Fixing Boys

Let's leave aside the question of whether there is a "war on boys" or a "war on women," or whether the system is stacked against one or the other.  It's clear that, regardless of how "the system" is "stacked," boys have significant problems with school as currently structured.

A better question, then, might be:  how can we structure school so that boys tend to excel?

Here are a few thoughts on structuring a program for boys, with a very small amount toward the end on how it would interact with a program for girls.

1)  It would involve longer school days, but with more and longer breaks for physical activity.  Boys at the elementary school level should be getting up for a good forty-five minutes' play at least three times during the school day.  At elementary levels one of these play periods can be formalized, into sports or (especially) martial arts; the others should be free.  At higher levels, first two and then periods should be formalized:  as boys grow into teenagers they need more structure to keep them out of trouble.

2)  It should assume that boys mature more slowly, and thus focus on topics earlier in their education that require less emotional maturity.  Math and science are good subjects at early ages; history and emotionally-difficult literature should be pushed back.  Stories that can be read to boys, or that have shown a long history of being interesting to boys, are good at this age -- adventure tales, Robin Hood, or books without emotional content like stories about airplanes and trains.  Stories that require them to confront or examine complex emotional truths are for later.  The technical skills of reading and basic composition do not involve much emotional weight, but advanced composition -- because it requires a mastery of content, which comes from emotionally laden things like history and literature -- should be pushed back as well.

3)  This implies that boys and girls should usually be educated separately, although the implication is not rigid; and in addition, there are substantial benefits to having boys and girls working alongside each other from early life.  It would be good to break school days into class periods for each subject, and the classes taught differently, so that individual accommodations can be made.  A boy who matures unusually quickly may benefit from being introduced to more emotionally complex materials, so that he might go to a class mostly filled with girls for the literary period; a girl might not develop as quickly, and go to a class filled mostly with boys.  Because boys will focus more on math and science early, those classes will probably advance faster; some girls who show especial aptitude may spend part of their days in boy-heavy classes.

These are just some initial thoughts; any or all of these thoughts may be wrong.  The point is to think about the problem from the perspective of trying to construct a solution that will work for the boys.  What do you suggest?


E Hines said...

A couple of fillips:

Put both sets of classes--boys' and girls'--in the same school building, and

Have them take their recesses--and lunches--at the same time and on the same playground (or cafeteria in exceptionally bad weather).

One problem with completely segregated schools is that the two never really learn to interact with each other until relatively late in life.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

A good point. I've seen a number of British-boys-boarding-school-educated men make a similar argument: they just never learned to deal with girls. That's an important part of their education, too!

Daniel said...

The only issue is that, at least here in Texas, elementary age kids are not allowed any socialization during the lunch period. Work permitting, I eat lunch with my son on Friday and the lunch period is a draconian scene reminiscent of Boot Camp. Hell, during chow we probably had more freedom than these children...this is not an exaggeration.

That said, I would love to see these suggestions implemented.

raven said...

First- fire all the teachers and administrators. State paid union flunkys.
Next, set up neighborhood schools of around 100-200 kids, and hire about 15 teachers .No teaching certification necessary- it will be challenge based- if you can do the job, you can be hired. At our current 10k per kid per year that is 66k for each teacher.
-Re. capital costs of structures etc, any decent empty warehouse space will do.hire some of the jillion unemployed carpenters to fit it out.
We would do well to model our new school after what we know will work-at the turn of the 19th century we had fine neighborhood schools that graduated 8th graders who would put most college grads today to shame.
Boys can handle emotional and moral issues just fine. The books I was brought up with had plenty- They get lots in life anyway, even at a young age.

