True or false: Our educational system gives boys an academic advantage.

Answer: A resounding yes, when Leave It To Beaver was the TV ratings champ. But Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons From An Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind (Amacon Publishing, 2010), makes a compelling, well-documented case that the opposite is now true. According to Whitmire, male students have been at a disadvantage for at least a generation, and the academic gender gap is widening.

Whitmire, a former editorial writer for USA Today, marshaled an impressive amount of research to support the thesis of his book: "The world has gotten more verbal, boys haven't." He insists that instructional trends ranging from whole language reading instruction (emphasizing the recognition of words in context versus the decoding skills employed in phonics training) to math education that focuses on analyzing and solving word problems play to girls' strengths.

The grim stats cut like a machete through every demographic: urban, rural, wealthy, and underserved boys alike are lagging behind their female peers. Whether it is an abnormally high percentage of elementary-age boys labeled "behavior problems," or the 60/40 percent female-male imbalance as the status quo on many college campuses, the female academic advantage has been a game-changer for an entire generation of children, says Whitmire.

" … I bought into the reports that schools were treating girls unfairly, shunting them aside in favor of aggressive boys thrusting their arms in the air to answer teachers' questions … by hindsight, we now know that research was flawed. I was wrong to write those stories." Why Boys Fail is more than Whitmire's mea culpa, however. It profiles promising pilot programs and suggests solutions ranging from big-picture federal studies to micro-level classroom teachers committed to providing boy-friendly books and (even) graphic novels as reading material for male students.

Will a systemic intervention mean that female students have to lose the ground they have gained? Whitmire says no: "Reaching out to help young men will in the long run help women as well. Anyone who doubts that needs to sit down and have a chat with Oprah about the damage the looming gender gaps have inflicted on the African American community. If national feminist groups change their position, so will the two national teachers unions."

However, those higher-ups may prove to be the most resistant to Whitmire's conclusions. Many have bought into the "boys have the academic advantages" paradigm, and have shaped education to fit it. Whitmire, the father of two daughters, believes that both boys and girls can succeed—but not without intentional construction of a new, inclusive paradigm that affirms (celebrates, even!) gender differences.

I read Why Boys Fail with interest. My husband and I home-schooled our daughter and two sons, all of whom are now young adults. Our kitchen became a classroom when our school district jumped on the whole language bandwagon in the late 1980s. Though gender bias had nothing to do with our decision at the time, the research presented in Whitmire's book validated what I observed in my own home. I learned early on that I needed to tailor both the material and my approach so that it would connect with each of my kids. Their gender differences played a role in that tailoring process …

Whitmire's ideas are provocative, to be sure, and some educators will dismiss the book as a call to return to an era where Dick, Jane, Spot and Puff taught children to read, and boys enjoyed unfair academic advantages. This misses the point of Why Boys Fail, which is a well-written invitation to begin a new and necessary conversation about creating an academic environment that is fundamentally just, in order to ensure that no child, male or female, gets left behind.

Michelle Van Loon is the author of two books on the parables of Jesus, and blogs at A shorter review of this book can be found at Englewood Review of Books.