- "Boys are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder
(ADD) nearly 10 times as often as girls..."
- When my son first told me he had been punished for running
on the playground of his Southern California elementary school, I figured
he was exaggerating. What school would forbid running at recess? There
had to be more to the story. But I learned that the school had recently
instituted a no-running policy because, as the principal informed me in
vaguely judgmental tones, "Kids could get hurt " as if such an
explanation should be unnecessary to the truly caring parent.
- Why do so many educators fail to perceive the exuberant
future inventor I believe my son to be and see instead only an annoyingly
- The 'No Running' issue followed on the heels of another
incident in which my son, whose name is Will, was nearly suspended from
school for jumping over a bench. Apparently this was the second such infraction.
"He knows that jumping over benches is against the rules, so this
constitutes defiance, the principal said.
- I will be the first to agree that teachers must keep
order, and Will has always been an active kid " a climber of trees,
a hopper of benches, a wiggler. When he,s sad, he is most likely to comfort
himself by banging loudly on his drums or teaching himself a new trick
on his skateboard. However, he,s also a kind, extremely bright boy who
doesn't get into fights, designs whiz-bang projects for the yearly science
fair, and scores in the 97th percentile or above on those standardized
tests schools give each spring.
- Red flags in the classroom Your child says he hates school.
You're always being told that your kid is a behavior problem. More boys
than girls are getting in trouble in class. Question the teacher even if
your child is not the one having problems.
- Source: Judith Kleinfeld, William Pollack.
- Yet throughout much of his academic career (Will is now
an 8th grader), I,ve found myself called in for conferences by frowning
teachers and administrators. His handwriting is messy, they say gravely.
He fidgets during English, when he should be taking notes. And he put his
cap on while still inside the classroom. In my darker moments, I wonder
what's wrong with me as a mother that so many of the educators with whom
Will comes in contact fail to perceive the exuberant future inventor I
believe him to be and see instead only an annoyingly rowdy boy. Worse,
I fear that my smart kid is in danger of turning off to academics altogether
" and I,m not sure what to do about it.
- However, I,ve learned my son is not alone in his experience.
- BOYS VS. GIRLS VS. SCHOOLS
- A decade ago, parents were worried about the way schools
were treating their daughters. The issue first came to prominence in the
1980s, when David M. Sadker, a professor of education at American University,
published a study indicating that, in the classroom, teachers paid more
attention to boys than to girls and boys achieved higher grades as a result.
Sadker,s findings were reinforced in the early 1990s by Harvard psychologist
Carol Gilligan, who reported that upon puberty, girls began to worry about
conforming to male-determined societal stereotypes of female behavior and
started to lose their self-esteem. According to Gilligan, this self-devaluation
" which teachers often unconsciously perpetuated " caused girls
to lose their internal compasses during middle and high school, at which
point they replaced their emerging true identities with false ones.
- Know your son's school life
- Talk to your son about what he thinks is going on at
school both in the
- classroom and outside it.
- Engage your son's teachers and administrators in conversation
- issues. Create honest talk about what is good for boys
and girls both,
- rather than blaming either gender.
- Encourage your local elementary school to allow more
activity in the early
- grades ask for three recess periods instead
- of one.
- Suggestions from psychologists Judith Kleinfeld, Michael
Thompson, Dan Kindlon, and William Pollack
- The idea that education favored one gender over another
became a particularly hot topic in 1992, after the American Association
of University Women released its much-publicized study, "How Schools
Shortchange Girls. The AAUW report was dramatic in its contention that
female students suffered in terms of both grades and self-esteem at the
hands of an academic environment that was unfairly skewed toward males.
- Now, as the century draws to a close, it appears that
the pendulum may have swung in the other direction. The feminist revolution
of the 1970s is finally paying dividends for female students. Girls are
beginning to thrive. Boys, however, seem to be drifting into ever deeper
water when it comes to education.
- THE NEW GENDER GAP
- Boys and girls show little difference in terms of native
intelligence and aptitude, according to the 1997 Educational Testing Service
(ETS) survey of data from more than 400 different tests. Girls are superior
in terms of language and writing, and boys tend to score higher in spatial
and mathematics skills. Taken together, these gender-based advantages tend
to cancel each other out. When it comes to grades and performance, however,
the picture changes. "It's my job to look at trends, says Providence
College sociologist Cornelius Riordan, "and according to the research,
boys are not flourishing. They are simply not doing well at all.
