules” on syllabi (showing up to class, taking notes, and turning in assignments) more faithfully, which earns them better grades. (Duh!)

  4. Historiann on 30 Sep 2008 at 10:13 am #

    And p.s. to e.j.: your student doesn’t know or care if you’re tenured or not. You’re just a girl, and he’ll probably call you “Mrs. j.” or “Mom” by mistake.

  5. e.j. on 30 Sep 2008 at 10:17 am #

    Calling me mom would definitely be grounds for having him removed from the class!

    I agree that following the rules gets women students better grades, but I think the men are more apt to ask for/expect second chances, which often works to their advantage.

  6. Notorious Ph.D. on 30 Sep 2008 at 10:44 am #

    Okay, so let me get this straight: When women are nearly absent from science fields, it’s because of “innate differences.” But when men are only a largish minority of college students, and graduate in even smaller percentages, we need to take action! Right! Away!

    The most inane thing I’ve read on the case for sex-segregated education is that “traditional educational models” reward “feminized” behavior like (and I kid you not here) sitting still, paying attention, and following directions.

    Given this, I’d like to know precisely what the admins. at Northeast Lakeview think this will accomplish.

    ((whimper))

    In general, I’m pissed. For the last century, women en masse taught themselves to play by the rules of a man’s world in order to succeed… and now that we are, the rules are being touted as unfair to men.

    ((swear words))

  7. Historiann on 30 Sep 2008 at 10:56 am #

    Well, that’s pretty much my read on it too, Notorious, although I think there may be a good reason to segregate perhaps a few classes in a community college, especially if the CC had some evidence that this would improve academic performance, retention, and graduation rates. But, this article doesn’t indicate that that’s the case–in fact, they have almost no data yet on anything because it’s such a new college.

    I too am disturbed that sitting still and listening are now defined as feminine (and therefore degraded) skills. Seems to me like most boys do just fine if they’re held to the same standards as everyone else, instead of having disruptive behavior excused because “boys will be boys.” A five year-old Kindergarten girl I know regularly wins prizes at school because her table–comprised of herself and 2 boys–is the quietest table in the class. (And she’s not an especially quiet or shy child, by the way.)

    But that’s at a Catholic school, and those Catholic teachers don’t take any crap from anybody. (I wish I could say they were nuns, but sadly there are no more religious teaching at the school. How many millions of kids’ butts were kicked by nuns, and the kids grew up to thank them for it?)

  8. Rose on 30 Sep 2008 at 11:04 am #

    I like to talk about this alleged “boy crisis” with the ed. students in my classes (who, surprise, surprise!) are nearly all women. There’s an interesting article about a study that refutes the idea that boys are in “crisis” at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C00E1D61530F930A35754C0A9609C8B63&sec=&spon=&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

    –not sure I agree w/everything the author has to say, but she makes some compelling points about how misguided the focus is, and where the real problems are.

    And e.j., I hope you wear that student’s comment that “you don’t know what help is” as a badge of honor. You seem to have chipped away a little bit at the perception that, as a woman, you’re *required* to be a nurturing spineless doormat. Good for you!

  9. e.j. on 30 Sep 2008 at 11:08 am #

    Thanks Rose! Maybe I’ll get a shirt made…

  10. Rose on 30 Sep 2008 at 11:11 am #

    On the back, that shirt should say “No shrinking violet.”

  11. Indyanna on 30 Sep 2008 at 11:21 am #

    Is there a full cite on _My Freshman Year_? This sounds like an update/revisitation of the classic by Michael Moffatt, _Coming of Age in New Jersey: College and American Culture_, (New Brunswick, Rutgers Press, 1989), which was set at Rutgers in the mid/late ’80s. It would be interesting to know if the (participant/)observed changes are significant over that time and or especially if related to gender specific and sex-ratio issues. Or the different assumptions/perspectives of the authors.

    We’re about 60/40 too (F/M), although I was shocked to run my gradebooks since 2000 late this summer to discover that that’s the ratio in my sections of our general education “service” course, required of all students, and generally an inferior offering. But in our actual history classes, populated largely by majors, the ratio is almost exactly reversed! I’m trying to get data from colleagues to see if this ratio is general.

  12. Erica on 30 Sep 2008 at 11:57 am #

    While I would like to be fair and evaluate the reason for the male-only class, it’s rather hard to when the school didn’t give any aside from “common sense” and national statistics. (Maybe that’s just the article’s coverage focus.) But one wonders how the poor speech class students will cope with the Real World, in which they will find themselves speaking to women as well as men. (Although maybe this explains conference calls when none of the male engineers bothered to listen… it was priceless the one time I recorded a call about design constraints, and emailed it after another call in which one guy insisted I’d never brought an issue up before. HAHA.)

