As standardized testing increases, males increasingly choose to be absent from higher education. For our leadership program at the University of Colorado Denver, up to 75% of the applicants are female. By the time young people apply to college, they usually have been put through a barrage of standardized tests. The S.A.T. (Wikipedia laconically remarks “It was first called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Assessment Test, but now SAT does not stand for anything” – so let’s just call it the “Standardized Admissions Test” to standardized education) – makes sure that only those who have learned to conform to standards and submit gladly to testing (for their innocence?) will be part of the future management of our society.
Any testosteronically successful teenage boys or middle-aged men on second call will tell you that you can’t impress “the good ones” by telling her that you got an A on a standard test. What you try to tell her or make up are stories about extraordinary feats of the unusual, about flying high above the flats of the ordinary and standard, about an adventure where you prevailed in spite of the odds.
Winston Churchill, who had been mediocre at best in school, became first famous because of his heroic escape from a South African prison. Of course his war stories soon added to his rise. (War was invented for would-be heroes, not for standard recruits. When life becomes too uniform, restless men tend to escape into war.)
Many of our inventive leaders, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs, have had relatively little formal education. They became successful on their own terms, not through midterms. However, the traditional female socialization in our society has been concerned, first and foremost, with living up to pre-established standards. The more the girls and young women fitted into white gloves and corsets, moral rules and recitation by the book, the more likely it was that her estrogen would succeed.
These days, when we have state-wide meetings of leadership educators in Colorado, the recurring theme is that the female colleagues want more standardized admissions and outcomes tests. Never mind those innovative ideas: let’s compare statistics.
Both models of socialization have, of course, proven some effectiveness in the past. What we have to wonder, as we look at the future of our society, is if we are locking ourselves into a pattern of higher education and leadership development that will ill serve both women and men, in the global arena of innovation and imaginative developments beyond the standard.