- According to the U.S. Department of Education,s 1995
Condition of Education Report, girls have all but caught up to boys in
math and science, but boys lag behind girls in reading and writing proficiency,
a gap that is "roughly equivalent to about one and a half years of
schooling. Among the alarming statistics from other studies: Fewer boys
than girls are going on to college. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
last year 69 percent of female high school graduates pursued higher degrees
vs. 62 percent of male grads. This year, girls are expected to earn 57
percent of all bachelor,s degrees.
- The number of boys seeking higher degrees has also dropped
drastically. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 1995-1996
56 percent of the nation,s master,s degrees went to girls.
- As early as 1992, the National Center for Educational
Statistics (NCES) found that girls outnumbered boys in extracurricular
academic activities, such as honor societies and student government.
- And in 1998-,99, boys took fewer Advanced Placement tests
than girls, 45 percent to 55 percent, according to the NCES.
- While there is still a top layer of high-performing boy
academic stars, many more male students than previously thought are bottoming
out. Here are some of the statistics:
- Boys are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
nearly 10 times as often as girls, reports a 1997 article in American Psychologist.
- Boys outnumber girls in special education classes, 3
to 1, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
- Boys receive an overwhelming majority (71 percent, some
research shows) of all school suspensions.
- And eighth-grade boys are 50 percent more likely to be
held back a grade than girls, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
- WHY ARE BOYS DOING POORLY?
- In analyzing why male students are struggling, experts
point out that boys differ from girls in several important ways that can
affect school performance. "We know that, on average, boys mature
slower than girls and, on average, they,re more active than girls are,
says Harvard University psychologist Dan Kindlon, whose best-selling book,
"Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, written with
child psychologist Michael Thompson, came out this past spring. "If
educators are not attuned to those differences, boys, early experience
of school can develop an atmosphere of failure.
- Be tough on the teacher
- Don't take teachers' comments at face value. If you feel
your child is getting stomped on by his teachers, intervene.
- Don't watch grades alone ask about your son's emotional
- Push teachers to examine their assumptions about boys
and their behavior.
- Is the teacher interested in finding the root of a child's
problem or is he/she only attempting to regulate and punish a child's behavior?
Take note of the teacher's attitude toward boys in general. How do you
- Suggestions from Judith Kleinfeld, William Pollack
- Kindlon suggests that the fact that 84 percent of elementary
school teachers are women often affects the way male students are dealt
with: Male teachers are more likely to understand boys, rambunctiousness,
while female teachers and administrators tend to misinterpret boys, normal
high-activity level as willful misbehavior. "So what you have is a
situation in which even the most well-meaning teachers find themselves
trying to control the boys instead of teach them, he says.
- Increased class size, a budgetary necessity for many
big city schools, has also played into the mix. "In a classroom full
of 38 or 40 students, the teacher understandably likes the quiet, well-behaved
kids who make her job easier, says Kindlon,s co-author, Michael Thompson.
"But, once again, this means that the energetic boys are likely to
be disciplined for simply behaving normally. Added to this is the fact
that many elementary schools are clamping down on running and other active
playground games for legal reasons. "Rules like no running at recess
are crazy for all kids, but worse for boys, Kindlon says. "Before
long boys get the message that school is rigged against them.
- BOY HUGS, BOY TEARS
- William Pollack, a Harvard Medical School clinical psychologist
and author of "Real Boys, Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood,
believes these early educational experiences create a self-fulfilling prophecy
that leads boys to act out or withdraw. "Our present teaching styles
and disciplinary habits are simply not suited for the average boy, and
so often lock him into a terrible cycle of punishment and bad behavior.
- To illustrate, Pollack tells a story related to him by
an elementary school teacher at a seminar where he was the featured speaker.
"She said she had these two boys who kept bumping into her. But it
was a school rule that if you bump into someone three times, you,re sent
to the principal,s office. At this juncture, another teacher at the seminar
spoke out. "She said, Don't you know, those bumps are boys hugs. Try
hugging the boys back., A few weeks later, the first teacher reported that,
after the next bump, she,d taken the second teacher,s advice and sat down
for an affectionate talk with both boys " and was astonished that
the bumping behavior vanished.. "But what could have happened, says
Pollack, "what usually does happen, is the boy is sent to the principal,s
office and told he,s misbehaving. Naturally, he feels misunderstood and
so is likely to act out in some other way. Year after year, that pattern
is compounded until you have boys who are increasingly disconnected. Multiply
that by a million boys and you get the statistics we're now seeing.
