Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It's September so It's Time to "Talk" about Schools Failing Boys....Yet Again

Time has an interesting piece about how schools are once again failing boys. HERE It's basically a requirement now, at the beginning of every school year, to have someone, somewhere, discuss how education is destroying the next generation of men. There is a discussion of how the education system is so geared to the way girls think that boys are shortchanged. If you take a look at the drop out rate of boys to girls, grades, learning disabilities and general dysfunction, you find that youngmen are more directionless than ever before in our history.

Moreover, the reader finds that the way boys play is dramatically different than girls and it is through play that children learn to socialize, think, reason and advance. It is the way boys play that has come under more regulations and attack by school officials then ever before. You find that boys are chastised by teaches at a much higher rate than girls for their type of play. The author writes:

Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. 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. Young boys, with few exceptions, love action narratives. These usually involve heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups. As boys’ play proceeds, plots become more elaborate and the boys more transfixed. When researchers ask boys why they do it, the standard reply is, “Because it’s fun.”

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.

Play is a critical basis for learning. And boys’ heroic play is no exception. 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. Imagine the harm done to boys like Christopher, Josh and Alex who are not merely discouraged from their choice of play, but are punished, publicly shamed and ostracized.

Schools must enforce codes of discipline and maintain clear rules against incivility and malicious behavior. But that hardly requires abolishing tag, imposing games of tug of peace or banning superhero play. Efforts to re-engineer the young-male imagination are doomed to fail, but they will succeed spectacularly in at least one way. They will send a clear and unmistakable message to millions of schoolboys: You are not welcome in school.

Meanwhile here is a list of some articles and television discussions over the past decade about boys and school (I have linked to a mixture of articles from every political spectrum so no one can actually say that this is politically motivated rather than a real problem):

Are Schools Filing Boys? (CBC) 2006
Boys and School: Tips (Education Next) 2010

Boys in School (PBS Kids)
Struggling School Age Boys (Daily Beast) 2008
Stop avoiding the issue of failing boys (Inside Higher Ed) 2009
The nation's schools are failing boys (NY Post) 2010
Why our schools are failing boys (CBC News Canada) 2010
Why boys are failing in an education system stacked against them (Huffington Post) 2011
Why modern education is failing boys (like me) (Daily Caller) 2012
Honor Code (David Brooks, New York Times) 2012
Title IX for our Boys (USA Today) 2013 
Boys failing in schools are like tress falling in the woods to Civil Rights Dept of the DOJ (legal Insurrection) 2013
Failing a generation of American Boys (The American Spectator) 2013 
Why schools are failing our boys (Essential Kids) 2013

I was a teacher's aide when we first moved to New York City, while I studied for the Bar Exam. I had never been a parent before and was indoctrinated through my education and society in general, that boys needed to be trained to not be murderous, physical, dangerous beings. One day I caught two of my four-year-old charges playing cops and robbers. The boys had fashioned guns out of legos and were pretend shooting at each other in a "police fire fight." I promptly took the lego guns away and gave the boys time outs in their cubbies. I was determined to not let them think that violent behavior was the way things get done. I remember them crying as I lectured them about guns. They had no idea what they had done wrong. They were in truth, just being boys. (These boys are now probably close to thirty. And even though it was so long ago, my youthful-self-righteousness still bothers me at times.)

After Mr.GS was born, I decided that we needed to make sure that he had no preconceived notions about gender and that he was not socialized to think that girls could not do the same job as boys. So we subscribed to Parents Magazine's monthly infant toy club. Once a month we would get gender neutral toys for him and that way he would learn to not predetermine what someone is or who someone would be depending on their gender. We also did not buy him specifically "BOY" toys and brought a variety of gender neutral children's toys into the house.

Well, at ten months he received a miniature wagon with wheels from the Parents Magazine toy parade. He promptly laid on the floor and made it go "vroom vroom" as if it were a car. I realized too that he also would play traffic and would like to build with his blocks then do the completely male thing of knocking those blocks over and laughing. The next day I went out and bought him "BOY" toys. Trucks, cars, action heroes, and masculine legos. There was no getting around it. Boys and girls are different. They think differently and they play differently.