    To continue my trend of sharing Stories from the Playground: I am constantly told how lucky I am to have Daughter since girls are so much better behaved. And I got reprimanded once for shouting, “NO!” loudly and picking Son up to make an angry face when he threw a rock at another toddler; the other kid’s mom said “Oh, don’t shout at him, you don’t want to wreck his spirit.”

    Presumably if Son had decent aim, I’d be a careless parent to a rampaging bully. Instead, I’m a strident harpy who emotionally stunts male development.

    Regardless of sex, kids need to have discipline and need to learn to play well with others (from playground age to college age). Anything less isn’t fairly preparing them for life.

  13. Rose on 30 Sep 2008 at 11:58 am #

    _My Freshman Year_ is written by Rebekan Nathan (a pseudonym–she took the issue of fieldwork ethics seriously), and is put out by Pengion (ISBN 0143037471). She conducted her work during the 2002-2003 academic year.

    Nathan cites Moffatt’s earlier work, but notes that her study differs since she actually does immerse herself in the culture, and “poses” as a student–i.e., the other students in her dorm and her classes don’t know that she’s a professor. One of the telling (if sad) things she notes is that she did not set out deliberately to deceive her fellow students–that if they asked her directly why she was there and what she was doing, she’d tell them. But no one ever asks.

  14. Rose on 30 Sep 2008 at 11:59 am #

    Whoops, that should be “Rebekah.”

  15. Profane on 30 Sep 2008 at 12:03 pm #

    The answers to you questions are, of course, no and yes respectively. To bring up a broader question:

    Should single-sex institutions of either variety be a thing of the past? For the most part I am inclined to say yes. That said, I still think that there is an important role to be played by schools like Wabash and Wellesley.

  16. Historiann on 30 Sep 2008 at 12:35 pm #

    Thanks for the cite, Rose. Interesting–presumably Nathan looked older than a tradtional college-aged student, but no one asked? Wev.

    Profane, I support single-sex education (K-12 and college), although I support it being a private school option rather than in public schools. I went to a women’s college and loved it–because in part it was single-sex, but also for other reasons having to do with that college’s particular personality and identity aside from its women’s college identity. I would even support this single-sex class for men, if there were some evidence or a reasonable argument beyond “we’re not going to be PC here.” Who knows: maybe this single-sex speech class will make the difference between sticking with it and dropping out? It could happen, I suppose.

    And, Erica: good for you for kicking your boy in the pants (so to speak) when he misbehaved! I guess some people want to raise sociopaths, for some reason…I wonder if the same parent would have allowed her daughter to hurl rocks at other children too, or if that’s just for boys?

  17. The_Myth on 30 Sep 2008 at 1:38 pm #

    Have you all read the more recent comments at InsideHigherEd?

    Info from commenter “Theora” suggests something far more sinister at work at Northwest Lakeview College.

    I, for one, am not shocked in the least.

  18. Historiann on 30 Sep 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    Yikes, The_Myth! I hadn’t seen that additional commentary. No wonder Northeast Lakeview College couldn’t produce any research on the effectiveness of their males-only speech classes–it doesn’t sound like a speech class at all, but rather like a twisted parody of what some people think goes on in women’s studies classes! (Meanwhile, my students have to actually, you know, read books and write papers for college credit.)

    I can’t believe they’re giving out college credit for practicing Windsor Knots, handshakes, and eating lunch. I get it that these young men may need these lessons, but make it a club activity, not a class. It sounds like this faculty member is going all Iron John on his students.

    (The comments we’re referencing are at the bottom of the IHE article, here.)

  19. Indyanna on 30 Sep 2008 at 4:57 pm #

    I have some trouble with the whole concept of “learning styles” (referenced by the prof in his account of the course at IHE). It gets thrown around a whole lot at the Ed.D wing of my institution, along with a bunch of other buzzwords and phrases and cool methodological things. I’m sure it made a great 59 page “dissertation” for some consultant somewhere. College is where you’re supposed to go to expand your repertoire of capacities, including ways of acquiring knowledge. Not where you get custom fitted with a specially designed apparatus of knowledge, measured to your presumed unique or group-based mentalite. Work life and the rest of life will not give too many people much accomodation in the way of “learning styles.” The best strategy for students is to let them knock around on campus, and figure out a broad range of ways of figuring things out.

