Why Boys Are Failing in an Educational System Stacked Against Them

Lori Day looks to find solutions in education that take into account the differences between boys and girls.

Originally written for The Huffington Post about six months ago, this article was received in very interesting ways. Lots of men (and women) were grateful that I was addressing the educational struggles of boys. But also, many women took issue with the article because they did not want distinctions to be drawn between boys and girls in the ways that I did. In the past—and perhaps still today—drawing attention to these differences often had a negative impact on girls. “Differences” somehow led to girls being seen as inferior. That was never the case, and still isn’t. As controversial as it can be to discuss differences, that is all that they are. It is not a zero sum game. I admit to having felt as if I were being viewed as a traitor. What I am is an advocate for children. 

The statistics on how boys are faring in schools today are sobering. They are failing precisely because there are differences between the learning styles and needs of boys and girls that favor girls in the current public school system in this country. I simply believe that we all need to acknowledge this, and that in doing so, there should be no perceived threat by girls or women. As caring and responsible adults, we all need to focus on advocacy for both boys and girls in the unique ways needed by each. I spend a lot of time advocating for girls and women. I believe they are sexualized and objectified at a horrifying level, and are shortchanged relative to boys and men in many, many aspects of life. When it comes to other issues, such as education, it is boys and men who I believe are being shortchanged and who deserve greater attention and focus at this time.

I did receive some specific criticisms of this article when it was first published. Many readers took issue with my use of personal anecdotes and gender generalizations, despite what I considered to be strategic use of weasel words explaining the illustrative purpose of generalizations and disclaiming that all boys and all girls fit into these descriptions. Obviously they don’t! But the generalizations are necessary to simply be able to write about the problem in any coherent fashion. In terms of anecdotes, they are meant to provide narrative and texture, nothing more. One can produce studies to “prove” anything one believes. The spectrum of studies on male and female cognition and development is extremely varied. Regardless, as someone who worked in schools for 25 years, I did observe and experience what I observed and experienced, and I share that with you as readers, to be accepted or rejected as you see fit. 

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang that we should teach our children well and feed them of our dreams, but for millions of parents of sons, dreams are only that, and boys are falling behind educationally at an alarming rate in this country. Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and in Life, and many other authors and educational experts proclaim that we have a crisis in the education of boys in this country. The media attention to this topic has been extensive in recent years, yet I do not see the systemic changes that are needed.

Gurian presents statistics that boys get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90% of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80% of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45% of the college population.  If you look in your newspaper in June, you will see the photos and bios of valedictorians from many of your local high schools, and will notice that the majority of them these days are girls.

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What Do the Experts on Male Development Say?

According to Whitmire, children are forced to use literacy skills much earlier than in the past, and boys develop these skills later than girls. In the world of “Kindergarten is the new first grade,” boys are struggling mightily to keep up. When it comes to writing, the gender divide is even greater. NCLB and our hyper-focus on standardized test scores is worsening, not ameliorating, the academic struggles of boys, and subsequently increasing the numbers of boys who turn off to school and eventually drop out.

According to Gurian, boys learn by doing and by moving their bodies through space. The more emphasis is placed on the development of early reading skills, and the less emphasis is placed on a healthy amount of movement and experiential learning, the more disadvantageous our schools will be for males.

According to Gurian, boys learn by doing and by moving their bodies through space. The more emphasis is placed on the development of early reading skills, and the less emphasis is placed on a healthy amount of movement and experiential learning, the more disadvantageous our schools will be for males.

Our boys need our attention, and although some of what I’m about to write pertains to girls as well as boys, and although gender differences naturally fall across a continuum and no single description fits all boys or all girls, there are nonetheless a number of characteristics that differentiate the two genders generally speaking.

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On Growing Up With Boys, Then Raising a Girl

As the mother of a female only child, my parenting experience, while not always idyllic, has been relatively peaceful.  As a toddler, my daughter was sedentary and cautious, and seemed to have nowhere she needed to go.  She would sit in one spot on the floor for hours with a pile of books, “reading” to herself.  I could shoot from room to room, accomplishing tasks, and she would smile up at me from her place on the living room rug as if wondering, what’s the hurry?

She was much like I was as a child, and nothing like the brothers I had grown up with who requisitioned large expanses of the floor plan of our house for their games, commandeering space like an army of two. The entire finished basement was needed for indoor hockey (and windows were expendable). Outdoors, acres of woods were barely enough for their imaginary villages and the conquering of foreign lands. Unwitting trees were the patient recipients of nails and ropes and bungee cords, bending uncomplainingly to the weight of whatever animate or inanimate objects were tied, strapped or hung from them.

One day my brother devised a pulley system to ferry a dangling ceramic soap dish full of birdseed back and forth between his bedroom window on the third floor and a distant pine tree in the back yard, only to have it immediately collapse under its own weight, sending the heavy chunk of porcelain careening downward in a 90-degree arc until it came into abrupt contact with a doomed sliding glass door. This was a terrific lesson in physics. It was also funny.

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The Nature of Boys

As Gurian explains in his book, the primitive hunters men used to be were the product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Spatially developed male brains resulted from physical interaction with the environment that allowed sensory input to stimulate the right hemisphere and build white matter and synapses in ways that would be useful for survival.