The solution to teaching the kids is easy- we have the model- the problem is to enact it we have to dis-assemble an entire political-social construct bent on retaining it's dominance at any cost. It is like "the war on Drugs"- too many folks are too invested in it to change it. The very last thing they want is for the drug problem to go away, they would lose their jobs.
One of my daughters middle school teachers almost begged me to move her to a private school-said teacher had recently come from a catholic school and was appalled at the public school system. I took her advice.
Speaking of which- would you believe the headmaster of the private school, a history major, in a school with a lot of Indian students, had no idea that terming the walk-and jog fundraising event a "Wog-a-thon"
might be considered in bad taste? LOL- he was mystified when I explained the origin of the term.

Cass said...

I am not sure the schools are the problem.

I think it's more likely the parents and society.

Schools were no more "boy friendly" when my boys were in school than they are today. It took a lot of effort on my part as a parent to make it clear that failing or slacking off was simply not an option.

If the parents aren't willing to do that, I seriously doubt the school will be able to entice kids into doing something that doesn't come naturally (working hard).

Cass said...

One more thing:

I am inherently suspicious of any scheme that relies on making school easier or assumes that boys/girls/transgendered Artic wolves have some monolithic, gender based learning style that - if we just redesigned everything around it - would magically substitute for hard work, discipline, and parental/societal expectations.

Seems to me that's the most valuable lesson learned, whether in school or at work: we all have to do things we don't want to do and it's our job to figure out how to get the job done, not the world's job to reorient itself around us.

Recess? Sure. But our grandparents didn't have multiple 45 minute recesses. They still had to learn to sit still and pay attention.

bthun said...

The title of the post "Fixing Boys" gave this old country boy who has fixed cows and pigs, a pause...

"One of my daughters middle school teachers almost begged me to move her to a private school-said teacher had recently come from a catholic school and was appalled at the public school system. I took her advice."

Good for you and your daughter. There are plenty of folks sending their children to the private school where WB teaches who are anything but wealthy. One thing they are beyond any doubt is admirable in their assignments of priorities in their lives/budgets.

Which leads me to hit my favorite note on this topic, school vouchers. The availability of vouchers to all parents would be, IMO, a step in the right direction. As is sometimes said, in all but socialized and/or union circles, competition improves the breed/product.

"I am not sure the schools are the problem.

I think it's more likely the parents and society.

I agree with your second sentence wholeheartedly M'lady, but I'd also say that public schools, being a reflection of society along with the local school boards, administrators, the administrivia overhead, plus local, and state, AND Federal meddling, are at least substantive contributors to the problem.

Anonymous said...

I'd just add increasing the number of boy-friendly books in the library and curriculum. I was appalled to go through the local book-o-rama and find that most of the kids books are ponies, best friends, cute critters and fluff. And that's just the ones for preschool through 1st grade. The chapter books are just as bad. No wonder boys do not like reading, if that is what they have to read. Heck, I'd have given up on the printed word. There was so much sugar that it spiked my blood sugar and I'm a hypoglycemic!


E Hines said...

I am not sure the schools are the problem.
I think it's more likely the parents and society.

Boys and girls do tend to mature at different rates, and those rates do tend to cluster in capabilities. Whether that's do to wet-wiring or to the way we socialize our children, here is an attempt to correct the failed socialization or to optimize on the differing wiring.

Moreover, our public schools are part of the problem, both directly and through the impact of failed parenting--who are our society, for the most part. Grim's suggestion won't correct the overall problem; the parents and society need correction, also. But it's a step in the right direction, and to the extent we actually can take that step, it's a move of parents and society in the right direction, too.

As to vouchers, I thought they were a good idea, but as I think about them, I begin to question the premise of them. Why are they necessary? To facilitate parents' sending their kids to the schools of their choice instead of to the school district's local school--which in Plano (and, I think, in all of Texas with its plethora of "Independent" School Districts) isn't even, of necessity, a part of the local neighborhood.

