The realm of the Parent-Teacher Association in Howard County is still largely ruled by women. Consider the numbers: 46 of the county's 54 PTAs are led by female presidents.

But lately more men have been making inroads into local PTAs. The number of male presidents in Howard associations increased from six last year to eight this year, with the figure for other male PTA officers jumping from 12 to 20 over the same period.

Both the state and national PTA offices view this as a happy development. Rightly so. It reflects the growing involvement of fathers in areas of their children's lives that formerly, and unfairly, were dumped in the laps of mothers. Changing diapers at 3 a.m., taking charge of visits to the pediatrician, leading shoe-buying expeditions and other duties once regarded as "women's work" are no longer viewed by most males with fear or disdain.

Now they want to help run the local PTA, too.

Cynics might explain this shift by noting that men have had little choice other than to get involved since more than half of American women hold down jobs outside the home. But it's just as likely that many men have realized they should take more of a hand in child-rearing, not simply out of fairness and responsibility but also out of a desire to get in on the fun and satisfaction of bringing up the kids.

As one male ex-president of a local PTA noted, "It's probably more important than ever that parents get involved with education . . . The school system needs input from parents as to what is being taught to their children and how it's being taught." Adds Maryland PTA president Vicki Rafel, "This is a trend we're ** seeing statewide. We try to encourage this kind of diversity among our officers, in terms of gender and also ethnicity and race."

With more fathers offering their input, the schools will benefit. So will the PTAs, as this infusion of energy from new male officers complements the strengths that women have always supplied. By the same token, the men ought to learn a good deal from the experience, especially those who have rarely, if ever, worked with women at the upper levels of an organization.

The main beneficiaries will be students. Kids can't help but reap advantages when both Mom and Dad take an active interest in their lives.

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