Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How the public school system fails boys

Philadelphia Examiner
June 17, 2009

There is much criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act. Some authors and experts are now calling the act No Child but Boys Left Behind Act. As a male teacher in the education system, I feel it is decidedly not male friendly. We can debate whether the gender bias is intentional later.

Richard Whitmore believes that as society and schools become more verbally oriented boys get left behind. This gap is often unaddressed and in the long run will lead to significant social problems.

Will women want to marry someone who is less well educated than they are?

What are the competitive consequences of fewer and fewer men earrning secondary degrees?

Peter West believes schools fail boys for many of the same reasons I see boys fail Boys are in perpetual motion. They are aggressive, even when young. Classrooms are not places of toleration for kinesthetic behavior. We expect even normal boys to sit still for long periods. Aggressive play is involved in young males sense of mastery, a critical part of their development. This is normal male behavior yet in classrooms there is little toleration for it.

When boys are boys we often tend to bring on the medication, not to address bahavioral deficits, but to handle our desire for sedate managed classrooms.

Judith Kleinfield of The Boys Project states that boys and girls suffer from problems characteristic of their gender. Boys are behind in reading and writing. Girls are behind in science and math.. The difference is that girls are slightly behind in science and math while boys are way behind in reading and writing.

In most education programs we learn about Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences. In short we humans learn in a number of different ways. After learning about multiple learning styles our teaching and testing utilizes only two at best. We teach about differentiated instruction which should enable us to accomodate boys learning styles better. But then we only use lessons that accomodate a couple of styles.

The problem is that most teachers when in a pinch teach just the way they were taught.. Most of those teaching are women who don't understand how boys learn anymore than I as a male teacher, could understand how girls learn except in an intellectual sort of way.

Many experts believe that we could begin to successfully close the writing and reading gap just by giving boys books to read that they find interesting. I might add in the classroom, my experience is that if you make written assignments for boys interesting for them they can be good writers.

In the classroom I have used film to teach literacy. I have used books that boys find interesting. I have seen this raise reading levels as measured by the Woodcock-McGrew-Werder mini-battery of achievement test as much as a couple grade levels in a years time. Writing is a little harder because of boys tendency to go fast leaving out words and parts of sentences because their brains race way ahead of their fingers when writing.

Unfortunately, The American Association of University Women has taken it upon themselves to say it all isn't so even our anecdotal classroom observations. The statistics I have seen coupled with the problems of the students I have seen in special education seem to make claims of schools failing boys irrefutable. When you get to colllege addmissions, some schools even have to use what would amount to affirmative action to get boys into college and make the addmission level seem roughly equal. That roughly equal number is something on the order of 60-40% girls.

We see gender gaps begin to emerge in elementary school. Even more unfortunate are classroom management techniques that seem to function as if boys main problems are that they need to be rescued from being male.

Because of single parent families, and the necessities for increased work hours to make ends meet many boys suffer from a lack of fathering, as in giving them positive role models of appropriate male behavior. To that end maybe one of the simplest ways we could begin to make significant changes in the quality of education boys recieve is that we need to recruit more male teachers. That would be a good place to start. Then we could expend the same amount of energy learning how boys learn as we have how girls learn and altering our curriculum accordingly.

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