- Don't blame the testosterone: Susan Faludi on how culture
conspires to make men miserable
- Just as boys, efforts to interact with others are often
misread, boys, depressions also often go unrecognized, Pollack says. "When
a girl is depressed, she,s likely to be weepy and expressive, so we pay
attention. But a depressed boy will express pain and depression through
bravado, withdrawal and activity. As a consequence, rather than trying
to look at the boy's underlying emotions, school officials often act punitively,
or diagnosis him as learning disabled. "Certainly there are many genuine
cases of ADD, but not in anywhere near the numbers that are being medicated
every single school day.
- EDUCATION,S FEMINIZATION
- Following the release of the AAUW study, the importance
of sensitizing teachers and administrators to girls, learning styles was
discussed everywhere from "Oprah! to Congress. State and federally
funded programs were created requiring teacher training in gender equity.
The National Science Foundation initiated a $9 million program to interest
girls in science. Ironically, the effort to help girls may have unwittingly
hurt boys. For example, girls tend to thrive in learning situations that
are cooperative, rather than competitive. "Boys enjoy hierarchy and
competition as long as the rules are fair, explains Judith Kleinfeld, a
professor of psychology and an expert on gender issues from the University
of Alaska. "Girls, however, tend not to. Some schools started eliminating
academic competitions like science contests and spelling bees " and
assigning group projects that earned group grades. "Girls, in general,
did well with the group assignments, Pollack says. "However, we,ve
found that boys, on average, are at a disadvantage in these team projects.
"Even more disturbing, while much money and effort has been recently
expended to help girls do better in the areas of math and science, no commensurate
efforts have been made for boys in the crucial subjects of reading and
writing. "It's obvious that boys are in deep trouble when it comes
to reading and writing skills, says Pollack, who refers to a 1997 speech
to Congress by Secretary of Education Richard Riley about these basic skills
being "make or break points " not only in children,s education
or career achievements but also in their later life choices. "And
yet, the problem of boys and their poor reading and writing performance
has received little or no attention.
- None of the experts argue against the importance of understanding
how girls learn and making the educational environment girl-friendly. But
in the process, they say, boys needs have, at best, been pushed to the
side " at worst, pathologized. "We're much less interested in
boy psychology than girl psychology, says Michael Thompson. "Instead,
we tend to focus on boy behavior and how to control it.
- Ideally, the specific needs of both genders would be
examined. "But that's not happening, says Cornelius Riordan. "Despite
this array of male deficits we're seeing, virtually all efforts continue
to be targeted towards the problems of girls.
- Kleinfeld, herself the mother of two sons and a daughter,
is quick to point out that girls, societal problems are not solved. Girls,
she says, still suffer from body image issues like bulimia and anorexia,
and are far more likely to be victims of sexual harassment. "But in
general, I see them as optimistic, fuelled by girl power, and the feeling
that It's our turn!, At the same time, the boys are retreating from school
in large numbers, pretending that they don't care.
- "It sounds terrible to say, says William Pollack,
"but co-educational public schools have become the most boy-unfriendly
places on earth. It may still be a man,s world. But it certainly isn't
a boy's world.
- GOOD GIRLS, BAD BOYS
- Carol Gilligan,s groundbreaking studies illuminated the
way in which society devalued girls and, as a result, shattered their sense
of self. Now experts say that the culture in general has developed an allergic
reaction to boys that is doing similar damage. "You even hear it in
the jokes, says Kleinfeld, "in catch phrases like testosterone poisoning.,
Michael Thompson says he has seen a rise in antipathy toward male students,
especially since the shootings in Littleton, Colo. "I see teachers
who are actually scared of the ordinary adolescent boys in their schools.
