Being a normal boy is a serious liability
in today’s classroom. Boys tend to be disorganized and restless. Some have even been known to
be noisy and hard to manage. Sound like any boy you know? But increasingly, our schools have little
patience for what only a couple decades ago would have been described as “boyishness.”
As psychologist Michael Thompson has aptly observed: “Girl behavior is the gold standard
in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.” As a result, these “defective girls” are not
faring well academically. Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and
are far less likely to go to college. Boys are languishing academically, while girls
are prospering. In an ever more knowledge based economy, this is not a recipe for a
successful society. We need to start thinking about how we can
make our grade school classrooms more boy-friendly. Here are four reforms that would make a very
good start. 1. Turn boys into readers.
In all age groups, across all ethnic lines, boys score lower than girls on national reading
tests. Good reading skills are — need I say? — are critical to academic and workplace success.
A major study in the UK discovered, not surprisingly, that girls prefer fiction, magazines, and
poetry while boys prefer comics and non-fiction. Boys whose eyes glaze over if forced to read
Little House on the Prairie may be riveted by the Guinness Book of Records. Boys will
read if given materials that interest them. If you’re looking for suggestions for books
that have proved irresistible to boys go to guysread.com 2. Inspire the Male Imagination.
Celebrated writing instructor Ralph Fletcher contends that too many teachers take what
is called “the confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotion
and self-disclosure — stories girls commonly write — are prized; whereas action stories
describing, say, a skateboard competition or a monster devouring a city are not. I recently
read about a third-grader in Southern California named Justin who loved science fiction, pirates,
and battles. An alarmed teacher summoned his parents to
school to discuss a picture the 8-year-old had drawn of a sword fight — which included
several decapitated heads. The teacher expressed grave “concern” about Justin’s “values.” The
boy’s father was astonished, not by his son’s drawing which to him was typical boy stuff,
but the teacher’s overwrought — and female-centered — reaction. If boys are constantly subject to disapproval
for their interests and enthusiasms they are likely to become disengaged and lag further
behind. Our schools need to work with, not against, the kinetic imaginations of boys. 3. Zero Out Zero Tolerance.
Boys are nearly five times more likely to be expelled from preschool than girls. In grades K-12, boys account for nearly 70% of suspensions, often for minor acts of insubordination
and sometimes for entirely innocent behavior. Hardly a week goes by without a news story
about a young boy running afoul of a school’s zero-tolerance policy. Josh Welch, age 7, was recently sent home
from his Maryland school for nibbling off the corners of a strawberry Pop-Tart to shape
it into a gun. Josh — like many other boys punished for
violating zero-tolerance policies — was guilty of nothing more than being a typical 7-year
old boy. 4. Bring back recess.
Believe it or not, recess may soon be a thing of the past. According to a research summary
by Science Daily, since the 1970s, schoolchildren have lost close to 50% of their unstructured
outdoor playtime. Much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. In schools throughout the country, games like dodge ball, red rover and even tag have all but disappeared; too
damaging to self-esteem or too “violent” being the usual excuses. One popular classroom guide
suggests tug of war be replaced with “tug of peace.” Boys need to work off their energy.
They need to be free to play games they enjoy. And keeping them cooped up inside all day
will not help them learn. As our schools become more feelings centered,
more competition-free and more sedentary, they move further away from the needs of boys.
We need to reverse the boy-averse trends. Male underachievement is everyone’s concern.
These are our sons. These are the young men with whom our daughters will build a future.
If boys are in trouble, so are we all. I’m Christina Hoff Sommers of the American
Enterprise Institute for Prager University.