Even though the concept of the square school with the square classroom with one teacher to 20 or more kids has been around for a few hundred years, our boys are still young hunters whose brains need the same types of stimulation to grow and be healthy as did their male ancestors millennia ago. Our schools are vastly different from the setting of family, tribe and natural environment that used to be the educational milieu for growing boys.

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Why Our Educational System Does Not Support Male Learning Styles

Our modern educational system works for many children, particularly girls, but for some boys (and girls) it places constraints on a very normal and necessary experiential type of learning, not to mention the need of many children to move around rather than sit still. While it may be a cynical statement, I have often felt that co-ed schools are girls’ schools that boys go to.

I am not advocating for a return to life in caves and an educational system for boys involving the activities and rituals described in my college anthropology book.  What I do advocate for is a greater understanding and appreciation for who boys are and how they learn best, and the subtle pedagogical modifications that would benefit millions of children.

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How Schools Could Honor Who Boys Are

How much Ritalin could remain on the shelves if we created schools that are ready for boys rather than boys who are ready for schools?

Simple changes to the pace and tempo of the school day, such as incorporating several brief recesses throughout the day, devoting more time to physical education, and including more hands-on activities go a long way towards alleviating some of the natural restlessness of boys and harnessing male energy in positive ways. How much Ritalin could remain on the shelves if we created schools that are ready for boys rather than boys who are ready for schools?

Just as we collectively addressed the needs of girls over the past couple of decades and made great strides in closing their achievement gaps in math and science, let us now turn our attention to our nation’s boys and take equally deliberate steps to assure their success in school and in life. The revolution in brain science over the past fifteen years gives us the knowledge and the tools we need to do this, and we must, for as a society we are setting our boys up to fail in a system that is stacked against them, stacked against the very way they are neurologically wired.

This is not to say that social and cultural influences are not contributing factors to who boys are today, but we now have medical evidence, once elusive, that illuminates the very significant role biology plays in male/female brain development and learning. Parents and teachers need to become better educated about how boys and girls really are different, and how to best meet the needs of each.

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What Does the Future Hold?

At many colleges today, boys are being given a boost in the admissions process because they have become a minority.  If we do not address boys’ educational needs earlier in life than this, the skewing of college enrollment, and thus opportunity in life, will only get worse.

Meeting the learning needs of all of our children is a lofty yet imperative goal. We must join together to nurture and celebrate what it is to be female and what it is to be male and the very essence and value of the difference. And after all, boys will be boys.

photo: wwwworks / flickr

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About Lori Day

Lori Day is an educational psychologist and consultant with Lori Day Consulting in Concord, MA, having worked previously in the field of education for over 25 years in public schools, private schools, and at the college level. She writes and blogs about parenting, education, children, gender, media, and pop culture. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this.

    Aside from it being one of the worst ways to discriminate: denying education – from a broader societal perspective, denying boys educational equality is creating a growing disaster for our society. The worst victims are minority males. There is no real concern about this issue, save an article or book here or there. But, no action. Were girls on the short end of this, it would been addressed by Congressional action years ago, with actual policy change seen at the state and local levels, and evident in schools.

    We as a society are intentionally and aggressively creating a future of un and under-educated, un-, under-, and unemployed, disenfranchised, frustrated, disillusioned, angry testosterone laden young men. The feminist movement as a whole (though not each person who ID’s as such) fights to maintain the status quo, thereby increasing this pattern of disenfranchisement for young males.

    When a society actively discriminates against a sizable segment of the population, it is begging for problems. When you actively discriminate against a population it should be no surprise that problems will ensue.

    • Eric, I agree that minority boys (esp black and Hispanic) are suffering the most. Racism is a very real thing. But I also see this as a function of poverty, which disproportionately affects racial minorities. Urban schools are horribly overcrowded, with enormous class sizes and teachers often ill-equipped to deal with the very tough issues their students bring with them to school. These are also the schools with the tightest budgets that are forced to lay off the most teachers and make the most severe cuts to physical education, after-school sports, arts, and other outlets that these boys desperately need. ALL kids need them. Support services (school psychologists, guidance counselors, tutors, etc) are entirely insufficient in these same schools. And we wonder why there are teacher cheating scandals on NCLB-mandated testing!

      With the direction I see our country going in right now, I am even more worried. For example, if we have a new president who does not support education and dismantles the Department of Education, we are predicted to see an immediate almost 10% cut to all school budgets. Most schools can’t sustain that, but the ones serving minorities especially can’t. I could not agree with you more about the lack of focus on this HUGE societal problem–for all kids, but especially for boys, and most especially for minority boys. Thanks for commenting.

      • “But I also see this as a function of poverty, which disproportionately affects racial minorities. Urban schools are horribly overcrowded, with enormous class sizes and teachers often ill-equipped to deal with the very tough issues their students bring with them to school.”

        Largely true. So, we are now re-doubling our efforts to ensure that the succeeding generation of men in those areas are even less educated and less equipped to handle life’s responsibilities, financially and otherwise, than the current generation. Great plan, isn’t it? To just let this situation be is incredibly short sighted because, like it or not, those un- and poorly educated boys will become grown men who will become somebody’s daddy.

