Something is rotten in the state of boys’ education, and I can’t help but suspect that the pattern I have seen in my classroom may have something to do with a collective failure to adequately educate boys. The statistics are grim. According to the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, boys are kept back in schools at twice the rate of girls. Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls. Boys are diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls. They do less homework and get a greater proportion of the low grades. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, and make up only 43 percent of college students. Furthermore, boys are nearly three times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Considering 11 percent of U.S. children—6.4 million in all—have been diagnosed with a ADHD, that’s a lot of boys bouncing around U.S. classrooms.
Fear of generalizations aside, anyone who has spent time with both girls and boys knows that they tend to behave differently. It’s only logical, then, that different teaching styles might on balance have different benefits for boys and girls. A study Lahey cites confirms, for example, that boys function better in competitive environments. But American public schools have shifted classroom learning environments away from competition in favor of cooperation and egalitarianism. Many schools have done away with the distinction of “valedictorian” for fear that such titles hurt those not fortunate (or diligent) enough to claim them. Physical education teachers are urged to refrain from identifying winning and losing teams.American public schools as we know them today had their origins in the industrial revolution and were intended to produce workers fit for the tedium of repetitive factory work. There’s no question that this rank-and-file, sit quietly, eyes-forward learning style doesn’t work for young boys bursting with energy. But it’s less often remarked that this system is outdated when it comes both girls and boys. We’re long past the time when we should seek to forge young souls into cogs that fit snugly into a big blue model machine. The new jobs market is screaming for entrepreneurial skills, for young people who are capable of recognizing and serving needs that society isn’t even aware it’s lacking.Boys may be hurt the most by our outmoded learning environments, but they’re certainly not alone.[Punished child image courtesy of Shutterstock]