Boy trouble

Boys are doing better in school than in the past, says an Education Sector report, so the fact that they’re falling far behind girls in school is no big deal. Judith Warner echoes the report in a New York Times column, “What boy crisis?” that ignores the plight of low-income, black and Hispanic boys, who do much worse than comparable girls. For Warner, it’s all about the anxious affluent, who are pressuring their boys and girls to succeed.

The notion that boys are in crisis rings true to many middle- and upper- middle-class parents because it feels true to them. And that’s because these parents are sick of being told that their preschool sons need occupational therapy because they can’t apply stickers with the right fine-motor finesse. These parents are sick of seeing their kindergarten boys referred to reading specialists. They’re sick of suggestions that their 9-year-olds have A.D.H.D. if they can’t sit still through school days from which recess has been cut, gym has been eliminated and even lunch, sometimes, has been all but eradicated to cram in more hours of test prep.

Many dads recall that when they were in school, they were restless, sometimes turbulent, sometimes aggressive, sometimes disruptive in class. When they channeled their energy into the workplace, they thrived — and they don’t want their sons pathologized, or girlified, for the sake of big-size classroom control.

Schools aren’t eliminating recess, gym or lunch for test prep or any other reason, though students often have less opportunity to play freely. Class sizes are smaller than ever. Schools where many students score poorly in reading and math are spending much more time teaching reading and math, sometimes sacrificing art and music.

This Week in Education is following the boy debate with links to a news story on the Education Sector report by Jay Mathews and his column including what didn’t make it in the story.

At Kitchen Table Math, Catherine Johnson rips into the subject with a lot of links to evidence boys are struggling in school and out. Males may outnumber females slightly at Ivy League schools — most of which used to be all male — but the college gender gap is large and growing: Women now earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees. It’s impossible to look at the huge gap in academic achievement between black males and females and the large gap between Hispanic males and females without thinking the problem isn’t just a matter of race or class.

Among the many links is one to Diane Ravitch’s textbook guidelines which call for a war on stereotypes. Thus girls may not be portrayed as peaceful, emotional, warm, neat or short; men and boys may not be portrayed as strong, brave, silent, rough, competitive, curious, ingenious, able to overcome obstacles, intelligent, logical, mechanical, quiet or easygoing. It doesn’t leave a heck of a lot.

Banned foods, by the way, include honey and salt. No clue why but it seems symbolic of the bland world we’re presenting to our children.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Indigo Warrior says:

    No clue why but it seems symbolic of the bland world we’re presenting to our children.

    Bland world? For whom?

    I can see that in some ways the world for children is blander now – certainly safer at any expense, and in many ways less free – than in the Baby Boomer Golden years (1955-70). The so called Golden Age was hell for bright, innovative, independent thinkers – especially ones forced to endure a rural or urban blue-collar environment geared towards manual labor.

    That world was so mentally bland, it might as well have been Afghanistan. Nothing to read (except for dull school texts), nothing to experiment with, nothing to “hack”. No wonder some kids blew their arms and legs off mixing chemicals in the back shed! Few good books in the town libraries, and most of them off-limits to children. (I’m not talking porn; I’m talking science and knowledge.)

    I would have loved to grow up with such modern innovations as the Internet, personal computers, video games, and the like. Yes, I know modern kids (and adults) often abuse them

    There is generally more spiritual freedom for kids now too, than even ten years ago (if I may keep harping on this topic). Neo-paganism (or at least its trappings) has become almost socially acceptable, as an example. How many parents now beat their kids bloody for finding a Ouija board or a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita under their beds?

    As for political freedom, it is about the same.

  2. I have no idea where the poster above grew up, but it must not have been on planet earth. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana, 40 miles of bad road from town, one-room schoolhouse–all the cliches. Our public library (thank you, Mr. Carnegie) was packed with good books. Science wasn’t beaten by either religous zealots or panty-waist tree-huggers. (When you breed animals for a living, genetics and evolution aren’t unknown concepts.)

    My kids haven’t been sheltered very much, but they lacked a lot of real world experiences I took for granted. My life then wasn’t bland–I would have welcomed a little bland.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Has anyone compared the education from segregated black schools compared to integrated schools?

  4. Andy Freeman says:

    > nothing to experiment with, nothing to “hack”. No wonder some kids blew their arms and legs off mixing chemicals in the back shed!

    Nothing to hack? They had far more things to hack. They had heathkits, they had interesting chemistry sets, and so on. They could tinker with cars. (Do that today and it won’t pass smog.)

    Today’s kids have a browser.

    I like computers more than the next guy, but that’s a poor trade.

  5. Indigo –

    I read Joanne’s comment as saying that *in our textbooks* we’re portraying a bland world, and if you read the partial list from Diane Ravitch, you will certainly see that that’s the case. Worse, look at what the list says boys and men cannot be in textbooks:

    Men and boys as strong, brave, silent [AIR, RIV]
    Boys as strong, rough, competitive [SF-AW]
    Boys as curious, ingenious, able to overcome obstacles [NYC]
    Boys as intelligent, logical, mechanical [SF-AW, NYC]
    Boys as quiet, easygoing [SF-AW]

    So boys and men can’t be strong or smart or logical or curious or competitive or brave. The boys in those textbooks might as well get down on the floor and curl up in the fetal position and whine all day.