The only reason for vouchers is the cost differential between public and private schools. The case for publicly funding schools remains valid, I think--the whole common good meme. So vouchers would be valid if they came in the form of property tax credits (not deductions), and in the case of public schools funded from the general treasury, in addition to the property taxes, a credit against the local jurisdiction's sales/income tax paid after the property tax has been fully credited, and after the local taxes are credited, a credit against the state's sales/income tax.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

I'd argue that the only reason for vouchers is not the cost differential between public and private schools, but the desire to make public schools compete against private schools for customers, without requiring parents who have already paid ad valorem taxes to pay private tuition as well.

Otherwise, I'm with Cass.

Grim said...

Well, that was quite a diverse group of responses.

Some of us feel the schools could be usefully redesigned so that they aren't one-sized fits all, but offer some capacity to group children according to abilities -- which at this age tend to sort by sex more than anything else for simple reasons of development. My elementary school tested us for reading ability, and sorted us into classes based on that score only. My class had 26 girls and four boys.

The sorting worked pretty well, because it cut down on the bored-smart-kid and the unable-to-keep-up-slower-kid factor: you can't eliminate that in public school, but some sorting would be good. I think the elementary school model that worked for me just ought to be expanded to other areas.

Others, however, feel that having a single standard for the kids is good, and the kids just better keep up. If they don't, the fault is more likely to be the parent's than the schools -- I'm not sure what we are to do about that, though.

There is some truth to the notion that the parent must do much that the schools can't do. However, I note that this solution only helps the slow children by administering discipline -- and only helps them in theory, since in practice the lack of parental discipline is a factor they are probably stuck with. This solution also doesn't offer a way to help the kids in areas where they are smarter by offering faster-moving classes in each area. Because the kids remain grouped regardless of ability, in fact, that problem is exacerbated.

Others would like to dismantle the schools and privatize (certainly a possible solution!). Still others would like to force public/private competition.

So... good first round, getting ideas on the table. Second round: is privatization better than vouchers, to maximize public/private competition... or is it better to privatize outright where possible, since the government isn't very good at competition? Alternatively, do the the public schools provide a useful service by serving as a general standard?

Grim said...


I am inherently suspicious of any scheme that relies on making school easier or assumes that boys/girls/transgendered Artic wolves...

As I think we've said here before, you should always be suspicious when you ask a question about sex and get an answer about gender. Sex is a real biological fact that is the single most important biological difference in how human beings develop. Something like Joe's "G Factor" may be more important overall, but that is not a single factor -- by all accounts, it's a conglomeration of very many factors.

So, it strikes me as fundamentally reasonable to build this difference into our models -- so long as we don't make those models rigid and incapable of allowing for individual difference.

I don't think factoring 'gender' into education is wise at all; and most group distinctions are artificial. Sex isn't, and part of the proof is that there's been a push for some decades to adjust the structure for girls -- with fantastic effects. All I'd like to do is to bifurcate the standard enough to make it better for everyone, rather than making it a zero-sum-game between whether it serves boys or serves girls better.

Recess? Sure. But our grandparents didn't have multiple 45 minute recesses. They still had to learn to sit still and pay attention.

Sure. And my grandfather lasted as long as eighth grade, one of them. Third grade for the other.

Cass said...

I don't think it has been established (by you or anyone else) that education is a zero sum game. This whole line of inquire, while worthwhile, is starting from a whopper of an assumption: namely, that it is changes to school (and moreover, changes that made school more 'girl friendly') that has caused boys not to do well in school.

Such an assumption should be tested. I have not seen this happen - rather, it seems to be an article of faith we're supposed to take on... well, faith. No evidence required.

It seems just as likely to this mother of two grown sons that the real problem is one of accountability. That is the single biggest change in the schools - the untethering of consequence from action. There is less discipline, less rigor, less is asked of students with every generation. School is easier.

What is lacking here are numbers by which we could judge the outcome. According to you, your dad and granddad didn't finish school under the old system. Today, dropouts are rare. You want to "fix" this?

I'm confused. Before you can fix a problem, you need to know what the problem is. That seems like a good place to start, and I trust observations supported by some measurement more than broad statements that "This is so". What, precisely, is the problem here?

