Thursday, September 25, 2008

Boys and Girls and Learning at School

A few years ago I got quite interested in the way boys are floundering in school compared to girls. Here’s a short article at PBS — Boys in School which summarizes some of the recent findings. Another recent article The Trouble with Boys says

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.”

Since I have six boys it was an interesting question to me around the time my oldest ones reached their teenage years. I am going through my old print-outs and found these two pdfs:

There is an Australian government clearing-house of more similar studies and articles over here.

Basically, according to present studies in the US quoted in the first article:

  • Boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school;
  • When it comes to grades and homework, girls outperform boys in elementary, secondary, high school, college, and even graduate school;
  • Boys are four to five times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD);
  • Women outnumber men in higher education with 56 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 55 percent of graduate degrees going to women.
  • Boys make up two-thirds of the students in special education and are five times more likely to be classified as hyperactive.

Earlier and earlier formal academics have their problematic aspects in the developmental process of boys, too. Here’s one blog post at Why Boys Fail that discusses this.

Preschool has changed a lot in the last couple of years — for the most part, it has become much more academic– and little boys, well, they’re about the same as they’ve always been. And lots of parents are keying into the fact that this is a problem…..It turns out, the expulsion rate for preschoolers is three times higher than it is for K-12th graders. And preschool boys are expelled at 4.5 times the rate of their female classmates.

Some little boys do just fine in preschool. But too many are learning a damaging lesson — that school is not for them.

My guess is that any educational practice that has a tendency to squelch boys will also do harm to girls. For one thing, boys and girls don’t temperamentally divide by gender. There are some low-key, verbal boys and some very kinesthetic sensory-seeking girls and those lively girls would probably fall through the gaps in a similar way to the lively boys, though they might not show up on the statistics so much as a group. Plus, an education that rewards and emphasizes one’s strengths in an artificial way wouldn’t necessarily do a service even to the compliant, verbal-linguistic girls and boys. They might easily come to think that the talents rewarded in the grade school academic world are actually the talents that will help them succeed in life, but that is not always necessarily so. I’ve certainly met lots of women who did well in school because they were cooperative and verbally talented with early fine motor skills, who found that this did not add up to “real” education or coping ability for them in the long run.

Anyway, in my ongoing efforts to have less paper floating around the house, I’m going to try to start linking to the articles and papers that I have thought valuable enough to print out and keep for one or more years, so that hopefully I can feel OK about adding the paper to the woodstove this winter : ). So I’ve started a new category — “In the Files” for things I want to virtually organize so I can toss the extra paper. I hope it will be interesting to readers, of course, or I wouldn’t bother to put them on the blog.

I’m off for a week or so — a few of the family is going up north for a family reunion, while the rest of us stay home because of outside commitments that prevent travel right now. Bye for now!