        However, it’s not just funding or lack thereof, it’s policy and quality education processes – or the lack thereof that is a major shortfall. IOW, teaching the right way, recognizing who you are teaching and ensuring they are getting what THEY need, when and how they need it.

        I am not an educator but have a relative who is a senior person in one of the nation’s largest school districts (think of a not nearly as obnoxious Michelle Rhee – formerly the DC schools chancellor) who is a huge advocate for educational process change/improvement, which can yield success in even the poorest neighborhoods, if done right.

        Schools can’t fix a broken home but they can give boys hope of something better than they have – and help to prevent even more kids raised in poverty without a father around. As is, too many are being short-changed both at home and in school.

        • Hear, hear. But we need not to lay ALL of this on the doorsteps of schools. They are so overwhelmed and beleaguered. It takes a whole community, and a proper social safety net…all of the woes of poverty need to be addressed, and help is needed FOR parents and schools. Money is not all of it, but a big part of it.

  2. Couldn’t agree more — my son has always found traditional academic environments too confining. And I also wonder if Ritalin would still be consumed less readily if boys were able to be more physical during the day.

    • Amen. All kids need PLAY and exercise in order to focus. I was a distracted hyper girl. My son is a distracted hyper boy. Both of us need to be ridden hard. No one gets that in a regular school day.

  3. Lori – have you read the updated “Failing at Fairness”? I would love to talk sometime about these issues. I am also very curious about how these factors are affected by the presence of more (or less) male teachers in elementary schools. Do you know any good resources that address that?

    • Hi Soraya. No, haven’t read it. But here is a comment out of an online review that I want to address:

      “This book is a meticulous documentation of how our educational system discriminates against girls. An illuminating example is how boys get called on more, even by conscientious teachers who both want to overcome this problem and know they are being observed .”

      I choose this example to further illustrate my point that there are studies that document absolutely any point of view. Here’s what I learned years ago from a study debunking this exact observation…and who knows which study is the “correct” one!!! Here’s the theory, that was “proven” in another study about girls being cheated in this way: Because boys are less attentive, teachers call on them more to keep them focused and involved, and to minimize their disruptions of the rest of the class. The idea is that teachers are *not discriminating against girls*. In fact, most teachers I have worked with over the years, if you get them in a private moment, will tell you they prefer girls because they are easier. I have actually seen this situation of calling on boys vs. girls improve over the years because at this point teachers are better educated about it. But there are all kinds of differing points of view on it. And, overall, I really don’t think there can be any serious disagreement over which gender is faring more poorly in schools overall these days, especially among the less wealthy and minority students.

      I’m torn about how I will respond to comments as they develop in this thread that are about recommendations of different pro or con studies/books. I simply wrote an article that expressed what I have learned and experienced, and opposite views are totally welcome, but I don’t believe can be proven any more than my view can be proven. Ya know what I mean?

      Great discussion and appreciate the comment. In terms of male role models for boys in schools, I am on record as having written and said many times that this is crucial. I make that comment here on GMP all the time! Can’t think of any studies about it off the top of my head, but they are out there!

      Finally, and I can’t believe I am hearing myself say this, I hope we can stick to the topic of what *boys* need educationally. I personally get accused all the time on this site of doing the “whataboutthewomenz” thing and since I’m the author of this piece, I’m going to try to keep the focus on the boys. I focus a lot on girls too!

      • ” I personally get accused all the time on this site of doing the “whataboutthewomenz” thing and since I’m the author of this piece, I’m going to try to keep the focus on the boys. I focus a lot on girls too!”

        It can still be about the girls too because there are girsl who learn like a lot of boys and they are getting the short end of the stick too. In fact that “girl’s are easier” meme can really harm girls – most often if a boy is ADD, he shows some hyperactivity. A lot of ADD girls don’r. so they just get ignored becausde teya rent’ causing problems. IOW they probelm doesn’t matter.

        Most people, male female or whatever,learn visually. An overhwelming proportion of classroom instruction privileges verbal learners. That’s a problem for everyone, not just boys.

        • “It can still be about the girls too because there are girsl who learn like a lot of boys and they are getting the short end of the stick too.”

          Yes, good point!

          “Most people, male female or whatever,learn visually. An overhwelming proportion of classroom instruction privileges verbal learners.”

          Nope, this is wrong. It’s the opposite. Verbal learning styles are most common, and therefore those with more visual styles are at a disadvantage. What’s needed is more differentiated instruction, and more multi-modal approaches that help verbal, visual, and kinesthetic learners.

      • Lori,

        “Finally, and I can’t believe I am hearing myself say this, I hope we can stick to the topic of what *boys* need educationally. I personally get accused all the time on this site of doing the “whataboutthewomenz” thing and since I’m the author of this piece, I’m going to try to keep the focus on the boys. I focus a lot on girls too!”

        Thanks for keeping the topic focused. Having an article about boys does not mean that any attention is taken away from girls (unless we all have ADD lol).

  4. Dr. Benway says:

    My problem with this sort of thing is the reductionism of concepts like “the mind of boys” and the resort to half-baked evolutionary theory to “prove” what are probably the author’s prejudices.