Is it that boys aren't going to college? You have said you don't think that's a problem. Is it that they aren't moving out of their parents' basements? That's not the fault of the schools? Not marrying? Again, hardly the fault of schools.

These things all point to family. There's a study out now purporting to show that strong family ties are the biggest single predictor of which kids will equal or excel their parents' education and achievements. Which, again, points to family and not schools at all.

I think we need to examine the assumptions here.

Grim said...

The 'zero sum game' language was something I was borrowing from you -- to whit, I was agreeing with your view that we shouldn't think of this issue through that lens. Rather than trying to find ways to make schools "fair" for boys at the expense of girls, we should look for ways to help them excel.

I'm sensitive to the benefits of a strong family, and I'm very eager to see that issue addressed. We've talked about ways to strengthen families, although I don't think we've come to any agreement about anything that would even improve the situation there. Divorce is clearly the main problem, but aside from banning it -- for which there is absolutely no constituency -- I'm not clear, after all our talks, on how we can do anything to improve the situation.

But I did have a positive experience as a young child with an attempt to create levels of classes. It strikes me that this is something that could benefit all children; and that it would be better still if the kids were able to be split out in different areas (as opposed to using reading as a proxy for everything, as our school did).

I haven't got a grown son, but I do know something about the ways the schools deal with boys. Most of my thinking about the issue comes out of that dynamic, where I do see some things that are hard on boys -- the ones I know -- who would benefit from more physical activity, more chores around the farm, more science and math, and less expectation that they show reading comprehension of emotionally difficult texts they aren't ready for yet. (I can still remember the horrid things they made us read as kids. A Taste of Blackberries, followed by Where the Red Fern Grows... it seemed like in every book either the kid's best friend or his dogs died, and we were supposed to deal with that at nine and ten years old. Not that these are bad books, but it wasn't the right time.)

htom said...

Oh, my. What a barrel of monkeys you've opened. People (even the young people we call children)learn differently, and mature differently, and grow differently (in several ways.) The problem (as I see it) is that we're forcing all of the children through the same sausage mill, and are surprised we have sausage instead of young adults.

Recess is important, especially active running about play, to children (and adults, but they're too set in their ways to learn.) It increases blood flow, which increases neuron production and linkages -- and learning. A half-hour of it before classes, a half-hour after two or three hours, a half-hour after lunch, and a half-hour after two or three hours of class time.

One or two of those as martial arts training would be wonderful. Both boys and girls (and young ladies and young men) can use this training throughout their lives. They can all learn ballroom dancing, gymnastics, and yoga, too.

Having taken a step towards healthy bodies, healthy minds. Males mature emotionally slower than females, or females mature faster -- in general, there are going to those who are fast and slow in each such group, so divide them appropriately. Faster guys with slower gals as a middle group, perhaps.

Two of the important things to learn early is that others are better than you are at some things -- as well, you are better than they are at others -- and that you can catch up and even pass them. Sometimes.

In most of my high school classes, I was "fast college" tracked, but not all. German I was "slow learner". (Mostly we were not to know such things; I started asking questions about how people were moved from class to class and it was explained, as well as a demand that I start paying attention, there was no good reason I couldn't learn German, and I should pay attention in shop before I hurt someone.)

Socially I was abysmal. Relationships and meanings half my class knew about when I was sixteen I've just started to figure out at 64. Social IQ ~ 25. Could different schooling have helped? Maybe.

Texan99 said...

Isn't it a little like arguing that school sports, or math class, or corporate boardrooms, or the military should be overhauled so that girls and women feel more comfortable and advance more easily?

I sure wish we could try out treating boys and girls at least equally for a while before we decide we have to tip the scales in the other direction.

Grim said...

The breaking out of classes into ability levels would be treating everyone equally: it might be the case that mostly boys did well in one area and mostly girls in the other, but the test would be the same for everyone, and everyone would benefit from being sorted into classes that better fit their ability level.

