Abolish middle school

Middle schools should be abolished, writes David Banks in The Daily Beast. These “educational wastelands” should be combined “with the guidance and nurturing that children find in elementary school, or with the focus on adult success that we expect from our high schools.”

A former high school principal, Banks heads the Eagle Academy Foundation for Young Men, which operates five all-male schools in New York and New Jersey. The district-run Eagle schools serve low-income, minority students in grades 6 to 12.

Reading and math achievement declines in middle school, Banks writes. Even good students have trouble with the transition.

Too often in middle school the teachers have never received real professional development training to help students succeed in high school.  And, more importantly, there is little to no time for teachers to focus on establishing strong relationships with their students, which has a tremendous impact on how students perform in the classroom, particularly for boys.  A teacher’s ability to relate to his or her students is not icing on the cake of serious academics—I believe it is the whole cake.

. . . communication from peers can drown out the wiser voices of parents, teachers and mentors, trapping our young people—and especially our boys—in an echo chamber of voices as inexperienced and impulsive as their own.  Students struggling academically may decide to give up, while the bright but under-unchallenged may conclude they don’t really need to learn how to study, because middle school seems to prove that they’re smart enough to wing it.

The neediest students will get the most benefit from either K-8 schools or middle/high schools, he argues.

Banks’ book, Soar, which will be published in September, focuses on “how boys learn, succeed and develop character.”

Wiggly boys aren’t disabled

Little boys who aren’t ready for reading need tutoring — not a disability label, writes Jane Goodwin (Mamacita). If they can’t sit still, that means they’re normal.
wiggly little boy reading, Harry Potter
Many of scientists, inventors and innovators were late bloomers, she writes. “Edison wasn’t even allowed to continue at his school; he was so slow, he held the others back!”

“Save the (disability) labeling for the children who genuinely need the help,” writes Mamcita. “Don’t fill up the room with little boys who just need a few more years to mature.”

As for the kids who can’t sit still, “that’s how little children are SUPPOSED to be.”

What would be genuinely worrisome would be a little child who CAN sit still for hours and hours without any desire to be wiggly and energetic. There is the occasional child who genuinely needs Ritalin or whatever in order to function at all, but there are an awful lot of children (usually little boys) whose energy and creativity and imagination and, yes, wiggles, are being seen as “disabilities” by frustrated adults and drugged into mediocrity.

Her “quick fix” for wiggly kids was to assign them two seats and let them shift from one to another when they needed to move.

There were conditions – no bothering other kids on the way, no touching other people’s things, no sidetracking or talking, etc, but when a person’s gotta get up and move, a person’s gotta get up and move.

She taught middle school, “but the students were still children even though they didn’t think they were.

Fidgety boys, sputtering economy

Fidgety boys end up as unemployed men, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way, a Washington research group. The gap grows over the course of elementary school and feeds into academic gaps between the sexes.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

In the last 25 years, the portion of women earning a four-year college degree has jumped more than 75 percent and women’s median earnings are up almost 35 percent. Men’s earnings haven’t risen at all, writes Leonhardt. “Men are much more likely to be idle — neither working, looking for work nor caring for family — than they once were and much more likely to be idle than women.”

Some blame the surge in single-parent families for the “boy crisis.” Girls who grow up with one parent — usually a mother — do almost as well as girls from two-parent families. Boys do much worse.

Others say schools aren’t boy friendly. In elementary school classrooms, fidgety boys are expected to sit still and pay attention to the female teacher.

8th-grade grades predict college success

If an eighth grader gets As and Bs in school, that student will likely earn a college degree, concludes The Secret Behind College Completion. Eighth graders who earn Bs and Cs rarely go on to complete a college degree.

Boys are way behind girls by eighth grade. Growing up without a father appears to hurt boys more than girls.

Choosing death at 15

At a suburban Virginia high school six students have committed suicide in the last three years, reports the Washington Post.

“There is too much stress in my life from school and the environment it creates, expectations for sports, expectations from my friends and expectations from my family,” wrote Jack Chen, 15. He’d earned a 4.3 grade point average, captained the junior varsity football team and competed in crew and track. He stepped in front of a train.

The six boys who killed themselves were good students and athletes with supportive parents, according to the Post. They did not appear to be “troubled.”

Drugged ‘for being boys’

Most boys on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder meds are “being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys,” charges Ryan D’Agostino in Esquire.

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong . . .

“We are pathologizing boyhood,” says Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist who has been diagnosed with ADHD himself. The co-author of two books on ADHD,  Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction, Hallowell “there’s been a general girlification of elementary school, where any kind of disruptive behavior is sinful.”

Most boys are naturally more restless than most girls, and I would say that’s good. But schools want these little goody-goodies who sit still and do what they’re told—these robots—and that’s just not who boys are.”

Boys aren’t given time to outgrow immature behavior, writes D’Agostino. A huge Canadian study found that “boys who were born in December”—typically the youngest students in their class—”were 30 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD than boys born in January,” who were nearly a full year older. And “boys were 41 percent more likely to be given a prescription for a medication to treat ADHD if they were born in December than if they were born in January.” 