Our entire generation was raised to believe that the differences in boys and girls were simply from socialization. We were told that we could unteach these highly biased attitudes to our children, making for an egalitarian and Utopian world of equality, symbiosis and togetherness. Not surprisingly we also expected unicorns to spread fairy dust over our uterus during labor taking away any pain. OK no, not really, but from my understanding epidurals come pretty close to that pain-negating-fairy-dust (I never had one actually, my babies came too fast. By the way, another "autism causation" issue obliterated in my household.)

Listen it's not about games and toys when it comes to whether boys grow up to respect women or whether they think that women are of equal value. It's how you, the parent, raise them. It is a vestige of society when males denigrate a woman because she is female. Heck just look at the misogynistic attacks on female politicians, especially those attacks on conservative women. Check out all the male politicians who are exposed for sexual harassment, sexual perversions and gender pay inequality. If you think misogyny is a thing of the past then listen to today's music or play some of the more egregious video games as well. All this after the decades upon decades of promoting egalitarian lessons on gender, sex roles and society.  What it comes down to is not academia that guides your child's development, but it's what you allow your child to read, listen to and play that has an effect on how they view the opposite sex.

The truth is that today's educators happen to not understand how the male mind works. They do not appreciate boys and they do not care to appreciate boys. Teaching boys is not an easy task. They are rambunctious. They do not like to sit for long periods of time. They do have issue with words, composition and reading comprehension. More boys have speech issues than girls as well as learning disabilities.

Of course there is also a movement that says, that boys may not be so prone to learning disabilities as society thinks. That the issue is society thinking that when boys act like boys it is a problem, hence a disability. That its not to say that there are not learning disabilities among boys, but just how many are over-diagnosed simply because they want to play outside rather than sit and listen to a lecture series, which causes them to squirm in their chair, daydream or call out?

The problem that we as a society face, is that those who educate our children refuse to understand that "boys will be boys" is not a bad thing. It has been made into a bad thing. The problem lies with the fact that society thinks that by giving into one ancienne aspect of the old-boys-club, the objectification of women, that the rest of "the boy" needs to be vanquished as well. But in reality these are two very different and distinct issues. A well educated, fully developed, wholly self-sufficient man can remain a man in thought and deed while, still not being a male-chauvinist-jackass. The hubby proves that point and my boys are the other proof.

FACT: Boys and girls are different. They interact differently. They think differently. They view the world differently. Their brains have different strengths and weaknesses. They learn differently. They manifest disabilities differently. 

Science continually talks about gender differences and even does medical studies to figure out how diseases react differently in male and female. They do studies to understand how heart disease is different, how cancer is different, how ADD is different and now finally how autism/aspergers is different. Why is it so hard for educators to fathom that boys and girls learn differently and that society needs to gear itself to teaching for the child and not trying to emasculate our boys?

I think that in some ways, our children being special needs may have lucked out in the gender issue education regard. Because the school teaches to the issue, the IEP is geared to finding a child's strength and helping them with their weaknesses. No one talks about "issues" being a boy thing as opposed to a girl thing. Our children are taught the way they need to be taught. If they need that break they get it. If they need extra help with writing they get it. If they need more tactile learning they get it. They get what they need when they need it. 

It would be nice if every student received that type of attention. When boys need to move around they should be allowed to with out needing a diagnosis of a disability. When boys need help with writing, they should get it without having a processing disorder. When boys need to play with mud or play-dough to learn science they should have that right without needing OT. (Etc)

All children have the right to an education. Granted. But what they need to have is a right to an education that helps them be the best that they can be, not what makes it easier for the educator and the school district. Children need to be taught how to become who they are meant to be, while they garner an education for the type of learner they happen to be, regardless of gender.

In the meantime, our society is losing a generation of males. We have been discussing this now for almost a decade. Will society wait until there are no more viable candidates for husbands, fathers and life-partners before it decides that something drastic needs to be done or are we simply going to let our society disappear? Because disappear it will, if we do not allow boys to become men and expect them to become women instead.