- Judy Chu, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate
School of Education, who is conducting a new study, under Gilligan,s supervision,
of the way young males view their place in society, agrees. "We're
in the fourth year of studying how boys negotiate their sense of self in
light of cultural constructs of masculinity, she says, "and we're
finding that, in many cases, boys, styles of relating have negative connotations
in our society. As a result, boys start to doubt themselves and their knowledge
of themselves. As an example, Chu cites her observations of boys, rough
and tumble play. "If a kindergarten boy shoots, me with a toy gun,
it's not that he doesn't like me. It's that he,s trying to engage me. But
often teachers and other adults will interpret such actions as negative
aggression, Chu says.
- "Let me put it another way, she adds with a rueful
laugh. "When people ask me what I,m working on, and I tell them I,m
doing research on adolescent boys, inevitably the response is, How awful
for you!, The implication is that boys are somehow lesser people. And if
I,m hearing that message a lot, can you imagine how often boys must hear
it? They know what people think of them and they know that people think
- Research indicates that this bad boy perspective has
found its way into the classroom. "One of the most troubling things
we're seeing from the studies, Kleinfeld says, "is that in the view
of elementary and high school students, both boys and girls now agree that
instructors favor girls. Teachers think girls are smarter, like being around
them more, and hold higher expectations for them. Girls go to the head
of the class
- According to a 1997 MetLife survey of 1,306 students
and teachers, girls feel better than boys about school and about their
futures: More girls than boys say they are very likely to attend college
(74 percent vs. 61 percent). More girls than boys feel that teachers actively
encourage them to pursue their goals for the future (76 percent vs. 65
percent). More girls than boys feel that they get positive feedback from
their teachers for answering correctly (81 percent vs. 72 percent) and
helpful feedback when answering incorrectly (76 percent vs. 67 percent).
More girls than boys feel that they are treated fairly by their teachers
(81 percent vs. 73 percent). Fewer girls than boys feel that teachers do
not listen to what they have to say (19 percent vs. 31 percent).
Source: Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
- TOWARD GENDER-FRIENDLINESS
- So what can we do as parents to help our sons? "We
can teach teachers about boys, learning styles and help them adapt their
teaching methods and curricula accordingly, says William Pollack, who is
currently developing a boy-friendly workbook with the school districts
of Houston that offers common sense proposals for how teachers can modify
the classroom to benefit boys as well as girls. For example, Pollack suggests
that teachers use consequences other than withdrawing recess for elementary
school boys who are misbehaving. "When a kid can't sit still in class,
and then we discipline him by taking away his physical activity for the
day, that simply isn't going to be productive. Pollack suggests instead
redirecting boys, energy into action-oriented educational tasks. "Boys,
just like girls, do best in schools that give them the chance to participate
in learning activities that correspond to their interests and competencies.
- "Ten years ago, concludes Pollack, "girls raised
their voices and said that schools needed to address the ways in which
they learn. Naysayers said at the time that there couldn't be change. But
a change was made. Now it's time to make an equally positive change for
- During the last two years, I,ve made a number of changes
on my own son,s behalf: For instance, last spring when Will was lagging
behind in English due to a general resistance to reading, I took him to
the local library to pick out some unabridged books on tape in subjects
I knew interested him. The fact that he could fidget and move around "
while listening to a great story " miraculously jumpstarted a new
appreciation of literature. As a result, by the end of the year, Will had
turned in more extra-credit book reports than anyone else in the class.
And then, when his all-boy group history project was headed for the toilet,
we talked about how maybe he needed to view himself as captain of the team,
even if that meant doing the most work. Surprisingly, he rose to the challenge
and browbeat his cohorts into an A-quality report that they presented in
the form of a Web site " because they all loved computers.
- The author and her son, Will.
- I also show up at his school as many times as necessary
in order to remind his teachers that he is a terrific kid who responds
better to encouragement than condemnation. Usually they don't look all
that happy to see me. However, I keep on going. And at the last conference,
Will,s math instructor actually gave me a hug and thanked me. "You
know, she said, "we get so overworked, it's easy to forget the effect
we have on these guys " because they just don't show it the way the
girls do. It really helps to be reminded that boys are just as sensitive
to our criticism and in need of our understanding. She smiled. "You
know what I mean?
- "Yes, I said and hugged her back with gratitude.
"I do. _______________
- Celeste Fremon is a freelance journalist who writes about
kids, street gangs and other social issues. She is the author of "Father
Greg & the Homeboys (Hyperion).