Daniel said...

I may have missed this in the comments, but it seems no one is discussing the 'end-game'.

Right now the public school system is geared towards a 'college prep' model for all students. In my opinion, we would do well to realize that the world needs electricians, plumbers, and ditch-diggers... and somewhere during the Junior High/High School levels begin steps towards leaving grade 12 as a craft Journeyman.

Cass said...

. In my opinion, we would do well to realize that the world needs electricians, plumbers, and ditch-diggers... and somewhere during the Junior High/High School levels begin steps towards leaving grade 12 as a craft Journeyman.

Yes, yes, yes.

Grim said...

I think that's a great idea, too.

bthun said...

Grim said... "The breaking out of classes into ability levels would be treating everyone equally:"

Daniel said... ". In my opinion, we would do well to realize that the world needs electricians, plumbers, and ditch-diggers... and somewhere during the Junior High/High School levels begin steps towards leaving grade 12 as a craft Journeyman."

I agree with both statements. That was the public school system I had the good fortune to attend, round about a half century ago. And if memory serves, we had a fair share of kids go on to University and into various professions while others went on to be successful in the trades.

We also had recess and music classes wedged into a 8¾ month school year. From Junior High through High School we had a mandatory Phys Ed class in the schedule somewhere each year.

This 8¾ month schedule left kids with an opportunity to either enjoy their childhood for 3+ months each year, travel to foreign locales, or to enroll in the do-over or advanced classes that were applicable to their situation.

How far we've come...

E Hines said...

That was the public school system...a fair share of kids go on to University and into various professions while others went on to be successful in the trades.

A school system that does a proper job of preparing some of its students for college and other of its students for one or another trade--that teaches its students to the fullest of their potential--is treating boys and girls at least equally. It's helping each student to show the best that is in him (to coin a phrase...) rather than holding some back because others can't keep up. Forcing equal outcomes is not at all a path to equality.

Eric Hines

MikeD said...

I have an (impertinent) question. I realize that the math I was taught as a schoolboy was "new math" to the preceeding generation. For example, I was taught to subtract 84 from 123, you converted one of the tens from the tens group to ten ones, added that to the three (to get thirteen), subtracted four from thirteen to get 9, then convert one of the hundreds to get eleven tens, and subtract eight tens from the eleven tens to get 3 tens, thus giving me three tens and nine ones, or 39. Tom Lehrer actually did a humorous song about it called "New Math" which made perfect sense to me, but drove my parents nuts. Now, the kids are learning an even newer math with some kind of "grid" system that goes right over my head.

My question is this... my parents generation put men on the moon with the math they were taught (and sliderules). What in the Sam Hill was wrong with the math they were taught? What was the need to change how math was taught? Clearly it was good enough to put humans into space and on to our closest celestial body, so why the change? Because it was hard? Hell, different things are hard for different people. I'll send my 72 year old father into his Windows Registry and sleep well that night knowing he won't break something. I'd trust my 2 year old goddaughter with an iPad that she navigates better than I can. But yet there are college students I've known that I wouldn't give a digital watch to, because they'll not just fail to operate it, but break it in the attempt to do so. Should we treat all three people the same? I guess what I'm getting at is "one size fits all" never does.

Texan99 said...

Flexible tracking sounds great. How about we tailor teaching styles to learning styles, let students sign up for whichever one suits them best, and quit worrying about whether they're boys or girls?

E Hines said...

...I was taught to subtract 84 from 123, you converted one of the tens from the tens group to ten ones, added that to the three (to get thirteen)...usw....

Hah. That "New Math" of yours was called borrowing and carrying when I was in grade school in the dark ages before color TV. My "New Math" was all about those 10s and 100s as sets in set theory.

We can't use a one-size-fits-all mechanism for teaching. That's not equality; that denial of student ability is cynical inequality.

How about we tailor teaching styles to learning styles, let students sign up for whichever one suits them best, and quit worrying about whether they're boys or girls?