    It doesn’t do you any good to use “weasel words” if the thrust of your argument belies them. I, for example, would have been one of those boys who would have been completely happy to sit in a corner with a pile of books and though boys like me aren`t in the majority (probably), we`re common enough that we don`t deserve to be qualified as “not really having boys` brains”, which is where your two-gendered and simplistic model of learning is inevitably going to take you, in spite of your “weasel words”.

    My question would be this: why think in terms of “boys’ brains” and “girls’ brains” instead of thinking in terms of different children who need different styles of learning? What do we gain with such engendered generalizations, exactly?

  5. Because, as I say above, “boys get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90% of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80% of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45% of the college population.”

    Our approaches are not mutually exclusive. I agree with your focus on non-gendered different learning styles. However, what still needs to be addressed is that we do not have an equal number of boys and girls manifesting the problems in my quote above. If we water this down to avoid the controversiality of drawing (loosely generalized) distinctions between genders, we lose the sharpness of focus we need to put on boys’ achievement right now. We need BOTH things–a focus specifically on boys and the MYRIAD reasons they are failing, including but not limited to learning style differences…AND a better understanding of learning differences by teachers, accompanied by appropriate pedagogical practices.

    What concerns me about your comment is what I reiterated numerous times within my article and its introduction…that if you take off the table the ability to talk about boys as different from girls, you lose a big piece of the picture, and you place being PC above getting actual solutions that are needed by many (but not all!!!!!!!) boys.

    Finally, to categorize my earnest concerns about boys as “prejudices” is inappropriate. They are my considered opinion, which, as I said in the intro, you are free to accept or reject, but please, I have spent WAY too many years of my life caringly advocating for both boys and girls to be reduced to someone with “prejudices.” That discounts the tremendous numbers of years of study and experience I have, and makes it sound like I am just someone off the street who doesn’t know anything and is spouting off unfounded biases. We can just agree to disagree, ok?

    • Lori:
      Because, as I say above, “boys get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90% of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80% of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45% of the college population.”

      Well said Lori. Exactly right.
      Thanks for bringing this issue up.

  6. Okay, so the argument here is that boys are different from girls. YET…at the same time, school has ALWAYS required children to sit still, be quiet, and listen. Boys, as it were, have been receiving a formal education far longer than girls, and the mode of the classroom was still the same for them: sit still, shut up, and listen. So why is it suddenly now boys are having problems doing this when in the past this model worked just fine for them? I mean, you can even look at this in the past fifty years, or go back to the 1900s to find this was still the model, and perhaps more strict because teachers could physically punish students for speaking out of turn! Boys seemed to have done just fine with this model back then. So what’s going on now? To me, blaming biology is the PC way of doing things because this exempts society from the larger picture. I mean, I’ve been researching stuff like this for months for my thesis paper, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that society has socially screwed boys up through conditioning that encourages rowdy behavior–hence why boys have trouble in the classroom and girls don’t. Of course, you can argue we’re doing no such thing because the classroom discourages it, but then you look at overall media and realize it has a much bigger effect on us and children than we are willing to admit. Children are impressionable from day one. Everything they see is a message to them. Boys playing with trucks, girls playing with dolls? Trucks must be boy things while dolls must be girl things. No one has to tell them this. These are conclusions they come to themselves. These are subtle social cues, but children pick up on these early on.

    • More girls are playing with trucks, football, and other traditionally boy activities than ever before  – and more boys are not only playing with dolls and other formerly “girl” activties, including cross dressing.  Thus, this argument holds no water.

      The bottom line is that boys are being disenfranchised and many are, in essence, blaming the boys themselves while being totally content or even pleased do nothing and have nothing done – while the boys suffer and fall further behind.

    • I have two school age kids- 1 son and 1 daughter. They attend a special school for highly and profoundly gifted children. Every kid in the place has an IQ around or above 145. People move to our city so their children can attend this school The families who send their kids here are incredibly diverse; a large segment of these kids are recent immigrants to the US.

      The only common message all of these children receive is to achieve academically. Education is of paramount importance. These boys are still less engaged and have far more discipline problems than the girls. Unless you can prove that your socialization theories are global AND supercede the push for academic achievement that these kids get you might need to dig a little deeper on that thesis.

    • Amber, I agree with some portions of what the other commenters have replied to you, but I’ll compose my own response.

      Children have NOT always been required to sit still as much as they are today. As schools have become aggressively competitive with each other and with other countries, and as teacher evaluation has become tied to student evaluation via state-mandated testing (thank you NCLB), the pressure to push kids into academics starts earlier and earlier. “Kindergarten is the new first grade” means that sand tables have been replaced by writing tables.

      Girls, who develop earlier than boys, are better able to meet these early literacy, math and writing demands than boys, who find themselves getting behind pretty much as soon as they start school. Many boys really struggle in Kindergarten (see Tom Matlack’s and my articles on redshirting below) and are behind from then on, turning off to school and encountering mounting problems as they grow older.

      Kindergarten used to be a time to play, learn to socialize, learn to function as a group, and develop habits of mind. It was about learning how to learn. Now, kids are expected to be doing academic skills in Kindergarten that didn’t used to be expected for another year or even two!