  20. Erica on 30 Sep 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    @Historiann — don’t get me started on society’s inability to believe that girls can be total brats. Daughter, at 4-1/2, recently learned that she can get away with blaming a fight on a boy because the teacher automatically assumes that the boy must have started it or provoked her. Daughter admitted (to me) that the boy had accidentally sat on her hair, but she kicked him even after he moved because she was angry. I am not keen on her thinking crying and lying can get her out of any difficulty, and I was unsure how to express this to a preschool teacher who’s profusely apologizing for the abuse my angelic princess must have suffered to get her to react.

    @Indyanna — I am constantly amazed at just how dysfunctional one can be, yet still manage to hold a job. (It helps if you find a mostly harmless position in a large corporation, where you can’t do much damage so nobody bothers caring enough to fire you.) One may get stuck at a certain level and be unpromotable, but I’ve met some bat-shit insane engineers, managers, accountants, HR folks, and so on in my time. However, please don’t tell this to any students! Encourage them to believe they’ll be utter failures without proper training in manners and common sense :)

  21. martin on 01 Oct 2008 at 6:20 am #

    There is a Colorado connection here. Eric Reno used to be the president of Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood and before that a VP at Front Range CC. This is a bit surprising as he was well liked at RRCC and never showed any leanings towards dumb decisions.

  22. Historiann on 01 Oct 2008 at 6:57 am #

    Hi Martin–thanks for commenting. I didn’t know about the Colorado connection (even a Fort Fun connection!)

    And, I really liked this comment from Indyanna:

    College is where you’re supposed to go to expand your repertoire of capacities, including ways of acquiring knowledge. Not where you get custom fitted with a specially designed apparatus of knowledge, measured to your presumed unique or group-based mentalite. Work life and the rest of life will not give too many people much accomodation in the way of “learning styles.”

    Megadittos Indyanna, especially on that last sentence. College offers lots of different faculty with different teaching styles and interests–what I don’t get is why students who clearly don’t appreciate us stay enrolled in our classes, as though the local School Board has assigned them to be in Mrs. Flechter’s 6th grade class and there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s the passivity combined with resentment that I don’t get, when they have the power.

    And Erica: perhaps the Puritans were onto something in believing that all children needed the Devil beaten out of them, regardless of sex. How irritating to see your community encouraging feminine sneakiness.

  23. slam on 01 Oct 2008 at 9:12 am #

    Has any seen the this book, “The Trouble with Boys” by Peg Tyler?

  24. Historiann on 01 Oct 2008 at 9:28 am #

    Slam–her book looks like more ahistorical blaming of a so-called “feminized” school environment to me, and more perpetuation of the idea that boys and girls learn in totally different ways (which tends to ignore all of those centuries in which boys outpaced girls in education and seemed to do just fine in school.) But, I’m open to hearing different opinions. And thanks for stopping by to comment.

  25. Kelly on 01 Oct 2008 at 10:20 am #

    I have not read Tyler’s book, but I caught an interview with her in which she lamented that the poor boys are being left behind in the educational system because educators expect them to sit still and behave in class. Part of her argument seems to be that boys are kinesthetic learners and girls are more passive learners (wow, how gendered are these assessments?), and that the education system values the passive style of learning. So, how can we save our boys from a system that oppresses their “nature”? I was pretty disappointed with the interview, and I got the vibe that Tyler thought we have put to much energy into girls at the detriment of the boys. Others might read her differently?

  26. Historiann on 01 Oct 2008 at 10:35 am #

    Lots of new commenters in this thread–welcome, all!

    Thanks, Kelly–you’ve confirmed my suspicions based on the book descriptions and reviews at Amazon.com. She’s another Christina Hoff Summers, it sounds like.

    I will say this: I think that the focus on teaching to the test, and the concomitant reduction of time for recess and P.E. is a relatively new historical development, and that it’s been bad for all children. Girls need to run around and get their ya-yas out, too. They’re not “naturally” quiet and submissive because of their sex.

  27. Indyanna on 01 Oct 2008 at 1:44 pm #

    Kinesthetic learners. That’s great. What you can’t do in an Ed. School to move up the ladder to consultancy and fame; to say nothing becoming a State Superintendent of Education or something like that! I guess we could become kinesthetic teachers, too; us guys, I mean, and get out some Karate Kid ya-yas on the linoleum instead of paying those hefty gym membership fees. Assess that!

