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Guest Posts, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Schools Fail Boys (Guest Post by by Josh Stumpenhorst)

This post is a guest post (cross-posted from Stump The Teacher) by , who is a “father, husband, 6th grade SS/LA teacher, tech enthusiast, current IL teacher of the year, ISTE emerging leader and aspiring Jedi.” according to his Twitter ID. I have been learning from Josh for a while and appreciate his honest examination of all we do in education.  Please follow him on Twitter as@stumpteacher and join in the conversation about this post!

Before you read, understand that this might be offensive or considered sexist, but I feel a need to share some thoughts I have had recently in regards to boys in our schools. We are failing them. I base my argument on the basis that yes, I am a boy myself, as well as the fact that I grew up with two brothers and have two sons of my own. With that in mind, I feel as though I have a fair amount of experience with boys in schools.

The first area in which I feel we are failing our boy students is the lack of male teachers in the classrooms. This is more prevalent in the primary grades where a child may go through their entire elementary experience without a single male classroom teacher. While I am certainly not saying there is something wrong with female teachers, I do see the importance of a strong male role model in boy’s lives. This is especially true of boys that come from divorced homes where they live with their mothers. Again, I am not saying single mothers can’t raise boys well, but boys need a positive male figure in their lives. I see a fair share of boys that lack a male role model at home and it is obvious in the way they conduct themselves in a classroom and with peers. While this may be cliché, boys need that male figure to help them grow up and “be a man”.

Another place in which I see us falling short with boys is the overall structure of our schools. Boys are inherently rambunctious, active and often loud. Yet, we ask them to sit in nice rows, be quiet, keep their hands to themselves and stay out of the dirt. If they fail to do this, we discipline them and if that doesn’t work we label and medicate them…all for just being boys. How can we create more boy friendly learning environments that support and encourage those naturally boy-like characteristics?

My final concern for boys in our schools is our post-Columbine obsession with zero tolerance policies in schools. Yes, I fully support the need for safety in our schools and bullying should not have a place among our kids. We should do everything in our power as teachers and parents to ensure every child comes to school and feels safe. However, have we gone too far with the zero tolerance policies? As a child I spent many days shooting my brothers and various other objects with a variety of Nerf, BB or pretend guns. Personally, I probably told my buddies or brothers that I was going to “kill them” numerous times. It was something all the boys I know did and none of us grew up to commit heinous crimes or end up behind bars. Yet, if a kindergartner is overheard playing “gun games” on the playground, he will be in the principal’s office and his parents will have a meeting with the social worker. If you doubt that, don’t. This happened to someone close to me this fall. Again, I realize the need for all kids to feel safe and go to school feeling secure, but at what expense? Millions of boys across this country play shooting games, gun games, and pretend “killing” and will grow up to live happy and successful lives.

I don’t want to sound like I am making excuses for boys because I am not. However, it seems as though schools are setting up boys for failure from the moment they walk in until they either comply or get through to graduation.

For some additional thoughts on this subject I encourage you to take a look at this TED Talk from Ali Carr-Chellman.


About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


14 thoughts on “Schools Fail Boys (Guest Post by by Josh Stumpenhorst)

  1. Couldn’t agree more the sad fact is that these boys are the results of more times than. Of fathers walking away from their responsibilities I .e. there Marriages! It is very difficult…

    Posted by Bill | February 4, 2012, 3:10 pm
    • One additional factor that Josh did not include, probably because it is a cultural issue more than a school issue, is the lack of positive role models for boys. When I began teaching in the late 1960’s and through the 70’s boys there were plenty of good guys to emulate in sports and other arenas. That began to change in the 80’s and now the all powerful media promotes only the bad guys. Sad lot that boys have to look toward.

      Posted by Bill | February 6, 2012, 1:43 am
  2. I agree with your central thesis here, but also challenge you, what about any of what you say is not also true of girls in schools. School in many ways have failed children in general (See John Hol’ts, Why Children Fail). Children of either gender deserve to have schools that supports their natural and personal learning styles, right now only a few are supported. Girls like boys benefit from a positive male role modesl, benefit from more space, more flexibility in learning , less rigidness and more freedom to learn by doing. This is a complex issue and I am glad that you are willing to discuss it, but also think your argument would be just as strong without including gender.

    Posted by dloitz | February 4, 2012, 5:32 pm
    • I would agree with you that there is a “failing” taking place for both girls and boys in our inability to support natural learning in schools. Yes, this issue is complex but one I have been thinking about a great deal lately. Having brothers and sons, it was the angle I took and yet could easily make a similar claim about failing girls in schools.Girls do need positive male role models just like boys need female role models. However, I see that male role models appear to be more lacking in our schools than female ones. This is also a product of a larger issue of the perceived notion of teachers in which it has long been a “throw away” career that many men never sought out…but that is an issue for another day. 🙂

      Posted by Josh Stumpenhorst | February 4, 2012, 7:48 pm
      • I read a great few articles about this issue in my first semester at Goddard College. Check out this article,CARING AND ELEMENTARY TEACHING THE CONCERNS OF MALE BEGINNING TEACHERS I am a male working in early childhood education and working in Elementary schools. One of my major reasons for choosing this age had to do with many of your arguments above. I think is something that needs to be talk about more. This article though is one that really got me thinking and highly recommend everyone reading it.

