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  • Tuesday, January 24, 2006


    Artificially Creating Gender Wars, Education Edition

    Over on AlterNet PEEK, there's a critical piece on a recent Newsweek cover story on "The Boy Crisis." I've noticed that Time and Newsweek are very good at regularly manufacturing these "in-depth" stories, ostensibly informative and objective but usually pushing very hard from a particular perspective.

    This story seems to be a classic form of artificially creating conflict in order to advance certain interests and derail others. This tactic is regularly used by the powerful, moneyed elites (yes, I'm using that word) to divide people and keep them from seeing their common problems and enemies. At the risk of sounding like a slogan-spewing Communist Party cadre member, I still maintain that "divide and conquer" is a tried and true formula for ruling classes to keep the disempowered disorganized and focused in the wrong direction.

    Thus the framing of the story is more interesting to me. This posits that one group is losing and one is winning or getting ahead at the expense of the losing group. This is done through emphasizing certain "facts" and tensions. In one way it is a pseudo-scientific format, used to give an appearance of impartiality, when in reality it is almost the opposite. Scientific method would create a thesis or theory suggested by an array of facts. Then, as more evidence accumulates, the theory will be modified or discarded to bring it into accord with the facts. Many of these "news" stories seem to start with a perspective or narrative and then marshall carefully selected evidence to support it.

    So instead of asking more basic questions about the nature and effectiveness of American education for all children, a narrative is created where one group of children is "good but oppressed" by another group. Boys vs. Girls. [Addendum: This technique is described in Manufacturing Consent by Herman and Chomsky (New York: Pantheon, 1988) in the chapter "Worthy and Unworthy Victims."]

    What I also find is that such stories almost always work to the advantage of the existing power structure, in this case the gender power structure. Once it becomes popular knowledge (as opposed to factual) that boys are "falling behind" in education, it is then "necessary" to dedicate resources and money to remedy the situation.

    I remain doubtful.

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