"Boys will be boys" used to be accepted wisdom. Now, it's the equivalent of a four letter word.

So argues Christina Hoff Sommers, American Enterprise Institute scholar and author of "Who Stole Feminism?" in her provocative new book, "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men" (Simon and Schuster)

"It's a bad time to be a boy in America," opens Sommers in her much needed corrective.

She shows how more and more of our education elites consider traditional boyishness a sort of social pathology. Competitiveness? Individualism? Raw, exuberant energy? All bad. Cooperation, talking about feelings and peaceful play — the traits of the boys' sisters — are more virtuous.

This, Sommers says, is dangerously coupled with the powerful myth it's the girls who are suffering in today's society. Sommers shows how activist groups like the American Association of University Women, and "girl-crisis" advocates like Carol Gilligan (professor of "gender studies" at Harvard) and writers like psychologist Mary Pipher, author of the best-selling girl-crisis book extraordinaire, "Reviving Ophelia," have successfully force-fed the American public the notion that it's girls who are being overlooked and shortchanged in the schools and who suffer from "low self-esteem."

As Gilligan says, "As the river of a girl's life flows into the sea of Western culture, she is in danger of drowning or disappearing."

What baloney, argues Sommers, noting that a range of scholarly research shows no such thing. In fact, as a group, girls get better grades in school than boys. They have higher educational aspirations and follow a more rigorous academic program, including prestigious advanced placement courses. Nationwide, those shy overlooked girls outnumber boys on school newspapers, student government and even in debating clubs, and for years have made up a significant majority of America's college freshman class.

Conversely, "Boys are three times as likely as girls to be enrolled in special education programs and four times as likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder," finds Sommers. They are more likely to be involved in drugs and crime, to kill themselves and to drop out of school or be expelled.

Meanwhile, the "gender gap" by which girls trail boys in math and science is closing, but the far greater "gender gap" by which boys trail girls by 1.5 years in reading and 3 years in writing isn't getting any narrower.

But focusing on the needs of boys doesn't help the cause of feminist victimhood much. Yet, Sommers says, while it's not a crisis, the legitimate problems facing many boys are finally becoming more obvious to parents and communities, if not educators and our elite. So, Sommers shows, the "girl-advocates" have come up with an answer to that — "boys need to be more like girls," you see.

These folks want boys to play "nicely" (no crashing noises or competition, please) to sit still, and for heavens sake to stop running around with those pretend guns. So one teacher's guide sponsored by the Education Department suggested a game of tag where "no one is ever out."

Typical of such "experts," says Sommers, is William Pollack, co-director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital at Harvard, who made a big splash in the popular culture with his best-selling, "Real Boys." Pollack, Sommers says, attributes pathology to even all those normal boys out there. So it's no surprise he calls for nothing short of changing "the way boys are raised — in our homes, in our schools and in society."

All of this would be laughable, of course, if this dogma didn't so infuse our schools and elite culture. And if there weren't a volatile, dangerous situation that does face many American boys. But the danger, according to Sommers, is not the inherent "maleness" of boys. It's a dearth of moral guidance. For boys in particular, this absence can have tragic consequences. She notes that for years our culture has abdicated its task of recognizing the unique characteristics of boys and of properly and ethically training, disciplining, directing and channeling them so that they can safely navigate from a healthy and normal boyhood into a moral and productive manhood. (Optimistically, she notes that Great Britain has in recent years responded to the learning and developmental differences between boys and girls, with great success.)

As a mother of daughters and a son, I agree with Sommers. It would be better for boys and girls everywhere if we again recognize the simple wisdom of the ages, that boys need to be civilized — not feminized.

Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by e-mail at: mailtohart@aol.com .