Monday, 25 October 2010

Boys and School: Ways to Help Them without Penalizing Girls

Lukas is working on his Ph.D now, which gives you some idea of how long ago he started elementary school. Even then it was very clear that boys were not doing as well as girls. I remember sitting in parents committee meetings during the late 1980s and early 1990s and saying, terrific! we've taken the lid off girls' aspirations and they're soaring, but what are we going to do about the boys who are turned off by school?

Since then not much has happened, except that girls are continuing to get better grades and suceeding in many academic fields. The situation has become so extreme that major media have noticed: last week's Globe and Mail series is just the most recent example. We can't tolerate failing boys, wailed the editorial on the weekend.

In no way should we start slamming doors now open to girls, but there are a few things that I think could make a big difference immediately in the rate of masculine school success.

1. The first is the chance to start school later. I have four cousins who are elementary school teachers and who have boys. Everyone held her sons back so they started school as one of the oldest kids in their first grade class. That gave them an advantage in terms of physical prowess and also in general maturity which seems to have helped them a lot. Malcolm Gladwell's interesting book The Outliers talks about the same phenomenon in hockey and other sports: the kids who are oldest do the best. His suggestion is to offer two cut off dates for sports eligibility, to make the playing field more equitable, literally and figuratively. The same might be done in larger elementary schools where there are at least two classes at each level.

2. Give everyone, but particularly boys, the chance to move. Recess should be active, and PE should be a daily affair. Get kids to walk or bike to school. Put more resources into after school activities where kids run around. All kids need to expend their energy positively, and the need is particularly acute in boys, in my observation.

3. Recruit more male teachers on the elementary level. This will mean promotional campaigns aimed at young men, but why not? In addition, offering an alternative (perhaps an intensive year course) to the three or four year teacher-training course now required by many states and provinces would make it easier to switch into education after a few years in science, language or whatever.

A debate to continue...

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