    If you were a boy growing up on a steady diet of these textbooks, how would you feel about life?

  6. Twill00 says:

    “Please avoid all realistic images that give comparisons (on average) between different types of people. It might give children actual guidelines to live by.”

    Oh, and please replace the following words which are out of fashion this week…

  7. Indigo Warrior says:

    KateC:
    I had the misfortune to grow up in “Planet Levittown”, not on a farm or ranch like you did. Growing up on a farm is a good exposure to the biological sciences, as you stated. But I still maintain the pre-internet world has a lot of tribal conformity and insularity, a real mind killer if your community didn’t have a good public library. And add Christian Ritual Abuse such as parents flogging their children for masturbating or lying to them that “it causes cancer”. It really seems that modern parents, despite their excesses, love their children more.

    Andy Freeman:
    Yes I know about Heathkits and interesting chemistry sets. We had these forbidden fruits in my time, but they were not cheap or widely available everywhere. There was no Radio Shack on every shopping mall.

    If I had the opportunity to grow up today, let me say that I wouldn’t be your typical jaded punk that couldn’t find new and interesting uses for his iPod.

  8. Indigo Warrior says:

    Quincy:

    I read Joanne’s comment as saying that *in our textbooks* we’re portraying a bland world,

    She just said “it seems symbolic of the bland world we’re presenting to our children” with no real specifications, even though her discussion was mostly about textbooks.

    and if you read the partial list from Diane Ravitch, you will certainly see that that’s the case. Worse, look at what the list says boys and men cannot be in textbooks:

    Men and boys as strong, brave, silent [AIR, RIV]
    Boys as strong, rough, competitive [SF-AW]
    Boys as curious, ingenious, able to overcome obstacles [NYC]
    Boys as intelligent, logical, mechanical [SF-AW, NYC]
    Boys as quiet, easygoing [SF-AW]

    Has it occurred to you that many of these categories are contradictory? Rough and competitive vs. quiet and easygoing. Brave vs. silent – often speaking up takes more courage than silence. Even “strong” and “intelligent” rarely come in the same package, and specialization in physical fortitude rarely leaves anything for mental development, and vise versa.

    So boys and men can’t be strong or smart or logical or curious or competitive or brave. The boys in those textbooks might as well get down on the floor and curl up in the fetal position and whine all day.

    She is referring to the feminist (make that feminazi) war against men and boys simply for being male. Blandness is a symptom, not the disease.

    If you were a boy growing up on a steady diet of these textbooks, how would you feel about life?

    Not too good. But I’ll tell you something about the reading material used in government schools and the heroes presented in such. It’s all about clean-cut neuroconformist robotic little boy scouts and girl scouts basing their whole moral structures on the fads-and-fashions-of-the-day. Dick and Jane with up to date dress. In the 50s, political correctness (the concept not the term) meant “Leave It To Beaver”. Now, we all know what PC means. Are kids given any sort of ethical foundations – by parents, schools, or churches – so that they could decide for themselves how to conduct their lives when the fashions change? Rarely.

    Kids are better off reading comic books, pulp adventures, detective novels, sci-fi and fantasy, Harry Potter, or whatever they wish than most so-called highbrow “literature”. At least they will be entertained, and some of what they read might be as good for them or better than “literature”. Whether educratic pablum, avante garde post- modernism, or the “dead white male” classics. Though I’ll go easy on the third category.

  9. “Has it occurred to you that many of these categories are contradictory? Rough and competitive vs. quiet and easygoing. Brave vs. silent – often speaking up takes more courage than silence. Even “strong” and “intelligent” rarely come in the same package, and specialization in physical fortitude rarely leaves anything for mental development, and vise versa.”

    I don’t think the linked piece says what you think it says. No one has suggested that “brave” and “silent” are mutually exclusive. Maybe you should try to take off the blinders before reading.

  10. When I want to college in the late 80’s, there were roughly 2 guys for every girl enrolled. It must be a hell of a lot easier to get a date nowadays!

  11. Indigo –

    I did notice that many of the categories in Ravitch’s piece could be considered contradictory, and that rarely would they all be seen in the same package, hence me using “or” repeatedly to join them in my paraphrase.

    Also, in my experience in public schools, the literature often featured some powerless teen who straigtens out his/her life by trusting an authority figure to help. See any parallels between that and the nanny state? I sure do. You are right, of course, that the literature (and other) curricula in many public schools don’t teach independent thought. Some of my more ardent libertarian friends believe that the public schools exist solely to rob people of their independence. Turing history class into a single, never-ending exercise in identity politics comes to mind. On some days, I’m quite inclined to agree with them. On others, I don’t think they exist solely to do it, but merely that they do a good job anyway.

  12. Indigo Warrior says:

    And what do you think I’m saying? Never mind. Maybe I was a little hung up on the contradictions in Ravitch’s list. My point was to expose flaws in her methodology, more than anything else.

    And often the “help” given by authorities to powerless teenagers in pub-school-prop is simply “obey your masters, slave, and never question anything, and never think outside the box.” Some perverse part of me thinks that educators would actually prefer for a troubled teen tormented at school to shoot up the place, than to drop out and make a life for himself (however humble).

  13. Some perverse part of me thinks that educators would actually prefer for a troubled teen tormented at school to shoot up the place, than to drop out and make a life for himself (however humble).

    Clearly, the latter would display far too much independent thought, and we just can’t allow that!