“Sluggish cognitive tempo” — day dreaming — is the latest candidate for diagnosis and medication, reports the New York Times.

“We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as A.D.H.D. has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another,” said Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”

Boys, bullies and My Little Pony

Nine-year-old Grayson Bruce, bullied for wearing a “girly” bag, will be back in school with his My Little Pony backpack. Buncombe County Schools (North Carolina) administrators had banned the backpack because it “triggered bullying.”

His mother, Noreen Bruce had pulled her son out of school.

Seven-year-old Barnaby loves Rainbow Dash, a My Little Pony character, but he won’t wear his Rainbow Dash sweatshirt to school writes his father, Sean Williams, on Slate. He said, “I think it will make the other kids uncomfortable.”

It’s OK for girls to show masculine traits — “strong is the new skinny” — but “men and boys are mostly shamed for expressing anything outside of the macho ideal,” writes Williams. Barnaby

My Little Pony’s mythology is based on the six Elements of Harmony: “Kindness, generosity, honesty, laughter, loyalty, and magic” are the tools the heroine ponies use to solve problems, Williams writes. “What you don’t find is ambition, or aggression, or force of will.”

Barnaby wears his Rainbow Dash sweatshirt at home, writes Williams. “I’m sad that at 7, he already knows what wearing it” at school would mean.

Adult men who like My Little Pony are known as “bronies,” I’ve learned. There’s a documentary on the phenomenon.

Single-sex schooling has tiny (or no) benefits

Single-sex schooling has very small benefits, according to a meta-analysis of 184 studies representing 1.6 million students in K-12 across 21 nations. Because U.S. students aren’t randomly assigned to single-sex classes, it’s hard to find good control groups here, notes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham.

In controlled studies, there were statistically reliably, but numerically quite modest positive effects of single-sex classrooms for both boys and girls in mathematics achievement, science achievement, and verbal achievement. Girls showed an edge in single-sex classes for math attitude, science achievement, and overall academic achievement, but again, the gains were modest. If one restricts the analysis to U.S. students, virtually all of these small effects disappear.

There was no effect for attitudes towards school, gender stereotyping, educational aspirations, self-concept, interpersonal relationships, or body image.

For any one child, single-sex schooling might be helpful, writes Willingham. Overall, not so much.

If kids can tell fantasy from reality …

Preschoolers are good at distinguishing fantasy from reality, according to a new study, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Children understand the difference. They know that their beloved imaginary friend isn’t actually real and that the terrifying monster in their closet doesn’t actually exist (though that makes them no less beloved or scary). But children do spend more time than we do thinking about the world of imagination. They don’t actually confuse the fantasy world with the real one; they just prefer to hang out there.

If little kids can tell what’s real and what’s pretend, why can’t school administrators and teachers distinguish between fantasy and reality, asks Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, in a USA Today column.

At South Eastern Middle School in Fawn Grove, Pa., for example, 10-year-old Johnny Jones was suspended for using an imaginary bow and arrow. That’s right – – not a real bow and arrow, but an imaginary bow and arrow. A female classmate saw this infraction, tattled to a teacher, and the principal gave Jones a one-day suspension for making a “threat” in class.

A 7-year-old Maryland boy was suspended for gnawing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. An 8-year-old Arizona boy was threatened with expulsion for his drawings of ninjas and Star Wars characters and interest in zombies. A six-year-old boy was charged with “sexual harassment” for kissing a girl. “So much for Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher,” writes Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor.

The “education industry” purports to teach “critical thinking” to children, writes Reynolds. But, apparently, not by example.

Boy trouble

School shooters usually are sons of divorced — or absent — parents, writes W. Bradford Wilcox. Boys raised by a single mother are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father,” he writes.

“Fathers . . . are important for maintaining authority and discipline,” writes sociologist David Popenoe. “And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Family breakdown is tougher on boys than girls, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. When parents divorce, girls tend to “internalize” their unhappiness, become depressed, while boys act out, becoming more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Girls get better after a few years. Boys don’t.

Boys are slower to mature, writes Hymowitz. They need more “civilizing.”

Lone parents tend to have a tougher time providing the predictability and order that help boys become capable students and workers. Poverty undoubtedly worsens the problem: in general, low-income children have poorer “executive function,” such as self-control and cognitive flexibility, than do middle-income children, according to a 2011 study by a group of Berkeley neuropsychologists. But poor children in single-parent families still came out worse in the study than kids with poor married parents. This is probably because unmarried parents tend to break up more frequently, go on to new relationships, sometimes serially, and bring stepparents and half- and step-siblings into their children’s lives.

Low-income single mothers often live in neighborhoods where “gangs have replaced fathers, the threat of violence looms, and schools are filled with apathetic or hostile males.” Economic mobility tracks marriage, concludes a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project:  “Areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. . . .  areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children, including those from single-parent homes.”

Schools can provide structure, time for boys to play rough-and-tumble games and better literacy programs, writes Hymowitz. But it’s not clear what will work for boys growing up without fathers — in places where “fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous.”