      In the meantime, while kids need to sit still and learn, recess got chipped away to make more time for academics and test prep. Have you not read anything lately on how little time kids have for recess? They all need it, but the very active kids (usually but not always boys) REALLY need to release their energy and run around. That helps them come sit back down again and focus. Without those breaks, things devolve quickly.

      And what about PE? Where has it gone? It, too, has been thrown under the bus to carve out more time for academics, and also because it is one of the first things to go during budget cuts. Back in the old days, Amber, kids often walked to and from school, and got plenty of outdoor recess and PE. Physical movement is crucial.

      And I do believe boys are “rowdier” mostly by nature, and only in part by socialization. Have you ever been a teacher? I’ve known 100’s. Ask any teacher whether they think boys are more active, or girls are more active, or whether it’s equal, and I guarantee you that you will hear from almost all of them that boys are more active than girls, from VERY early in life, well before they are socialized. I can’t even count how many parents of both a son(s) and daughter(s) have told me, “The boys are just naturally more rambunctious.”

      Finally, back in the old days you speak of, lots of kids dropped out or were expelled. If boys were too hyperactive, rowdy, or disruptive, they were deemed unfit for school and kicked out. Today, that’s against the law. And today, it seems the message is that everyone must go to college. It is no longer encouraged or respected to do a trade and work with your hands. So, some boys who would have dropped out, been expelled, or simply left school to pitch in with all the physical labor that used to be needed in our society before machines and technology came into play are now firmly kept within a system that is not serving them well. They are medicated, they are funneled into SpEd classes, etc.

      The demands for so much more sitting and for early literacy do generally favor girls. AGAIN, not all girls. And AGAIN, not all boys are disadvantaged. But go back to those stats I gave at the beginning of my post–that IS what is happening to our boys.

      You final point about the gendered messaging kids receive? yes, I agree with that. Check out this article I wrote right here on GMP: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-gender-pendulum/ Clearly, I am in tune with this issue! But it is not a big part of THIS conversation.

      There are so many ways in which I feel girls are disadvantaged in society, and while this will offend some people, I think girls have more disadvantages than boys on the whole, though both genders are suffering.

      But this article is on how poorly boys are faring educationally, and I stand firmly by my position that they have much greater struggles in schools than girls when you look at the whole picture. This is not to say girls have none–they do, and some have been mentioned in these comments–but keeping our eyes squarely on the ball here, it is boys who need the most help via significant changes to our educational system, and I wish we could stay focused on the boys in this comment thread.

      • “Ask any teacher whether they think boys are more active, or girls are more active, or whether it’s equal, and I guarantee you that you will hear from almost all of them that boys are more active than girls, from VERY early in life, well before they are socialized.”

        You must mean before birth then.

        • Studies show it beginning in early infancy. Whatever socialization along the lines you speak of is going on at that point, I still say is a less powerful factor. I never said it did not exist. It does. Again, read my GMP article The Gender Pendulum. But let’s keep things in perspective.

          • Thanks to a couple of things, despite socialization, I’ve always been docile.

            And funny enough but recess and school socialization in general was the low point of school for me. Learning was fun (and I was truly wondering why other kids ‘hated’ school), learning was easy and effortless. Socializing was an opportunity in getting beaten up.

            Being beaten up didn’t have me more docile, it just gave me other issues over time. Like self-esteem issues, dissociation issues, social anxiety.

            Another person might have decided to hate school, though it seems most people who did didn’t hate it for bullying reasons. Hating school for boys, and getting low Ds and Fs, was “the cool thing to do” (something I couldn’t care less about, but seemed to rally many kids).

            Even Lisa in the Simpsons gets the ‘cool treatment’ when she’s no longer shown (for a brief moment) to always have A and A+ grades, but is otherwise shunned for being good. Bart is proud of his bad grades.

    • Amber,
      From what I read in Christina Hoff-sommers “The war against boys” what you are asking is explained.

      Basically thanks to the advocacy of NOW & AAUW teaching methods and text books (and a host of other things) were changed in the 1990’s to facilitate a better learning experience for girls (i.e. girl-friendly methods were adopted).

      In other words feminists who see things in a women up/man down or man up /woman down scorecard (instead of helping both genders) were allowed by politicians to implement anti-boy teaching methods.

      The litigiousness of parents also didn’t help. A lot of recess activities (or even recess itself) has been dwindling on elementary schools due to child injuries or bullying costing schools huge sums of money.

    • Amber:
      Boys, as it were, have been receiving a formal education far longer than girls, and the mode of the classroom was still the same for them: sit still, shut up, and listen. So why is it suddenly now boys are having problems doing this when in the past this model worked just fine for them? I mean, you can even look at this in the past fifty years, or go back to the 1900s to find this was still the model, and perhaps more strict because teachers could physically punish students for speaking out of turn!

      I bolded the part where you answered your own question. Im 36(in the uk) when I started going to school the cane had just been banned, however the threat of it was still in the air, still in school culture. Jokes were made about it in the school playground, it hung like ‘the-head-down-the-toilet-by-other-pupils’ as a scary threat.

