Boys doing poorly in school has been blamed on feminism, boys’ learning styles, brains… Now there’s clear evidence that it’s actually teachers who are the reason why girls are doing better than boys. (Yes, I’m being a little sarcastic.)
The research on gender differences in education is so inconsistent that it’s maddening. There may be tiny neurological differences between female and male brains, but those differences are often so exaggerated. Researchers themselves who study gender differences in the brain always caution that they don’t intend for their findings of these small population-level differences to be translated into educational change.
In the 1990s, when I attended Emma Willard School, the all-girls where feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan conducted much of her research, the talk in education was all about how “school shortchange girls.” Our educational system didn’t reward girls’ learning styles, girls’ interactional and moral reasoning styles. Schools were thought to be “failing at fairness” and penalizing girls. I did my first real research paper during my junior year of high school about gender bias in schools. Well, we’ve certainly come full circle. Now the popular media often seems to imply that it’s boys who are being crushed by schooling.
The latest study has been talked about here and here. Basically, it says that girls are awarded better grades by teachers in early elementary school because of their classroom behavior and noncognitive skills, like attentiveness and following directions, despite the fact that standardized test scores didn’t similarly reflect this gender disparity.
Even if this research were entirely true — that teachers give girls better grades because they’re more cooperative and may do better work, not because of innate skill, but because of work habits — I’m not sure what anyone can do about it. What are your observations about how girls and boys are treated in the classroom?
What can you do about it? Raise/nurture/educate your sons and daughters in an environment that doesn’t use just five letters of the alphabet to determine their intelligence, success or worth.
My son graduated from high school a few years ago. The change in his personality since then is striking. He has far more confidence and is far more outgoing now than at high school. The high school he went to was a large, inner city school where the student body was diverse. I do not know what negative impacts he was subjected to in HS but now that they are gone he has found himself. He now works and goes to school part time and is doing quite well. I asked him about the differences from then (in HS) to now. After refusing to answer on many occasions he finally opened up. The answer was a series of comments about being ignored in class, put down by the cliques, not feeling comfortable in school, etc. I asked him about his classes now and he said he did not feel any of those negatives now. Then out of the blue he added one more comment that through me, “And there are no girls like Carlie in my classes.” Carlie is his older sister who has moved to another city to go to school. I asked what he meant by that, his response was “You know, opinionated, noisy, and loud.” He continued “I always worried about what girls like her would say or do. They are always so disrespectful.” Now my son has played hockey for many years so he has a very thick skin for comments from other boys/men but he had no defensive abilities when those comment came from a girl/women.
Why is that? I do not know……but it had been a major problem for him. he remembered it (as a problem) long after he left HS, so I would not discount it so quickly.
My daughter, Carlie, always verbally picked on him until he turned ten and she was 13. We always chastised her and punished her for doing that, but we could not be there all the time. Soon after he turned 10, he got really upset with her after something she said and he pushed her to the ground, sat on her, and told her to leave him alone. It took a while, but that outburst from him changed her attitude towards him. All our words and actions did not affect Carlie, but his actions did.
Boys need to have ways of dealing with these “problems”. It appears that they are not trained/given enough solution methods that they can use on their own. So they suffer in silence. We have to change that.
lynn oliver says
I am afraid we are seeing a whole trend that is international in scope. Teachers are but one area of more aggressiveness allowed upon boys. Little boys begin equal at birth, but internationally accepted values are to make boys tough as early as nine months and increases over time. The lower the socioeconomic bracket the more amplified the more aggressive treatment. This is where the gender gap is very great. However, even in middle to upper class environments the Male students are falling collectively behind their Female peers to some degree. This more aggressive treatment is coupled with more commanding, disciplining words and sentences. This creates higher average stress or the components to make Males tough – higher average stress of “maintained layers” of fear, anxiety, preparation for defense, social/emotional distance/distrust of adults. These layers of average stress, unlike our very incorrect definition of stress recognizes our average stress as many layers of unresolved mental work that take up real mental energy, leaving less mental energy to think, learn, reflect, and motivation to learn (mental reward received for mental work expended). This also creates more activity for stress relief (not genetic but socially created). It creates higher muscle tension creating a tighter grip and more pressure on pencil hurting writing and motivation to write (much earlier fatigue). Again, not genetic but socially created.
Boys are also not given nearly enough kind, caring, verbal interaction and other mental, emotional, social supports for fear of coddling. This creates lower social vocabulary and much less knowledge of sentence structure. This also adds greatly to the social emotional distance due to much less communication skills with adults. We need high social vocabulary and lower average stress to perform the abstract skill of reading – decoding, visualizing, organizing, reaching into one’s social vocabulary for new words in print, and enjoying the process.
In addition, boys are only given love and honor only on condition of some achievement, status, etc. This was designed to keep boys esteem and feelings of self-worth low so they would keep trying even to the point of giving their lives for some amount of love and honor from others. Boys achieving in school will receive more love and honor for doing so. However many boys will not have the adequate preparation and support and will begin failing early. Boys not achieving are then given more discipline and ridicule to make them try harder. Support is not an option due to the belief boys should be strong and the false belief in genetics, succeed by ability and “effort”. This then sends many boys away from trying in school and then seeking out minute amounts of love and honor through sports, video games, other areas with like minded peers.
As girls, we are given love and honor for being girls. We are given kind, stable verbal interaction and other supports by parents, teachers, and peers through adulthood. We are doing very well in the information age. This even allows us to be happy even at lesser levels of achievement as a group in the workplace due having more innersecurity in the areas “we choose”. If we do not provide the proper understanding that boys and men need the same kind, stable, verbal interaction and others wonderful supports, we will continue to succeed while our fathers, brothers, boyfriends, and husbands fail. We cannot allow this to continue. http://learningtheory.homestead.com/Theory.html