Boys aren’t welcome in school

School has become a hostile environment for boys, argues Christina Hoff Sommers in TIME.

At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts.

Tug of peace? Really?

Young boys love action narratives with heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups, she writes.

According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.

. . . Logue and Harvey found that “bad guy” play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrative-play choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to school.

“Efforts to re-engineer the young-male imagination” send a message to boys, writes Sommers. “You are not welcome in school.”

In the last 20 years, high school girls have raised their college aspirations and their grades, while boys have not, new research shows. More girls are earning A’s, while boys’ grades have stayed about the same. “The larger relative share of boys obtaining C and C+ grades can be accounted for by a higher frequency of school misbehavior and a higher proportion of boys aiming for a two-year college degree,” researchers found.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Other researchers have found–I believe it was posted here–that another reason for boys’ lower grades–despite test scores qualifying for higher grades–is a bias against boys.

  2. Ann In L.A. says:

    It starts from the very beginning.

    Young girls are, on average, more verbal than boys; by pushing early reading down into Kindergarten, we are forcing it on a non-trivial number of boys who are simply not ready for it. When they move on to 1st & 2nd grade they simply fall further behind. It used to be that these boys caught up some time in 4th grade, but that hasn’t been happening lately.

    In addition, boys tend to lag girls in fine-motor skills, which make sitting and writing letters or numbers difficult, frustrating, and often discouraging for boys.

    Not only do boys lag in fine-motor skills, but boys also report more hand pain when writing than girls do (see Ralph Fletcher’s “Boy Writers”). For many boys, writing is literally painful–this is not just young boys, but older as well.

    Even math has now become a writing-intensive subject, making it harder for boys, particularly those who don’t enjoy the verbal side of school, to find anything they can grab onto and enjoy.

    • And the obvious solution is… more dodgeball?

      Seriously, I think the author’s thesis is lame and her support for her argument tenuous at best, but kids are experiencing reduced opportunity for physical activity during the school day – and physical activity benefits all kids, while some really need the opportunity to burn off some excess energy.

  3. I see damn good evidence that supports the first-hand experience I had with my son. Whether this “proves” anything or not (because in social research, proof is really a nebulous concept – and I’m a mathematician by trade), it certainly continues to validate a thirty-plus year trend.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    They certainly do not. However, nobody denies the statistics that say boys do considerably less well in school than girls do. They get lower grades, more punishments, and considerably fewer diplomas.

    In discrimination scholarship, it would be said that schools have a “disparate impact” on males, that males are “underrepresented” in good school things and “overrepresented” in bad school things.

    Lots of people have no difficulty in using similar statistics to argue that schools are hostile to black people, even if nobody is explicitly or consciously racist.

    However, while nobody denies the statistics regarding gender disparity, very few people want to interpret them as a problem. I suspect this is because to do so would subvert the conventional wisdom that says, on an oppressor/oppressed axis, men are oppressors and women are oppressed.