      School was seriously more strict then, not ‘perhaps more strict’ – definitely more strict. There was a healthy fear of the teachers whether male or female. Which was a good. Children are impulsive creatures that exist in the animal state. To mould them, one needs to use both positive reinforcement to encourage positive attributes, but also swift and harsh measures to discourage negative ones.

      I remember pupils telling stories of older brothers in the 70s having dusters (a thick piece of wood with a fabric bed to wipe off chalk from the blackboard) and chalk thrown at their heads because they were talking – and sometimes hitting them ;-)
      In the 80s, while teachers could nolonger physically beat pupils, they were still allowed to mentally beat the daylights out of you. Male and Female Teachers could intimidate you, call you names, literally scream in your face and verbally destroy you. Belittle you if you did something wrong. Cut you down to nothing. Make you feel like shit. You didnt want to experience that too often (happened around five times to me – and I was a great pupil, in the top set for everything in what Americans would call a middle-middle class school environment).
      Teachers were big beasts in the jungle, and school was their jungle.

      Also teaching methods have changed. From rote learning, and solely end-of-year exam testing which favoured most boys. To continual assessment by coursework which favours how most girls prefer to learn. Playtimes/ break times in school now stop boys from playing the more aggressive rough-n-tumble games I used to play. Physical education sessions per week have dropped markedly and extra-curricula sports have declined.

      School is markedly different in how subjects are now taught, how discipline is now imposed, the amount and intensity of physical activities. Which has impacted on boys heavily.

  7. Hats off to Ms. Day for writing (and re-posting) this piece and to TGMP for re-publishing it. I especially appreciate the non-polemical approach, including referencing the work of Whitmire and Gurian.

    If you have not read Whitmire or Gurian, I urge you to do so. The statistics, the decade-plus over which the statistics have held up, and the lack of response are appalling.

    I’ve been volunteering in inner city education and just have to say that the gendered literacy gap is stark. I’ve also been asking around among friends who are involved with public education in the well-off suburbs of our area, and, their voices dropping to a whisper, they say they are seeking the same gendered performance gap among the white, upper-middle class population they work with, and feel stymied.

    I do not pretend to have all the answers. But here’s some of what I see: (1) parents not reading to kids, (2) single parents (disproportionately mothers, let’s face it) being overwhelmed with responsibilities, so reading to the kids at night falls to the bottom of the priority list, (3) the use of TV and now video games to keep kids occupied, which over time produces kids who see reading and comprehension as a chore, rather than an opening of doors to other worlds or just plain another way to have fun, (4) boys not being exposed to men who read and enjoy reading, (6) a severe lack of men teachers in the elementary and middle school years, (7) men being discouraged from volunteering to read to kids or to teach younger kids because, after all, isn’t any man who cares about the education of kids a “Sandusky in waiting?”, (8) a lack of resources to expand the learning day so it can include more breaks and still get the work in — believe me a teacher working from 7 AM to 4PM (by the time lesson planning and paper correcting and bureaucratic paperwork is done) is F R I E D, (9) a lack of acknowledgment that 16 and 17 year olds in high school are making babies and need to be instructed and mentored in how to raise those kids, including talking to their kids and reading to their kids — and I mean boys too, so that boys if they have a less bright paid-work future than their baby-mamas those boys can fill a role as good, productive fathers who talk to and read to and actively play with their kids while mama brings home the bacon — so we stand an outside chance of someday breaking the cycle, (10) having men and women in education who understand that sometimes teenage boys act out because they have been socialized not to express the fear and sadness and abandonment they feel in any other way, and who can connect and listen and help channel them, and (11) having a school day and a school year that matches the parental work day and work year, so kids are not left unsupervised and parents are left without any affordable way to address 2-6PM and the 2nd half of June, July and August.

    Regarding the question Amber asked, how it is that boys had not disproportionately failed in all the years of education until now, and whether it is unreasonable to expect boys to behave the same as girls, a few thoughts: (1) it is likely — hell from my own personal observations a mere 40 years ago, certain! — that there was active discrimination against girls as they grew up, with the self-fulfilling prophecy that girls shouldn’t work too hard to make something of themselves, because it was unlady-like and counter-productive in the marriage market, (2) the depths of the socialization changes that would be necessary to allow boys to be raised to express the full range of their feelings and neediness, which if anything I think is even greater than that of baby girls, runs smack-on into a considerable number of women and girls wanting boys and men to believe that boys and men must be stronger, must make their feelings and expression of feelings subservient to the feelings of a girl or woman, must provide and protect or “not be much of a man” — I don’t hold out much hope for massively hitting the reset button on mothers’ beliefs about boys, (3) it didn’t matter much in prior generations if boys failed at school, because of the sheer amount of back-breaking physical work and physical risk-taking that society required to function — having a pool of men with weak minds and strong backs was a useful thing — today, on the other hand, between automation and outsourcing there is drastically less need every year for that kind of a labor pool (e.g., Herbert Gans and the Superfluous Worker), (4) for awhile America dealt with the issue by marginalizing just black men and finding lots of ways to permanently sideline them in prisons and reserved the remaining manual labor for white guys with a HS degree or less — but now the much larger pool of white men are being marginalized in exactly the same way for the same reason (the stats for black boys and men over the course of the 1970s bear an amazing resemblance to what white boys and men are going through now), so either we are going to deal with this issue in a way that sees boys and men as potentially productive and contributing members of society or women are going to be forced to bear an unsustainable and crushing burden, and to watch half their children — boys — be condemned to a marginalized existence.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective and suggestions. I addressed some of your comments in my reply to Amber. I agree with you completely that this issue is very serious.

