Let boys be boys

Schools should help boys succeed instead of treating them as “defective girls,” writes Christina Hoff Sommers in Time.

Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068.

“The ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school and in life,” she writes. Boys need help to learn these skills.

Sommers suggests more unstructured play time. Children in Japan get 10 minutes of play every hour. More recess could mean less Ritalin.

To turn boys into readers, teachers should know what boys like. She suggests Guysread.com for “lists of books that have proved irresistible to boys.”

Finally, “work with the young male imagination.”

In his delightful Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, celebrated author and writing instructor Ralph Fletcher advises teachers to consider their assignments from the point of view of boys. Too many writing teachers, he says, take the “confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotion and self-disclosure are prized; stories describing video games, skateboard competitions or a monster devouring a city are not.

. . . Along with personal “reflection journals,” Fletcher suggests teachers permit fantasy, horror, spoofs, humor, war, conflict and, yes, even lurid sword fights.

“If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms, they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind,” Sommers concludes.
Soldier drawn by 8-year-old.
As a perfect illustration of her point, an Arizona school threatened to expel an 8-year-old boy who drew pictures of an armed soldier, ninja and Star Wars character as possible Halloween costumes. His parents withdrew him from Scottsdale Country Day School.

The headmaster told the father the third grader’s art was “highly disturbing.” The headmaster had highlighted words in the boy’s journal he found violent and unacceptable, the father told CBS5.

For example, the boy had written about escaping a killer zombie at a haunted school:

“I’d open the window, but, stand back quickly. Booby-trapped. Shoot the gadget – a rope gun – I’d swing across without getting hit.”

Many of the third-grader’s other journal entries were about saving the earth and protecting humanity.

In one passage, he wrote he’d like the ability to stop an atom bomb and stop bullets.

The headmaster told the father his son was a threat to the safety of the other children.

As Instapundit puts it: When they make you a school principal do they at least pay for the lobotomy?

About Joanne


  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    I am glad to see this finally getting some mainstream attention. There has been an “achievement gap” between males and females for decades. It has been getting worse, so perhaps more people will care. However, I am not optimistic.

    According to conventional wisdom, the United States is a patriarchy, not a matriarchy. Females are oppressed, while males are oppressors.

    Thus, any problems males have in school are not a big deal, nothing to be concerned about. They are maybe even a good thing. Women are screwed elsewhere; perhaps it is only fair that males be screwed in school.

  2. Crimson Wife says:

    My son loves to write and his stories are always about knights or pirates or “Space Defense Team” soldiers. Lots of action but not so much in the way of characterization yet. He’s only 8 so there’s plenty of time to get into that aspect of writing later on.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Crimson wife. Glad to hear of your son’s interests. You have planned to keep him hidden from society, of course?

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    It might still be a patriarchy (if it ever was).

    Males *on average* aren’t doing so well, but the elites are doing just fine.

    One can have a patriarchy in which the majority of the males are underlings.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      In any hierarchy, the majority are underlings.
      So I suppose, if it has to be looked at, how are the women doing amongst the top, say, one-tenth of one percent? They not being underlings.
      I have no idea, except that we should except women who hang around the Kennedys.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      “One can have a patriarchy in which the majority of the males are underlings.”

      Yes, the Spartans did and they were called helots or nothoi but that didn’t end so well for the Spartans.

  4. One factor here is the general fear of getting sued. A student writes about a warrior with weapons. The teacher or administrator thinks, “if I allow this, will I get in trouble?” Wrong question–but a common one.

    • Do you have a source for that impression? I have never heard that suggested in defense of this type of rule, nor would such a fear appear to have any basis in reality.

      • Source for that impression: “But Jeff said the headmaster told him he couldn’t guarantee the safety of other students with his son around.” A reasonable conclusion is that the headmaster is obfuscating.

  5. If I understand, the reason that women dominated the 20th century and rose to control the nation’s boardrooms and legislatures is that schools make students sit in desks? No, that’s clearly not the case.

    Perhaps the idea is that the desks they use in schools these days are somehow different than the ones they used in the past?

  6. So there’s a book I read not long ago called “Why Boys Fail” (http://janetheactuary.blogspot.com/2013/10/from-library-why-boys-fail-saving-our.html) which argues that the largest problem is that literacy/verbal skill expecatations have been heavily ramped up in the past several decades, and that’s what’s leaving boys to struggle. Curious to know if anyone’s read it.

    • I think I read it. I read a lot of books like that, though, and it may have been a different title. Something about boys doing better with more phonics, and not expecting so much reading from 5yos? We really have shoved a lot of literacy skills down to earlier and earlier ages, and that doesn’t work for all kids, boys in particular. Earlier isn’t necessarily better.