Sunday, March 01, 2009

Boys At School

My wife handed me an article about what is becoming a depressingly common subject: how badly boys are doing at school. The statistics of increased disciplinary problems, increased special ed, declining test scores keep coming year after year.

This is not a new phenomenon. Tom Sawyer and Little House On The Prairie both give clear pictures of schools already being seen as girl-friendly. The culture may have considered it more important for boys to be literate and educated, and adult culture may have discouraged women's achievement, but school was even then rewarding traditionally feminine behavior.

May I note that this also works out poorly, sometimes especially so, for girls who "act like" boys: noisy, moving, challenging, etc.

The trend has worsened over time. In my own sons' generation, it was bitterly amusing to me to watch all these fairly feminist moms cope with their boys' schools. They resisted the conclusion, they squirmed against the reality, but they loved their sons, and that eventually defeated what they had been taught. They were taught that society's whole structure oppressed and badgered little girls from earliest years. They thought that must apply to school as well, because school is so much a part of young people's culture and experience.

Popular culture might be unhealthy for girls; town activities might be more boy-friendly; movies, TV, a tech-heavy society might all be working against girls. (I don't know that to be true, but let's grant it for the moment). But school favors girls dramatically.

It is not complicated, but it's a truth that educationalists don't want to face. The boys are doing worse because teachers don't like boy behavior. That's it. Trying to evade that brutal fact will inevitably lead to non-solutions. But I love boys. Do you? Or do you love them when you have successfully tamed (I think you say "channeled") their energy into being more like girls? Like teenage girls hoping to reform bad boyfriends (even Anne of Green Gables confesses to this fantasy), energetic boys almost bursting out, almost interrupting, almost leaving their seats are just so cute, aren't they?

Schools are trying to discover and design different techniques that make them boy friendly. Well and good. "Concrete sequential" elementary school teachers need to learn in that way. They had better, because societies develop Plan B's when Plan A doesn't work. If you won't educate the boys, parents will develop alternative methods of getting boys educated. Those will rely on new technologies and very likely work better for girls, too. Classroom schoolteachers will make themselves obsolete, shepherding a final decade of placid girls in their rooms while the rest of the world has moved on.


Anonymous said...

Do you know the work of the Gurian Institute. I googled it after reading an op/ed piece in the Washington Post a good while ago. They explore the differences between boys and girls and come up with different teaching techniques for both. I haven't read their books, but it sounds interesting.

Donna B. said...

One thing I do not doubt after witnessing the birth of several children, my own and my grandchildren is that they emerge from the womb with personalities. Some are so feminine, and some so masculine they are immediately identifiable. Others may take a day or so... but most of the time it doesn't take pink or blue to tell the difference between a boy and a girl.

My oldest granddaughter is very feminine, yet she will not let a boy climb higher or go faster than she does.

My grandsons are the sweetest things ever. The love and protectiveness they show their baby sister will make you cry.

Baby sister is youngest granddaughter, different daughter, btw.

There's a fine line between expecting "boys to be boys" and diminishing their nurturing side.

Anonymous said...

They had better, because societies develop Plan B's when Plan A doesn't work.

I believe we are up to Plan ZZ right about now. Don’t worry though. At some point, our society will recognize that educational theories have but one function: secure advanced degrees for people who strive to become educationalists. When this realization sets in, parents and taxpayers may well demand that socialists relinquish their hold over the American educational system; we may even implement programs similar to those found in every other industrialized nation in the world—systems that actually do educate young people and prepare them for meaningful careers and vocations. In this vein, we may even inquire (and test) students, and tailor programs that capitalize on their aptitudes and interests. Wow … imagine that.