  28. Erica on 02 Oct 2008 at 11:08 am #

    Yet again, it comes back to WHY we’re trying to teach kids anything: so they can be adults who can support themselves (i.e., hold down a job). It’s not just about knowing the answers, it’s about knowing how to deal with everyday life, and sometimes you have to suck it up and deal with things that don’t come naturally. You can’t get up in the middle of a meeting and wander around the room, and explain that you’re a kinesthetic learner who must express themselves physically.

  29. Historiann on 02 Oct 2008 at 12:10 pm #

    Yes, I think that would earn one a reputation as an eccentric, at the very least. But as you suggested earlier, Erica, from your experience as an engineer: people can and do get away with all kinds of bad behavior at work.

  30. Shinhao Li on 03 Oct 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Stuff like this makes me thank God that I went through secondary school in a different country. Homework and class participation counted for 10% (or nothing). Midterms and finals constituted 90~100% of final grades, tests were identified by student ID number, and class rank was posted in the main corridor.

    Men nor women need special attention. What we need is objective, quantitative assessment of skill by blind testing.

    As to male under-performance in school – well, women have outnumbered men in college since 1980 (source: US Census Bureau, Stat. Abs. of the US, pg. 183), to no apparent ill effect, and to the considerable advantage of the proportionally fewer college males. Sociological studies show that males generally prefer high-risk/high-reward games, and so males are not necessarily averse to the current arrangement of awarding fewer males greater social reward.

  31. Historiann on 03 Oct 2008 at 12:06 pm #

    Shinhao Li–welcome back. You make a great point: is the “boy crisis” a crisis anywhere but the U.S. and Canada? If not, that would suggest that it’s not that genetics or biology demand different teaching styles/strategies, but that modern U.S. boy culture tolerates or even fosters a hostility to intellectual accomplishment.

  32. Shinhao Li on 07 Oct 2008 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks for the welcome! I’m still around, I just don’t feel that I have much of value to add to the other topics.

    It’s true here and it’s true everywhere – boys only become men when they are expected to. “Boy culture” (frat boys, slackers, beer commercials, etc…) is really the absence of adult male culture.

    While I am not a paragon of male maturity, I knew from when I was about nine-years-old that I was expected to study in the US starting at age eighteen, and that I would only visit home every 12-24 months. Kids are amazingly resilient, and they adjust quickly to whatever reality is presented to them. If they have to grow up quickly, they will.

    In the US, I feel that boys have no need to grow up quickly – all aspects of danger and risk have been removed. Parents are just a cell phone call away. Kids are never allowed to fail miserably, or be punished.

    Take underage drinking for example. A few of my HS-buddies and I got caught skipping class with alcohol, and we were punished with half-squats and laps at midday. The school discipline officer watched us from the shade with a bamboo practice sword. We were finally stopped when one of us vomited due to heat exhaustion. I just can’t imagine that happening here. Underage drinking is a joke on college campuses, and respect for adult authority, and adulthood suffers as a result. If you can get away with breaking real laws, what else can you get away with?

    The answer is simple – let people fail, and let them suffer the consequences. Hand out Fs. No deadline extensions.

  33. Historiann on 07 Oct 2008 at 11:15 am #

    Shinhao Li–I think many of the feminists here would agree with you that if there’s a “boy crisis” among white, middle-class and upper middle-class boys, it’s one of their parents’ own making. I’m rather shocked at how little is expected of boys these days. I think it’s unfortunate for the straight girls who will one day have to shop for marriage partners among that crowd!

    That said, I also have a number of fine men in my classes. I have only five male students this term, and they’re all on the ball, are doing their work, and are toeing the line. They might turn out OK ;)

  34. Shinhao Li on 07 Oct 2008 at 11:39 pm #

    Historiann:

    Yes, absolutely, parents have most of the blame. It’s just very sad that we are now at the point where we have all-male classes, not so that men can fight and compete without the restraint that female presence brings, but as a protected environment, because being with women is somehow too scary.

    That is astonishing. The purpose of all-male education is to compete with even greater ferocity, to win respect from peers and male authority, and to develop camaraderie. This turns everything upside-down – an all-male education as a way to avoid criticism, avoid competition, and avoid risk!

    (Incidentally, an all-male education also does wonders for respect towards women. Women were goddesses to us back then.)

    “Do college men have a paralyzing fear of public speaking before co-ed audiences? Do men perform better when women are not in the classroom?”

    Hmm…aren’t these the exact arguments used to justify all-female educational environments? Not that I disagree…