That's what vouchers and private school/public school competition does on a macro scale. On the micro scale, if we did let students sign up for suits them best, we'd get all that disparate impact claptrap, since many classes will select for girls and others for boys.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

Letting them sign up for whatever suits them best is a little too libertarian even for me. :) I'm with Cassandra this far: there are standards you've got to live up to, even if I don't believe in a single set of standards for everybody. If you've got an aptitude for math or reading, and we're going to be asked to pay for your education, you really ought to be pushed to make the most of it.

As for worrying about whether they're boys or girls, I'm mostly not; I'm interested in the boys because they happen to be doing badly. However, let's not go so far down the "gender" line that we insist on wearing blinders about the sex issue. They really are different, and when we're thinking about "learning styles" we shouldn't exclude ordinary sex differences from our expected variation. They're going to turn up, more or less predictably, and thus it is only wise planning to plan for them.

Cass said...

There are something like 7 learning styles, Grim, and not everyone is a pure case there.

I am suspicious of the notion that teachers should have to figure that crap out. They have enough to do with having to deal with kids who have serious emotional and physical handicaps, let alone the garden variety twerps whose parents have never required them to do anything they didn't feel like doing.

Just because one might learn better one way does NOT mean one can't learn the material another. Students may have to exert more effort, but that's good for them.

Tracking is a good idea - you can't keep classes with wildly different abilities all focused and in sync.

Your #3 is puzzling to me, too. I had to read all kinds of material that was difficult or challenging on one level or another. I really do not think children are traumatized by reading a book where someone's dog dies. Life is often tragic - reading books about how people handle tragedy helps kids learn secondhand without having to go through that themselves.

I am really bothered by the notion that we have to make everything easy and pleasant and not do anything the might result in a child stretching him or herself a bit. The idea that boys are too fragile to read sad books is one I can't say was borne out with either of my boys. In fact, such books often became their favorites - read again and again.

Cass said...

Yikes. Should be "your #2"...

Texan99 said...

Grim, aren't your two concerns at cross-purposes to each other? If I understand you, the initial concern is that boys are doing badly because the prevailing teaching style doesn't play to their strengths. I suggest offering alternative teaching styles, at the option of the student, taking into account everyone's best guess about what styles might be useful for the range of aptitudes and personalities we actually encounter in the student body. If the boys gravitate to one and the girls to another, fine.

You counter that students must be pushed to make the most of their aptitudes -- is the concern here that boys might opt for a teaching style that was better suited to their personalities, but that didn't push them to overcome their natural handicaps in terms of restlessness or whatever? Wouldn't that just mean we needed to come up with a better teaching style to offer them, one they not only liked but was effective for them?

And how would this problem be exacerbated by letting both boys and girls choose whatever style suited them, instead of defining their education style by their gender?

It's possible to offer different teaching styles, but then at some point before graduation to demand that all students, male or female, meet some agreed standard of mastery of the curriculum, regardless of how they found it best to get there. Won't each student be motivated to choose whatever classroom style is best tailored to him while permitting him to attain his high school degree on a reasonable schedule?

Grim said...


My argument isn't that the boys are too fragile. It's that they aren't emotionally developed enough to 'get it' at the same age that girls are. I found those books to be incredibly boring. I don't recall being upset by them at all, but I recall that girls in the class (the twenty-six of them!) were just moved to tears by the story. It was a really appropriate story for them at that age; it was wasted on me (and I think even moreso on the others -- at least I remember having read it).

If the point is reading comprehension -- which is what we test so heavily for these days -- you should ask them to comprehend ideas, not emotions, until they are of an age that they can relate to emotionally deep work.


Maybe I don't quite understand the point you were trying to make. It could be you're talking about something different by "learning styles" than I am by talking about breaking classes into levels of aptitude.