        Male Teachers as Role Models:
        Addressing Issues of Masculinity,
        Pedagogy and the Re-Masculinization
        of Schooling

        The University of Western Ontario
        This article focuses on the call for more male teachers as role models in elementary
        schools and treats it as a manifestation of “recuperative masculinity politics”
        (Lingard & Douglas, 1999). Attention is drawn to the problematic gap between
        neo-liberal educational policy–related discussions about male teacher shortage in
        elementary schools and research-based literature which provides a more nuanced
        analysis of the impact of gender relations on male teachers’ lives and developing
        professional identities. In this sense, the article achieves three objectives: (1) it
        provides a context and historical overview of the emergence and re-emergence of
        the male role model rhetoric as a necessary basis for understanding the politics of
        “doing women’s work” and the anxieties about the status of masculinity that this
        incites for male elementary school teachers; (2) it contributes to existing literature
        which traces the manifestation of these anxieties in current concerns expressed in
        the popular media about the dearth of male teachers; (3) it provides a focus on
        research-based literature to highlight the political significance of denying knowledge
        about the role that homophobia, compulsory heterosexuality and hegemonic
        masculinity play in “doing women’s work.” Thus the article provides a much-needed
        interrogation of the failure of educational policy and policy-related discourse to
        address the significance of male teachers “doing women’s work” through employing
        an analytic framework that refutes discourses about the supposed detrimental
        influences of the feminization of elementary schooling.

        I save my comments until after you get a chance to read it.

        David Loitz

        Posted by dloitz | February 5, 2012, 1:28 am
  3. This tracks along the general lines of a bit sent to me by an FB ‘friend’ regarding male roles — it was sharply oriented toward male dominance.

    While I get your point, I am mindful that in the USA’s not-so-distant past, “public” roles such as secretary, telephone switchboard operator, teacher were all played by males, with females relegated to private spaces.

    Is this the swing of the power-pendulum, or something else?


    Posted by Brent Snavely | February 5, 2012, 8:37 am
    • Interesting that social-oriented roles, when dominated by females becomes smaller in society’s eyes. A teacher isn’t as important as a doctor, though both are serving others. A fire-fighter who protects a life and a home is more valuable than a social worker from CPS who steps in and stops the abuse from happening. I think the issue of gender and power has so much to do with the current debates in education. If I blow shit up in another country, I’m a hero and I deserve a parade and a handshake and a four-gun salute. If I teach a kid phonics or protect the abused I’m just a social worker or a government worker.

      As long as I am in a job that is predominately female, they will get away with expecting longer hours and less pay. Because ultimately women still do not have the kind of power that men have.

      Not sure if that was too much of a rabbit trail on your point or not.

      Posted by John T. Spencer | February 5, 2012, 2:44 pm
  4. Hey, on Superbowl Sunday I am hoping that our images of maleness are many-hued, widely varied, and attentive to the inner and outer needs of boys–in school and elsewhere. And I have often felt that being a girl in school, particularly elementary school, is hugely advantageous–one of the few places this can be said to be so.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 5, 2012, 10:38 am
  5. I lose the two comments I posted already, so here’s another try:

    I think boys and girls need to see more men at a young age. However, they need to see men being sensitive, kind, even gentle. They need to see that being a man doesn’t mean powering up. I was a sensitive, artistic, gentle child. School was hard for me, not for lack of recess or wrestling, but for the lack of mental space I needed. Class felt chaotic and I wanted alone time to process what I was learning. I loved playing sports and I did well in basketball. But I also needed more of a chance to paint and draw and dream. I think the issue at hand is autonomy and agency. Both boys and girls need more opportunities to live out of their identity and to see adults from all spectrums (including gender, sexual orientation, age) being comfortable with who they are.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | February 5, 2012, 2:39 pm
  6. What I’ve found this year is that my son’s school is very flexible in meeting his intellectual- and curiosity-based needs, but much less willing to accommodate – or deal restoratively – with his social, emotional, or behavioral needs.

    I wonder what the disconnect is in the minds of educators who see the value of addressing one set of needs while disavowing the very existence of others.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | February 15, 2012, 12:08 pm
    • Chad,

      In a nation-state where all are “created equal”, perhaps only those matters that can be ‘objectively measured’ have become legitimate subjects for study when public funds are involved. That would seem to explain a number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding EO and Affirmative Action that affect K-12 and subsequent schooling — of course, we must ignore the Wizard behind the curtain (the cultural biases that are built into standardized tests) and the historic events that have led us to this point.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | February 22, 2012, 8:11 am
      • I think that there are a lot of teachers whom believe and see themselves as teachers solely . They are neither equipped and or prepared to have to deal with the myriad of completed issues in which children are growing up within these days. Just my honest opinion, and while there are many teachers whom are wiling and easy to take on roles of guidance counselor, Pastor, etc… The time and commitment in doing so can be just way overwhelming. The investment in their resources and time and doing so often depresses them while. Urning them out. Thoughts?

        Posted by Bill | February 22, 2012, 8:17 am
      • I’m reading Colin Woodard’s American Nations (mostly referring to European-flavored geopolitics carried over here by immigrants) and getting the feeling that NCLB combines the worst impulses of “Yankeedom” and the “Deep South” in such a way that they don’t check one another – hence we have a system out to prescribe salvation and centralize authority in such a way that struggling schools and the poor and non-white are judged “failing.”

        The book ends with a sliver of hope in pointing to contemporary Inuit society.

        As for “America,” Woodard’s rosiest speculations have us splitting apart with such a small amount of acrimony that foreign powers don’t turn us against one another.

        Our schools, our selves, so to speak. I’ll try to write more cogently on it in a bit.

        All the best,

        Posted by Chad Sansing | February 22, 2012, 8:33 pm


  1. Pingback: All Hail the Rambunctious Girls – What Will Ever Come of Them? « Cooperative Catalyst - February 6, 2012

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