  8. Tom Matlack says:

    Thanks for this Lori. Another amazing piece. Here is a related one that I wrote recently since I have a first grade boy and am deeply involved in these issues:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-matlack/redshirting-kindergarten_1_b_859824.html

  9. My daughter learns more like the boys you are describing here, so I empathize. It can certainly be a challenge to advocate for her as her parent. Especially since girls who act like “boys” are not OK in our society.

    However, that said, I think that girls, in general thrive *despite* an educational system that is against them from the get-go. The reason being is simple.

    Look at our textbooks.

    Where do you see female accomplishments in any field?

    Very seldom.

    Our entire educational system needs massive reform. We need to re-look at how we are teaching kids, which seems to be more like indoctrination than teaching to me.

    But we also need to look at *what* we are teaching kids. And to-date, that is still extremely sexist and male-centric.

    • Trista, I sympathize with your feelings. I agree that female accomplishments are rarely taught–either because women had historically fewer opportunities than men to excel and be recognized, or because their accomplishments are not highlighted as they should be. However, as bad as this is, it does not lead to the following situation for girls: “…get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90% of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80% of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45% of the college population.”

      So, I respectfully disagree with you that the system is as stacked against girls today as it is against boys. Girls are thriving (despite some of these issues, as you say) and boys need our help, so that’s why I am trying to focus on them right now. And I’m kind of chuckling to myself, because I know I spend many more hours advocating for girls, so here I am trying really hard to keep us focused on boys, and I find myself going off on the topic of girls again and again.

      It’s ok…as long as we keep it straight that the problems facing girls in schools are not nearly as significant as those facing boys. This is true: “Our entire educational system needs massive reform.” And we need it to not be sexist. But as bad as sexism is–and it’s bad, and I write about it–it’s not the focus of my article, and we need to address the issues in my article that are affecting boys. That should be the focus right now.

      • Well said Lori,

        Thanks again for staying on point, and being an advocate for boys. Educating people should be the number one priority of our government and everybody should have a right to an education.

    • The material may be sexist against girls but its looking like the very teaching methods themselves are sexist against boys. Because despite whatever accomplishments are in the textbooks if you look at school performance girls are outperforming boys at nearly every measurement.

  10. wellokaythen says:

    I think the article makes very good points about how learning styles and learning development tend to be different for boys and girls. However, I’m curious about the historical timing of all of this, partly because I think Amber raises a very good question about how much has changed. Mostly curiosity as a teacher myself at the college level.

    As you mentioned, currently boys make up 90% of one problem category, 80% of another, the vast majority of all sorts of educational problems, etc. However, males are still almost half of the undergraduate population, still a sizeable majority of the graduate students in the country, and overwhelmingly the majority of college faculty. Is there something that happens down the line where males and females “equal out” or “boys catch up,” or do you think that it’s just a matter of time before the current policies have a huge effect on graduate students, PhD’s, and faculty themselves?

    If current trends continue unchanged, then in 30 years or so all college students will be female, but currently the population of college faculty is mostly male. Will the majority of college faculty be female as well?

    It’s entirely possible what we have currently is a kind of segmented system where girls get preferential treatment early on and young men get the special treatment later.

    • Good question wellokaythen.

      “…or do you think that it’s just a matter of time before the current policies have a huge effect on graduate students, PhD’s, and faculty themselves?”

      I’m having a brain freeze, but I know I read a great article on this just last week…can’t remember where I saw it. It did predict declining male enrollment in college over the next 10+ years. It makes no sense that it would eventually lead to all-female enrollment. That would never happen anyway due to admissions preferences is men are a minority.

      My gut feeling is that the problem will grow. But also, as to your question about boys “catching up” later, i do know that some make great strides with their ADHD due to a combination of it tending to get better in the teen years and the positive effect of coaching, alone or in combination with stimulant meds. Boys also tend to thrive more in HS when there are more male teachers. But the problem is with how many boys start out behind the 8-ball and DON’T catch up.

      • And I just realized I left out a bunch of other points I wanted to make about the effect of time (or lack of effect) on academic underachievement, learning styles, etc., etc.

        Signing off for the night–too tired to think straight!

        Back tomorrow…:-)

    • wellokaythen,

      Your facts are wrong, and therefore so are your conclusions. Males are declining in all educational areas, and are the minority in both undergrade and graduate schools. Boys don’t get “special treatment” either earlier or later.

      http://www.postsecondary.org/archives/previous/GuysFacts.pdf

      • wellokaythen says:

        Thanks for the information. I’m going to assume for the sake of argument that the statistics in that pdf are correct. In that case, the stats do suggest that a trend that will carry over into graduate schools, which does answer one of my questions. However, the pdf document does not actually give any stats for graduate students, just a prediction about graduate schools, so I’m not sure how it shows that my facts are wrong.