So, the question I thought you were asking was, "Shouldn't we let students decide what level is appropriate for them?" I tend to think that no, in fact, we should push them to excel where we find that they have ability. They may prefer to elect easier work, but I don't want to make it easy on them: I just want to ensure that they're on task at a level and on a subject that is challenging for their aptitude, age, and so forth: neither beyond them, nor too easy for them.

However, if the question you are asking is about something else -- some students like to learn by singing songs, and others by writing books, something like that -- then I don't have a problem with what you're suggesting. I was just on a different page.

Grim said...

A minor edit:

"..even moreso on the others..."

I meant to say, "the other three boys." It was mystifying to us why we were spending time on stories like that; they weren't interesting, they drug on for no purpose, and they were all about how people felt about stuff. At least Where The Red Fern Grows had some good chase scenes!

Texan99 said...

I thought you were talking about things like making sure there was lots of extra recess, and maybe introducing students to different kinds of reading material at different ages -- changes in learning styles that you thought might help boys overcome a natural scholastic disadvantage. I'm not that concerned with what order the kids are exposed to the material in, or how much time they spend running around outside in between spurts of classroom learning, as long as they graduate having mastered the material.

And I wouldn't assume that a particular accommodation in terms of physical activity or reading subject material was tailor-made for either boys or girls. As long as we go to the trouble of offering alternatives to respond to differences in learning style, why not make them available to everyone by choice? That way we don't have to argue about whether "all boys" do this or "all girls" do that. We also needn't worry too much about either pink ghettos or blue ghettos, since no one will be permanently stuck in either one.

Grim said...

I wasn't arguing that boys have a natural scholastic disadvantage, just that their brains 'turn on' different parts at different times (and some parts never quite equalize -- the ability to load balance the two hemispheres of the brain shows marked sex differences). They should be expected to learn differently, and to master different kinds of materials at different stages, in ways that line up with this physiological reality.

Nevertheless, it was never my proposal to force anyone into anything by sex: the limits of "force" in my model have to do with making sure that people who test well aren't allowed to choose to slide to an easier standard than they are capable of handling.

Let us say that out of ninety children, 45 girls and 45 boys, you should find that 26 girls and 4 boys show advanced reading skill (in other words, the thing that my school found when it ran the numbers). It would be sensible to group them, not as boys and girls, but as advanced readers.

I do think it might be reasonable to allow them more choice in reading material (within a pre-approved range), especially if we are going to test them for comprehension: comprehension of emotional interactions is going to be a later-blooming thing in boys.

This continues into adulthood. Htom's remark that he was much older before he began to 'get' social interactions is common enough for men. For example, I think I was in my thirties before I realized there was a sex scene in Casablanca; having come up in a culture in which sex was always explicit, I just thought it was a very odd and inexplicable break in the scene, perhaps to cut out a long and boring conversation of the sort that lovers have, interesting only to them, so we could get back to the action.

When I finally realized that it was really a subtle way of conveying the fact of sex, I began to realize that this was commonly done in movies from the 1940s and 1950s. Imagine my surprise! But perhaps the first dozen times I saw the movie -- knowing she was married, and seeing nothing explicit beyond the kiss -- I honestly never even thought of it. I assumed they kissed, and then rather honorably sat down to share their feelings and talk through old times -- the sort of thing the audience would find impossibly dull, and so of course they cut it out.

Texan99 said...

"boys have significant problems with school as currently structured" -- is the phrase I interpreted to mean that boys were at a scholastic disadvantage that needed to be addressed, along with "trying to construct a solution that will work for the boys" and "I'm interested in the boys because they happen to be doing badly" and "[boys] aren't emotionally developed enough to 'get it' at the same age that girls are."

That most boys who are interested in academics at all eventually catch up, at least in the areas they choose to focus on, seems pretty clear, but I thought we were talking about reforming the schools to address their special difficulties early in their learning careers.

Grim said...

Perhaps some clarification may help. I do believe it to be true that "schools as currently structured" seem to be poorly serving boys; but I don't think the reason is a "natural scholastic disadvantage."

