Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fascinating, Sad, And A Wake-Up Call

A couple of weeks ago, I attended our school district's 8th grade graduation ceremony in my official Board of Education capacity.  I found the award-presenting part of the ceremony fascinating, in that almost no boys received awards at all.  Being the number-crunching geek that I am, and finally having a minute or two to do it, I sat down this morning to work out the exact numbers.

This particular 8th grade class is approximately 55% female, 45% male, for the record.

There were a total of 17 awards, some of which had multiple recipients.  In all, 26 awards were presented, a grand total of five of which went to boys (and one boy received two of those awards.)  Of those five, one was for excellence in physical education, and another was in a category that required a male recipient and a female recipient by definition (highest GPA for each gender.)  That left a grand total of three awards that went to boys on the basis of character, intelligence/performance, personality, contribution to our community, writing skills, or anything else.  Noteworthy is the fact that every single subject area performance award (math, language arts, computers, science, languages, etc) went to one or more girls other than the award for physical education, which was also presented to a female co-recipient.

I was embarrassed on the boys' behalf.  The girls all but ran the table on them.

This is a good school.  Clearly, the girls are learning what they need to learn and are doing well here.  What's up with the boys??  Since my two sons are in this school district, I have to admit that these stats concern me in a big way.  (NOLA and anyone else with teaching experience reading this, is this a normal middle school award distribution pattern???)

Separately, I recently came across an article in The Atlantic called "Stop Penalizing Boys For Not Being Able To Sit Still At School."  Read this.  Really.

For anyone who didn't jump to the link, the article argues that boys are disproportionately less able to behave in accordance with the expectations required in the traditional classroom model than girls, and that this behavior results in grade-related penalizing of these boys (and misperceptions relating to their intelligence and potential) starting as early as kindergarten.

It then goes on to summarize some the results of a study specifically directed toward finding pegagogical approaches that actually work for boys, approaches that specifically harness their comparatively greater (on average) competitiveness and activity levels.

You can bet that I will be forwarding this article and my rough calculations regarding our award percentages to our principal and superintendent.  Food for thought in a big way.




  1. When I first started teaching, it was in a small remote village and when the kids (boys usually, but not exclusively) would get the yayas - I'd give them some choices to mellow out and focus in, including running around the school several times. That isn't really allowed elsewhere but I think it should be.

    Remember though too that just because 21 girls won awards doesn't mean that all girls are served well in the schools. There is a particular type of student who excels in the sorts of schools that are being created, and a whole lot of others who don't. I really appreciate the attention given to boys who are struggling, but it's not as gender-simple as that - lots and lots of girls falling between the cracks, too, but they may be forgotten because girls are succeeding more.

    This isn't unusual in middle school, where boys are really struggling with puberty and identity. Sixth grade/seventh grade is when a lot of previously doing-fine kids start to fall behind. This is the shift to multiple subjects and not just one teacher, where kids are more likely to be held responsible for their own behaviors - such as remembering to do their homework, etc. Plenty of research has been shown that girls mature in these areas earlier than boys (though a lot of that is self-fulfilling prophecy based on our gender expectations), and it seems that you live in a pretty affluent community with lots of stay-at-home parents with a lot of time on their hands, and the danger of overprotecting sons especially is more pervasive (and can backfire in a big way). Overmedication is also a huge problem, with all sorts of unintended consequences for kids on ADD, etc. meds (more often boys), such as a mediocrity instead of excelling in their unique gifts.

    A few of my random thoughts!

    1. No doubt. I was one of the kind of girls who did well in the school system, but I remember girls who didn't from back when I was a kid, and I doubt that has changed entirely since then. I have to say that the elementary school teachers here do a good job of adjusting for boy energy (kids can work standing up, sitting under their desks, etc as long as not disruptive, and the OTs put therabands or bouncy cushions on the chairs of active kids) but I'm afraid that the middle school teachers will be less patient and accommodating. And I agree 100% that the shift from homerooms to moving every class period must also be tougher on boys (and/or less organized/mature girls too)...I'm starting to see that with Thing One already. I don't want to overprotect him...the struggle is finding the tools he needs to succeed. We've already messed around with different reminder systems and notebook/binder/etc systems to see which work best for him.

    2. One year I taught summer school at a different school, with a principal I didn't like much. A critically important part was silent reading time, and of course I let the kids sit anywhere for that, as I don't do well sitting in a desk to read and neither did they.

      The principal came in and saw one of the kids was way back behind the desks under tables, barely visible. He could have been asleep each day but I knew he wasn't because every day he would climb out and tell me with great enthusiasm everything he had read. The principal said, "Is he in trouble? I'll suspend him."

      I think the thing that I miss most about teaching is how I got to stick up for kids and protect them from the bad guys.

      But, I will say, that in a regular middle school/high school classroom, this kind of freedom gets more complicated. 35 kids, keeping an eye on everything - good grief, one year at our school during silent reading time kids were smoking pot and having oral sex (NOT in my classroom, I hasten to add!).

      Part of it too is being less accommodating because it's part of growing up, to learn to sit still longer. (I hear all the home school parents shout in rage at me for this, but welcome to reality.)

      I wish I knew the silver bullet about organizational tools - maybe Thing One should pay attention to what systems his friends use and think about what would work for him? Would something electronic work well for him or be a distraction? (I'm thinking of Ms. Moon saying her iPhone is her brain.)

    3. At this point anything electronic would be a distraction. Unfortunately. One big binder with folders for each class clipped into it and a planner notebook inside as well seems to work the best of the things we've is a bit heavy for him to haul around, but this way if he manages to remember the binder, he's prepared for every class. His biggest Achilles heel is organization, for sure. His second grade teacher once told me that he will need an organized secretary, an organized wife or both if he is ever to succeed! :)

  2. One more thing - middle school is on average (from what I've read) the apex of success for girls. Boys catch up in high school (again, this is all averages and not for individuals) and start to win the top awards, etc. The reason for this may well be socialization - I today heard a FASCINATING story on NPR about the thinking that we do and the messages through the voices we hear. They can set up a test in one sentence that can ensure girls do as well as boys (college students, I believe), but without that qualifier the boys do significantly better because girls self-talk that they're bad in math. Similar with African-Americans and it being set up as IQ vs. being a puzzle (when they significantly outscore on THE SAME TEST). It's all about Vygotsky's theory about thinking being an internalization of talking - which in my experience definitely does put kids at such an academic advantage if their parents speak aloud to them to figure things out (which, many parents do not). FAscinating.

  3. Thanks! Will check that out. Will be interested to see how performance changes for our kids as a function of gender and age. And in the meantime, I am going to take advantage of my BoE membership (I can ask these questions and get answers) and ask our principal to recrunch the state testing numbers so I can see how the boys are doing there vs the girls too.

    1. Another question to ask is about drop-out rates. Boys are considerably more at risk there (though that's a feature by class, often), in large part because they get in this vicious cycle of failure/punishment.

    2. Good point. Will ask that, too. One good thing about being in a community of relatively affluent, involved parents is that I would bet the dropout rate is pretty low...would be good to know the number, though.


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