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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World by Daniel J. Kindlon, PhD

Rings true to this classroom teacher

Daniel J. Kindlon
As a classroom teacher that first came into the profession at the height of the Reviving Ophelia type of research done by Mary Pipher. I have participated in classes, seminars and training sessions about how girls are being short-changed in the classroom and in our culture. It was not until I ran across some research I was doing in my Master's Degree program some 15 years later that my eyes were opened to a new possibility: the girls are, on the whole, doing just fine. The boys, on the other hand, are falling by the wayside in heart-cringing numbers. Go to any public school and you can just about guarantee that 7 or more of the top ten will be girls. Look at the special education numbers and 7 out of 10 will be boys.

Dan Kindlon's Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World does not address what is going on with boys, but it does look at a relatively new phenomenon - the hyper-achieving academically gifted, socially skilled, generally athletic, well-connected Alpha Girls.

What makes an Alpha Girl?

-GPA of 3.8 or higher
-Leadership role in an extracurricular activity
-Participation in that activity at least 10 or more hours per week.
-High motivation to go to college, own a home, make a lot of money, have a good reputation, study and save money for the future.
-High self-esteem based on personal dependability.

While clearly not trying to be openly critical of feminist researchers Carol Gilligan and Mary Pipher, Kindlon's findings blow giant holes in the universal apllicability of their theories, although he does admit that changes in American culture may well be what accounts for the differences. He also notes that the differences between previous research and his research may well be due to the fact that men and women talk about themselves differently - men often do not recognize to their own shortcomings as well as do women, especially young men. So a perceived drop of self-esteem on the part of women could very well be an unrealistic level of self-esteem among their male counterparts (pp. 96-7).

So, what is an Alpha Girl like? Well, I had a surplus of them in my classes this last year (I was teaching a lot of college track classes) and I can tell you that Kindlon hits them right on the head when he describes them as "hybrids" and girls that speak the language of boys. They understand boys well and boys understand them. They are stll, however, all girl. They compete, they prepare, they write poetry and they are generally the highest achievers in any classroom. Generally, Alpha Girls have had an involved father (but not always). Kindlon notes that, on average, fathers spend a lot more time with their kids than in decades past, and he theorizes that this interaction has helped socialize their girls a little differently.

Kindlon's book occassionally wanders of-course, with a foray into suppositions about chemical imbalances in the environment creating more macho girls and less macho boys being responsible for some of our cultural changes (he mentions the "metrosexuals" [p. 175] as a new phenomenon. This history teacher will tell you that we've had "metrosexuals" many times in history - I suggest that they are more a product of leisure and disposable income than chemicals. Think of Ancient Rome and the court of Louis XVI as prime examples of metrosexuality in the past). The discussions of lesbian experimentation (pp. 228-32) doesn't really keep with the main theme of the book since it is not limited to the Alpha Girl phenomenon.

On the whole, the book is interesting, seems well-researched and fits with my own classroom experiences.

Other books I recommend on boys and girls in school are:

-Boys and Girls Learn Differently!: A Guide for Teachers and Parents and The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life by Michael Gurian.

-The WAR AGAINST BOYS: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men by Christina Hoff Sommers

-Keeping Black Boys Out of Special Education by Jawanza Kunjufu

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on June 9, 2008.

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