We received the notices
for my son's and daughter's school in the mail yesterday. My soon-to-be-first grade daughter jumped up and down,
wanting to know who her new teacher will be, what room she
will be in, and "when do we get to start?" My middle
school son examined his letter, and optimistically noted,
"the first week is mostly minimum days, except for a
Friday, but that's almost the weekend, when there's no
school. So the week will go by quickly."
I called my son's old
school, which my daughter will now be attending, to ask a
question. The women in the office all know me. My name is
associated with discipline problems in class,
inappropriate mischief on the yard, and calls home to dad. I hear the slight apprehension in the secretary's voice.
"Don't worry, you won't
have any problems this time", I tell her apologetically. "This is my daughter."
Modern schools are the
land of "girl good, boy …." well, not bad, maybe, but a
problem to be solved. Of "If only he would …" and "someday
he'll …" and, my favorite, "he's a nice boy, but …"
Simply put, modern
schools are not boy-friendly. This can be seen from the
time boys enter school, when many of them are immediately
branded as behavior problems. The line of elementary
school kids who used to gather every day after school in
my son's class for their behavior reports--all boys. The
names of kids on the side of the chalkboard who misbehaved
and would lose recess--all boys. The nine million
children, many as young as five or six, who are given
Ritalin so they will sit still and "behave"--almost all
Girls get better grades
than boys, and boys are far more likely than girls to drop
out of school or to be disciplined, suspended, held back,
or expelled. Boys are four times as likely to receive a
diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
girls, and the vast majority of learning-disabled students
are boys. By high school the typical boy is a year and a
half behind the typical girl in reading and writing.
Modern K-12 education is
not suited to boys' needs and learning styles. Success in
school is tightly correlated with the ability to sit
still, be quiet and complete work. The fact that many
young boys are bodily kinesthetic learners who crave
physical, hands-on and energetic lessons is inconvenient,
and is thus largely ignored.
The trend against
competition and the promotion of cooperative learning
strategies run counter to boys' natural competitiveness
and individual initiative. Group projects and lessons in
which there are no right or wrong answers, and from which
solid conclusions cannot be drawn, tend to frustrate boys,
who often view them as pointless.
Efforts to make schools
gentler and to promote women's writing, while
understandable, have pushed aside the action and adventure
literature which boys have treasured for generations. In
their place are subtle, reflective works which often hold
little interest for boys.
The dearth of male
teachers--particularly at the elementary level, where
female teachers outnumber male teachers six to one--is a
problem for boys. The average teacher is a well-meaning
and dedicated woman who always did well in school and
simply cannot understand why the boys won't sit still, be
quiet and do their work. Instead, boys need strong,
charismatic teachers who mix firm discipline with an
understanding and good-natured acceptance of boyish
Another problem is that
teachers are weighed down by paperwork and secretarial
labor which limits the amount of time they can spend
planning and delivering creative, hands-on, boy-friendly
Perhaps most importantly,
there is little outlet for natural boyish energy and
exuberance in schools. Recess and physical education time
allotted during the day are insufficient for boys' needs,
and the trend has been to reduce this time rather than to
establishment has reacted to the boy crisis in education
in a way reminiscent of
Bertolt Brecht's famous poem about
calls to reform or dissolve the unpopular government of
East Germany: the government found it difficult to reform
itself, so would instead choose to "dissolve the people
and elect another."
Similarly, rather than
reform a system woefully out of touch with boys' real
world natures and needs, our schools find it easier to
demand that boys be something other than boys.
This column appeared in
the Washington Times (09/12/2004), the Albuquerque Journal
(09/10/2004), and the Omaha World-Herald (09/04/2004).