The U.S. Department of Education reports that more girls than boys take advanced academic levels of math. And in 2003, all three of the Intel (formerly Westinghouse) Young Scientist Scholarship winners were girls.

There are a lot of theories about why boys are suddenly being outpaced. Testing-based curricula, reductions in recess time, and a lengthened school day top many experts' lists because boys, they believe, have greater difficulty being punctual, sitting still for long periods, organizing their thoughts for exams, and following precise directions on standardized tests. But the girls I spoke to didn't buy any of these explanations; they had their own very clear, very consistent ideas about why girls are trouncing boys.

"Girls today want to be respectable. They want to be like Diane Sawyer or Reese Witherspoon," says Jamey, an honors student who spent her toddlerhood in foster care because her mother was an alcoholic and her father absent. "But guys want to be all pimped out. Like sports stars or nasty musicians. It's okay for a girl to pay attention in class. But for most guys, it's geeky." Jamey and her friends, the Foxy Crew, require "members" to maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average, something she says her male classmates would never do. "I swear, they laugh when they get a .7 on their report cards."

So what really changed with this generation? When I did the math, I realized that if you're a teenager today, chances are your parents grew up during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the failed battle in the '70s to secure an equal rights amendment to the Constitution. My guess is that coming of age in this milieu created mothers and fathers who are hyperaware of the challenges women can face in the workplace and downright eager to talk about them with their daughters.


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