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The Review

The official student newspaper of St. John's School.

The Review

The official student newspaper of St. John's School.

The Review

Psychologist Michael Thompson speaks to Upper School about academic gender gap

Thompson is the New York Times bestselling author of “Raising Cain” and a school counselor who specializes in the psychology of boys.

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Thompson is the New York Times bestselling author of “Raising Cain” and a school counselor who specializes in the psychology of boys.

Students reacted to the first all-Upper School in-person assembly in a year and a half with a mixture of roaring applause and mild frustration. It was not the full VST that generated this response, but a presentation on the academic gender gap given by psychologist Michael Thompson

“He did an excellent job of speaking up until the point of controversy,” senior Lily Pesikoff said. “If controversy is at the 50-yard-line, he went up to the forty-nine-yard line and nine inches.”

Thompson is the New York Times bestselling author of “Raising Cain” and a school counselor who specializes in the psychology of boys. He has spoken at schools across the world. Yet his presentation on Oct. 27 remains controversial among St. John’s students. 

One topic of discussion among students was the language of the speech. The vocabulary Thompson used stuck to the gender-binary, emphasizing the behavioral differences between genders.

“It was very binary,” senior Lucy Haire said. “It enforced stereotypes of ‘boys do this, and girls do this.’”

During his presentation, Thompson focused primarily on the academic gender gap and how girls make higher grades than boys. Students felt that Thompson over-attributed this gap to neurological differences across genders and failed to address the societal pressure that young women face.

“Girls are pressured to follow the rules exactly,” junior Sophia Denham said. “Boys don’t face that same amount of pressure.”

Students like Denham believe that this stress leads to girls’ success in the classroom. Yet, as senior Remi Clonts said during the question-and-answer portion of the assembly, the accomplishments of girls in school is not translating into success later in life.

A recent study by the Greater Houston Partnership showed that in Houston, men hold 65% of leadership positions in the professional world, despite making up only half of the city’s population.

Many students feel conflicted about Thompson’s proposition to make the educational environments more accommodating to boys.

“School is the only place societally where women are expected to succeed and where people are excited about them succeeding,” junior Maggie Henneman said. “By making the academic playing field even for men, we’re losing the one area where women are allowed to succeed.”

If controversy is at the 50-yard-line, he went up to the forty-nine-yard line and nine inches.

— Lily Pesikoff

Others agree with Thompson’s main premise, but feel that the school system should be restructured for all students, not just boys.

“We need to rethink school life,” Clonts said. “No child is meant to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day without moving.”

Several students disagreed with Thompson’s interpretations of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Thompson said that ADHD was three times more prevalent in boys than in girls. Many, including Denham, took issue with the statistics.

“In actuality, ADHD is just under-diagnosed in girls,” Denham said, “So it’s three times more diagnosed in boys.”

As part of his talk, Thompson said that doctors are overmedicating young boys for ADHD. He claimed that parents and doctors incorrectly diagnose young men with the disorder, when boys are simply behaving “like boys.”

“That is a very toxic mindset,” Clonts said. “It perpetuates the idea that ‘boys will be boys’ and should not be held accountable for what they are doing.”

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, psychologist and award-winning author of “The Big Disconnect,” will be speaking to Upper School students and teachers in December about the development of girls, giving the community a chance to look at these issues from multiple perspectives. 

“I look at this as an opportunity to open up some tough conversations,” history teacher Derrick Angemeier said. “What are the young women and young men of St. John’s getting out of the four years that they’re here? Are there things that could be done better? What’s the next step?”

Additional reporting by Chloe West, Lily Feather, David Schaefer and Turner Edwards.

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Aleena Gilani, Online Editor-in-Chief

Aleena Gilani ('25) joined The Review in 2021 as a freshman. She is a big fan of Tootsie Rolls and the show Community.

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Psychologist Michael Thompson speaks to Upper School about academic gender gap