        My statement about differential treatment was not a conclusion but a hypothesis. The author of the pdf makes a case that my hypothesis is incorrect. So, I may have to rethink my hypothesis.

  11. Great article Lori.
    1. I think the reintroduction of more, and more intense physical activities that allows boys and girls a physical outlet would greatly help.
    2. Continual coursework assessment favours girls, however boys must learn how to get to grips with it. As the continual coursework model is closer to how most adult work environments are, than the end-of-year-exam model that boys prefer.
    So coursework and how it impacts on boys is a tricky problem.

    3. Do schools prepare children for the work environment and running a household? Id say not. Schools should be more than daycare centers. Id restructure schools and universities to be closer to the apprenticeship model with heavy mentoring, alot exposure and understanding of work environments and its requirements.
    School at least in my day, was too disconnected from the real world. It existed in a bubble of its own. How to deal with different personalities, skills of oratory (particularly negotiation, persuasion), the cost of living werent taught. I bet if you give children over 11 the itemised the cost of running various households eg. bills, food, tax etc. The salary of various jobs, the stats on availability and competition for each job. That would certainly concentrate their minds and focus it on being educated enough to earn a decent living. Ive read you see a similar effect when you pay disadvantaged children to learn in school – their grades rocket upwards.

  12. SecondBeach says:

    Boys and girls create to (significantly overlapping) bell curves in which boys need (generally) more experiential learning as young children?

    Definitely.

    Boys are now falling behind in early education to devastating effect later in life?

    Absolutely. Nail on the head.

    Our overmedication of young boys is due to a system that doesn’t support them?

    Couldn’t agree more.

    “Boys are young hunters”?

    Give my an effing break. Don’t cheapen your very valid point by casually tossing around pseudoscience. Don’t create fodder for misandrists and others unwilling to see the problem. I really, really, really expect more from GMP writers.

    • well, you disagree with the author on one of her key points. What do you think the problem that others refuse to see truly is?

  13. wellokaythen says:

    The whole “man the hunter” thing has been overblown, as most anthropologists and archaeologists today will tell you. When you look at hunter-gatherer groups who have been studied by anthropologists in the field, you find groups in which women also participate in many forms of hunting. Among hunter-gatherers (“foragers” as their called today) you find a LOT of overlap between the jobs that men have and the jobs that women have. The idea of total gender segregation of labor is a much more recent product.

  14. Jun Kafiotties says:

    I have add as an adult, had adhd as a child. I had done well on medication but forgetting to take them as a child and not being reminded basically meant I was unmedicated until 8 years out of school whilst they are very hard to get as an adult even though they were literally like a miracle for productivity.

    Sitting down and having to focus was a nightmare, every-time a car drove past (school was on a highway) I would be watching it, would talk and disrupt the class from sheer stupid levels of boredom yet some subjects that I enjoyed I would be so totally engrossed in them that time flew. It may be true that teachers call on the guys more in class but usually it’s disciplinary action, there was a sense many of the guys wanted to get up n burn off energy whilst being stuck at a desk for many hours. Many guys were also showing off for the girls and being quite disruptive, whilst also being “slapped down” verbally, told to sit down, shutup over n over to the point many would give up.

    Bring in something like SHOP/metalwork/woodwork/hands on activities, sports and many would excel but in English? Girls ran circles around them. It seems like the boys were bored to death by English and girls seemed better behaved, and more interested for some reason, I grew up when boys were hearing girls were smarter and I think that potentially had some impact on their learning and even had teachers who quite literally favoured the girls, ignoring their chatty ways whilst coming down hard on the boys. I believe teachers EXPECT boys to behave badly and thus subconsciously show bias for them in their disciplinary measures, could also be that boys may be louder and more visible when being disruptive and thus easier to catch.

    I always did poorly at assignments, would leave it till the last minute and when working on them in class would be distracted but doing tests I found to be easier, multiple choice even more easy. Essays were a major fault, I write very slowly and quite poorly and wouldn’t have enough time to complete them so I’d be left behind, but given a computer I can type quite fast and would have been fine. Reading a book for an English assignment, I’d get through a few pages and really struggle to keep focus yet for the ones on movies I found them MUCH easier, and learned more.

    In a post feminist world, we focus so heavily on female issues that we tend to ignore male issues. Speak of a male issue and you hear the cries of “butwomengetitworse”, diversionary tactics like crazy trying to paint women as the one true victim and the men as “privileged” without acknowledging in depth that both suffer different sets of problems, 1 may have more of them but we cannot ignore the “lesser” problem or things simply get worse for them when hidden away. It won’t get better when we only have major studies of female issues without also studying male ones, programs for females whilst ignoring males under the assumptions men are privileged and will be fine. How much crime could be prevented if we quit ignoring men and education, giving them the tools to better their lives, a hope instead of hopelessness? We’ve decided females deserve equality in education but in some areas it’s happened, and men have fallen behind so isn’t it time we start truly doing something to give equal opportunities in all areas without simply assuming women get it the worst?

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