Boys and girls do have different natures, to be sure; this article on education and brain structure (from a female boarding school) suggest the differences are quite stark. I expect that's true; but I'm not convinced that either has a natural scholastic advantage as such.

What they have are different capacities; and when they have the same capacities, they come online at different times.

Thus, it seems reasonable to me to plan education the way you would plan the planting of crops: that is, according to the nature of the crop. The crop needs to be planted in the right kind of ground, at the right season, and so forth. Either you arrange your plan around its nature -- in which case you will have a harvest -- or you don't, in which case you will probably get little enough good out of your investment in time and labor.

Of course, there's a certain wild element in human beings better described by the parable of the mustard seed than deliberative agriculture. But there the message is the seed, not the child; here, the child is the seed, and we want to prepare the ground and seek the proper time for planting as best as we can.

Cass said...


Once again, you are assuming that the root of the problem is the schools.

That really is a whopper of an assumption. It requires that we ignore other (perhaps related) issues, such as not moving out of the parents' home, or not assuming adult responsibilities, or not voting. I see this as "all of a piece". You are looking at school in isolation.

I think it's far more likely to be cultural - i.e., families and society.

Grim said...


I'm not at all sure I'm assuming that 'the root of the problem is the schools,' so much as I'm assuming that fixing the schools may be within our power. The other problems are problems for which I haven't solutions.

You've convinced me that no divorce law reform short of an outright ban would repair the problem of family collapse; and there's no constituency for an outright ban. Reforming society seems to me to be the project of a generation at least; or, perhaps, simply waiting for the society to collapse and rebuilding from the ashes.

So, it could be there are more severe problems; it could be that the problem of education has several roots rather than one. But this one is one we can do something about; I'm not sure the others are.

Texan99 said...

If I understand you, then, you're making a point very much like the one I sometimes make -- that simply because an institution chooses to define success a certain way that favors one gender over another, is no reason to assume that the disfavored gender is inherently less able or talented. Sometimes it's just a question of the institution having been structured in such a way to focus its approving attention on the strengths that one gender happens to posses.

Our schools may have gotten in the habit of valuing girls' ability to focus and learn, at an age when many boys find that very difficult. So the boys, in your words, are "doing badly." If the schools were more just or more flexible about what it means to "do well," boys would perform better. So it may be a scholastic advantage to girls, but it's not a "natural" one because it's an artifact of school fashions?

Grim said...

I want to make sure I'm not misread on the suggestion that what is needed is 'more flexibility' on 'what it means to do well.' That could be read rather more broadly than I intend, so that (for example) 'doing well' could mean 'being happy at school' or something like that.

I want a definition of 'doing well' that is pretty fixed -- it means excelling in maximizing your education and the development of the scholarly virtues. It's just that the nature of the crop has to inform the way the farmer goes about cultivating it, or indeed the crop won't 'do well' -- and neither will the farmer! :)

Texan99 said...

Sure -- we're all aiming at an education at the end of 12 years or so, but there are different ways to get there.

htom said...

I want each of the students to be nearly the best that they can be. Some will be better at math, some will be worse. Some will be better at reading comprehension, others not so good. Some will be more socially skilled, others klutzes. Some will be shown to be gifted athletes and or musicians and or actors and or speakers and or writers and or ... the list is very long, and some will never want to try (they should be encouraged -- but not compelled.)

The thing about exercise comes from studies on ADHD kids. Experiment: have the ADHD kids do exercise for an hour before school started, have a control group exercise, compare to the rest of the students. The ADHD kids did better than they had been doing. Much better, two or three letter grades better. The surprise was that the control group did better, too. Not as much better as the ADHD kids, only one or two letter grades. Must have been some test error or observation effect; experiment was redesigned and repeated. Same results. An hour or two of exercise, for many -- not all! -- of the diagnosed children, was as effective as their drugs.