What’s going on with our boys in the classroom?
By almost every benchmark, boys across the nation and in every demographic group are falling behind. In preschool boys are expelled five times more often than girls. In elementary school boys are diagnosed with learning disorders four times as often. By eighth grade huge numbers are reading below basic level. And by high school, they’re heavily outnumbered in AP classes and, save for the realm of athletics, show indifference to most extracurricular activities.” – The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre
So, I’m going to bare my soul a little bit in this post. Note: I’m no parenting or education expert, so all I can share are my own personal accounts.
When I was pregnant and discovered we were having a boy, we would imagine the kind of person we thought our son would be: kind, imaginative, social, and smart. He wouldn’t be a mainstream cookie-cutter kid, and everyone that met him would be in awe of how amazing and interesting he was. His dad and I would make sure he was well-rounded, but give him enough room to be the person he was as well. And how lucky… that’s exactly the kind of boy we got!
Things went pretty according to plan until it was time to start kindergarten. I was excited and nervous for him to start school – he was curious about EVERYTHING, and always eager to learn and meet new people. I knew the first year of school would set the tone for the beginning of his primary school career, and so it really needed to be a positive experience.
It was NOT a positive experience.
Our excited, bright boy became sad and anxious. Even though he was smart, he wasn’t making good marks on his progress reports (IN KINDERGARTEN!?) and his whole attitude about school took a nose dive. Although she said he was friendly and sweet, his teacher implied he was also “high-energy” and “impulsive” and used those words often, pretty much every time we talked to her. He cried a lot, and so did we. It was a rough year.
Like a good little bookworm, I did the main thing I knew to do – I scoured the library and Internet for books on the subject.* Peg Tyre’s The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do seemed to be written just for my son.
Tyre’s book offers insights and approaches from teachers, administrators, parents, students, child psychologists, and other experts. Formerly a senior writer at Newsweek, Tyre backs up her research with statistics and addresses everything from the ADHD epidemic and literacy to single-sex schooling and the absence of male teachers. She includes the controversial subject of gender politics in the classroom, and the tendency for some schools to be tailored (inadvertently) to the way girls learn:
In elementary-school classrooms–where teachers increasingly put an emphasis on language and a premium on sitting quietly and speaking in turn–the mismatch between boys and school can become painfully obvious. “Girl behavior becomes the gold standard,” says “Raising Cain” coauthor Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”
After reading this book (and getting an adamant “Um… no.” from our pediatrician when we asked about ADHD) I realized that, as his parents, it was up to us to get our son in an educational environment that fit him better. There was too much at stake to wait around and let him slip farther behind both academically and emotionally. In a time where Kindergarten is the new First Grade, we opted to “red-shirt” our son, as well as switch his school. The decision was terrifying, but I’m happy to report it was the best we’ve ever made to date. His new school is challenging, and offers subjects he didn’t have at the other school. His self-confidence has grown by leaps and bounds, his new teacher appreciates his imagination and creativity, and his marks at school have improved dramatically.
My hope is that all parents take the time to do THEIR homework. If your child is constantly struggling, and things just seem… off to you, know what your options are. Educate yourself so you can help your student overcome those obstacles and become lifetime learners that enjoy their school experience and know their strengths.
“… we as parents need to acknowledge to our sons, to our kids’ teachers, and to each other that this is a tricky time to be a boy. And we need to stop letting our sons negotiate the changing demands of school alone. Stay alert to the warning signs. Watch out for boys who complain they are bored or afraid to go to school. Watch out for teachers who complain that boys are too active, who clamp down on boys’ fantasy play, who allow boys to languish in reading and writing, who chastise boys for poor organization or bad handwriting. These are signs that your son may be in a school that doesn’t respect him or that even discriminates against him.”
* Other Good Titles to Read:
Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind by Richard Whitmire
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon, Michael Thompson