The boy gap

My column on The Boy Gap is up on Pajamas Media. I look at two new books that ask why so many boys are doing poorly in school.

As reading and writing are pushed down to earlier ages, boys are struggling harder to meet higher expectations, writes Richard Whitmire, a former USA Today reporter, in Why Boys Fail.

“Each year since 1988 the gap between boys’ and girls’ reading skills has widened a bit more,” Whitmire writes. Boys aren’t wired for early verbal skills — and teachers aren’t trained in “boy-friendly” techniques to help them catch up.

Boys are asked to do too much too soon — and labeled hyperactive or bipolar or autistic if they act like little boys, writes psychologist Anthony Rao in The Way of Boys. “Girls use more words; they cooperate with others; they use social skills effectively. A boy’s brain by contrast, is working on other tasks that are equally important but not always valued as highly in schools, such as learning through touching and exploration, developing motor skills and engaging in spatial tasks. Boys also engage in normal aggression, and they have a healthy interest in challenging rules to test the limits of their power.”

Boy-friendly schools need not be hostile to girls. Teaching phonics and intervening to help kids with reading problems turns out to help boys quite a bit.

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  1. Actually, teaching phonics to *anybody* with reading problems helps!

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Teaching phonics to everyone is even better!!

  3. OK, my BS meter is pinging wildly. It’s one thing to label boys ADHD, but quite another to pin bipolar or autism on them. Those are serious disorders that require multiple indicators — and none of them are “trouble sitting still.” I’ve had several students diagnosed bipolar in recent years — ALL were girls.

    And, btw, the average male vocabulary is equal to or greater than female at all stages of development.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Yeah, boys’ brains are differnet, et tedious cetera.
    Problem is, the differences are, by definition, wrong, bad, a problem.
    Can’t be just different.

  5. Its because of the way we have evolved as two different genders. Besides that social influence too defines what kind of an individual one grows into.

    With increasing electronic gadgets (boys’ toys) books and therefore reading is being taken aback. Educators should give electronic media a thought if they want to reach out to boys…

  6. I don’t have the answer, but something does not add up here.

    Historical measures of literacy show a slight drop off by the 50s, accelerating rapidly thereafter. And, by all accounts, this understates the problem because the definition of literacy has also fallen off.

    However, it seems to me to be a torturing of the historical record to claim that this coincided with a movement towards repression of boys in school. The facts, if anything, point in the opposite directions; as schools became more lenient towards individuals’ urges including those male, the literacy rate was falling (I’m not going to try to argue cause and effect).

    As to the idea that boys’ brains are “working on other tasks that are equally important but not always valued as highly in schools” — the question would be why they are having more trouble now than in, say 1940. Boys’ brains haven’t changed since then…

    I also resent the smug tone of “not always valued as highly in schools.” It is federal policy that no child will be left behind, and that explicitly includes reading and writing skills. If other kinds of skills are to be more highly valued, you will have to take that up with the politicians.

  7. Inigo Montoya says:

    Boys don’t perform as well in school as girls by all kinds of current measures: absenteeism, behavioral compliance, test scores, persistence in school, and so on. As an education researcher, teacher of boys, and parent of boys, this all strikes me as old news.

    But therefore, we should engage in pro-boy affirmative action, changing schools and schooling to give boys a better chance?

    Strikes me as ironic. Many of the people who argue for pro-boy affirmative action also argue against affirmative action for various other kinds of students.

  8. I am shocked that anyone would consider KIPP schools to be particularly “boy friendly”. As I understand it, KIPP schools are more appealing to girls from the first so that more girls than boys sign up. In addition, boys are much more likely to drop out of KIPP schools than girls are.