Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Crisis in Boys' Education?

Is there a crisis in the academic achievement of boys? Are boys in trouble? Does gender matter? There has been much written of this in the past few years, and Newsweek adds to the discussion this week with an article entitled "Struggling School-Age Boys." I have no clear answer to my first two questions, but the third is undoubtedly "yes." Each year I begin my freshman English classes with a study of The Lord of the Flies, and the class discusses the issue of gender. Because the book begins with the line, "The boy with the fair hair lowered himself down ..." I ask my students to ponder why it's about boys. William Golding once opined that when you get right down to it, the fourteen-year-old boy is the closest manifestation of true evil you'll find anywhere in the world. This always draws smiles from the girls, shrugs from the boys. However, it's a serious question. We discuss the reality that girls sometimes outnumber boys 3 to 1 in honors classes, whereas boys outnumber girls 10 to 1 in disciplinary referrals and suspensions. Clearly, there is a problem, and clearly gender matters.

Dr. Leonard Sax has written extensively about this issue in the book Why Gender Matters, and it is a book that I recommend each year to teachers and parents. Interestingly, Sax notes such issues as the research that shows boys don't hear as well as girls. Now, consider that reality when 90% of kindergarten and primary teachers are female with soft voices. Is it that Johnny is being bad in the back of the class, or does he just not hear what is going on? Could this influence disciplinary situations? Could this be a rationale behind the skyrocketing diagnoses of ADD/ADHD in children, predominantly boys, as young as three? What about the research on psycho-motor skills development that puts girls as much as 14 months out in front? Should we consider this when we put pencils in the hands of kindergarteners and expect them to write? How does Johnny feel when Suzie's penmanship is praised, but he's asked to try a little harder.

These are all issues that society needs to spend much more time discussing.


Mrs. C said...

Thank you for posting this, Michael. I'm actually finishing up that book now!!

I have a child who was placed in the "special needs" preschool. Last August, he went to public elementary school for kindergarten but did not qualify for an IEP.

They did not help him academically OR help him control his behaviour (silly noises, not wait on line properly, etc. Non-violent stuff). Their answer to everything was suspension. I pulled him after about a week and a half to homeschool him. I can *easily* see where a less experienced or stubborn parent would be pressured into accepting medication for a child, or into thinking the child is less smart than he is because of the immature way he behaves in a large group. My son still needs a lot of work in the "social" area (and having two autistic brothers doesn't help), but is nearly finished with the third grade public school math curriculum and is finishing second grade English. I'm certain that had Emperor stayed in public school, he would not have been advanced that quickly, but would now be entering first grade. He would have been looked upon as a troublemaker instead of a really smart kid who needs *lots* of supervision.

I also note that discipline styles are very "female" as well in schools. My older son Patrick (now almost 15) would be whispered about and cliques of girls would make fun of him, but he wouldn't hear just what they were saying.

Nothing was done until he came up to the ringleader and said, "I'm not afraid of YOU, fat girl!" Guess who got into trouble? But it gave me the "opportunity" (LOL) to discuss that, while my son is not encouraged to make fun of people, I'm sure not going to back up the school on this when he's expected to sit around and be bullied like that. He won't be punished for it here at home. And no, "tell the teacher" each time it happens isn't a reasonable expectation, either. The girl needs to learn to shut up because people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Yet she gets no consequence? The teacher knew very well that they were whispering while looking at him, and giggling. He's supposed to do nothing? Um, nope.

I think upper grades are actually much more consistent and child-friendly. My older sons are grouped with other children (gifted and sped) like them, and this actually causes fewer problems. The children are more like their peers and their teachers are more specially trained in these areas for this particular kind of student.

I'm not sure why the gap in honours students. Perhaps there is something on the tests they use to qualify? Patrick had to take their special tests several years running until I finally told him to ASK HOW THE TEST WORKS so he knew whether to guess on questions or not. His IQ improved 20 points somehow just in that one hour LOL!

Just a thought.

Sorry for the novel - hope you like comments because I sure gave you one!

mazenko said...

Mrs. C,

I always appreciate the comments. Thanks for sharing your story. It seems too often that our one-size-fits-all education system leaves serious gaps in the access of too many.


Dennis Fermoyle said...

I've always believed that the effect of students on other students is the most under-rated factor in high school education. Maybe that's more true for boys than girls. A few years ago, our school had a class of outstanding boys, but you could see how much they affected each other. Then, a couple of years ago, we had almost no male academic leadership at all. As a result, my AP Government class last year was made up of 19 girls and 3 boys.

You come up with some great stuff, Michael!

Parentalcation said...

William Golding once opined that when you get right down to it, the fourteen-year-old boy is the closest manifestation of true evil you'll find anywhere in the world.

William Golding has obviously never been around 14 year old girls.

I monitor my 8th grade girls myspace life and middle school girls are vicious. Way more vicious that guys are.