Are boys failing in school or are schools failing our boys?

Back when my sons were in the throes of grammar school, my spirits used to soar this time of year. I’m sure it had something to do with those shorter days signaling the onset of yet another academic adventure. I still look back on those halcyon days with a wistful fondness.

But then, to my surprise (and dismay), about halfway through middle school, that feeling of exhilaration turned into something a lot more like cautious optimism. And now that we’re half way through high school, it’s become a general gnawing dread.

I’m sure a good part of that slowly sinking feeling is the result of an ever increasing school size, but I chalk more than half of it up to the fact that our sons are immediately behind the eight ball the second they walk through that school doorway.

So if I were granted a single solitary wish this school year, it would be that all of our teachers and administrators would finally recognize the leading role they’re playing in this country’s current war on boys.

My wife’s a teacher, so I clearly understand a plurality of parents readily abrogate their responsibility and then harbor utterly unrealistic educator expectations. But when it comes to the disciplinary arena, boys always bear the brunt of it.

According to Time Magazine, boys are almost five times more likely to be expelled from pre-school than girls and almost 70 percent of K through 12 suspensions, most as a consequence for your average age-appropriate act of defiance, are meted out to boys as well.

Please think about that. Expelled from preschool!  boys

And even though school shootings remain a rarity, it’s boys who almost exclusively run afoul of those ridiculous zero tolerance policies. To wit, a seven year-old Maryland boy was sent home for biting his pop tart into the shape of a gun.

Boys, whom epochs of hunter gatherer evolution have shaped to learn kinesthetically, suddenly have to board a crowded school bus and generally sit still. Then the bus drops them off at the building where, by virtue of their gender, they’re already suspects – and they have to sit still and be quiet for another six or seven hours.

It’s a lot like a prison sentence.

And most of ‘em can’t do it! So despite boys scoring better on those standardized achievement tests (especially among Caucasians), girls beat boys hands down on average GPA from elementary through high school (Business Insider). The reason for that disparity, of course, is that girls are perceived to be more disciplined and thus, they get a consistent benefit of the doubt.

So what do we do? We treat our boys as if they’re broken girls and drug them! According to author Michael Gurian, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and subsequently medicated which borders on the criminal. I firmly believe that 90 percent of ADHD cases are the result of lazy or overburdened school districts trying to rein in their most difficult pupils.

Gurian adds that boys are the recipients of the vast majority of D’s and F’s, they’re “responsible” for 90 percent of the discipline “problems,” they’re labeled with 75 percent of the learning disabilities, they make up 80 percent of high school dropouts, and in a recent turn of events, they account for only 45 percent of the college population.

So what’s the solution?

The first part of it is acknowledging that boys are systematically failing at an accelerating rate in school districts throughout the country. And whenever a phenomenon is that widespread, it’s time to start looking in the collective mirror.

Then, according to Educational Psychologist and consultant Lori Day, the rest is pretty easy; “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.”

This means that none of this has to come at the expense of all the gains girls have made because we’re really talking about nothing more than an acknowledgement of the differences between boys and girls.

And the truth is, our primary and secondary school paradigms haven’t changed for over 200 years, and doing something the way we’ve always done it because that’s the way we’ve always done it, isn’t a good reason to keep on doing it.

To that end, I would encourage every teacher and administrator within the sound of my voice to read Richard Whitmire’s Why Boys Fail, and Gurian’s The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and in Life, because our jails are full enough already.

5 thoughts on “Are boys failing in school or are schools failing our boys?

  1. Actually Jeff, there has been some paradigm shift. Some of the things your expert recommends are things we had when I was in school but the paradigm has shifted away from. For example, P.E. I took P.E. every semester all the way thru high school. In fact, I even had to take it in college as part of my General Education requirements (only 2 terms though). I also remember having recess periods thru junior high; more in elementary school, but we still had some later. The really sad thing is that numerous studies have shown that having a period of physical education during the school day actually improves ACADEMIC performance. After school activities don’t have nearly as beneficial effect. Yet there’s the mind set that we have to cram more academics into the day, at the expense of P.E., Fine Arts, and other “non-productive” classes (which in reality ARE productive!).

    • Jeff, You are right, there were far more recesses (at a Catholic school) when I was a kid. I should’ve been more specific. By “paradigm” I meant generally sitting still in a square classroom while you get lectured.

      Recess really isn’t an option during high school, but kinetic learning is!

  2. I could write a book on the subject….and yes more brief recesses is a good start. And do not medicate your kids..adderall is a form of cocaine and it is very hard to get off once you start it!!!

  3. I almost never comment, but i did a few searching and wound up here Are boys failing in school or are schools failing our boys?

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