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.