Bored, Bad and Out of Control: Do Boys Really Believe School Is Just a Place For Girls?

There’s no question that many disparities still exist in the workplace for women, especially as it relates to salary and opportunities for advancement. But when it comes to early education, boys may be the ones getting left behind. Of course it’s difficult to have conversations like these without getting into stereotypes of what makes a girl a girl and a boy a boy, but when we start thinking of the overarching culture of what makes each unique, the dialogue gets a little easier. Education researcher, Ali Carr-Chellman makes a great case for re-engaging boys in the act of learning — she says things like zero tolerance, the lack of male teachers in elementary schools and the high expectations of kindergarten students with respect to verbal skills sets boys up to feel completely out of sync with the education process.

Bottom line: many leave at the end of the day feeling that school is a place for girls. Could they be right?

Some of the facts Carr-Chellman cites in this presentation she delivered at the TEDxPSU conference:

  • For every 100 girls suspended from school there are 250 boys
  • For every 100 girls expelled from school there are 335 boys
  • Boys are four times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD

Zero Tolerance and Childhood Obesity: Is There a Connection?

As Ms. Carr-Chellman laid out the reasons for boys feeling left out, I couldn’t help thinking that these same constraints brought about by a zero tolerance approach to education and behavior might also be feeding childhood obesity rates since physical expression (read: acting out), and games such as capture the flag, tag and dodge-ball are often forbidden. I’m no expert on matters of health or education, but I couldn’t help making the connection.

Of course the goal is to educate children, but is there a way to tap into their passions, channel their natural curiosity and destructive tendencies and deliver academic performance? I have no idea, but I can’t help thinking that we may be suppressing something necessary for balance in our culture — not just the culture of boys, but what happens when we all grow up in a place where boyishness isn’t accepted.

Could we be hurting boys, and kids in general by frowning on boy culture? I’m really interested in others’ thoughts around this — please watch the video here and let me know if you believe it’s time to rethink our current approach to boyish behavior.

Photo Credit: orangeacid

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  1. As a married father of two sons who attend public school, active volunteer and baseball coach, this is an issue very important to me. I have very strong opinions about how the school system treats and teaches boys now. And it is no surprise to me boys would answer a rhetorical question that schools are for girls and not boys.

    Beginning in the late 1980’s and through the 1990’s a major shift swung the pendulum against boys. The age of political correctness was in well underway. In households across the U.S. both parents began working. A new corps of teachers entered the ranks and teaching philosophies changed to accommodate special groups that struggled in the classroom. What would have been considered normal boy behavior in previous generations all of the sudden required extreme discipline and medication. Teachers who weren’t parents themselves and with no medical training were (and still are) telling absentee parents that boys were hyper and disruptive. Meanwhile, normal girl behavior was much preferred and praised. Yes this is simplified but generally it is true. In some cases boys were vilified by teachers in joking ways that would have required police action if the same was shown to girls.

    The pendulum of gender politics has swung to an extreme of sorts against boys in public schools. Yes, I’m sure moms, women professionals, and daughters themselves will bristle at this. But the parents with sons will understand and agree the classroom is geared more towards how girls learn than how boys learn.

    Boys learn differently. They don’t learn or behave like girls. We need to realize this and support how boys learn and engage. And normal boy behavior can be very energetic, excited and physical. It’s a fact. That doesn’t mean schools or lazy parents should throw kids on meds when it’s not always needed. Yes, co-ed education is incredibly important in building and learning social skills. But as a country we need to bring the pendulum back to center in our schools. Being a boy is not a crime and shouldn’t be treated as such in the classroom.

    Brian Hansford
    Redmond, WA

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Brian. I think we’ve come a long way in addressing the needs of women and championing them to succeed in areas where they have traditionally struggled. We shouldn’t let go of that success, but it may be time to acknowledge that both genders (and their cultures) are a natural part of the education process.

    Maybe it’s also okay to acknowledge that each gender may learn and experience things differently (for awhile I think that was taboo — maybe it still is). I can’t help thinking that we all suffer if both genders aren’t allowed to thrive during these formative years. After all, the quality of life for these girls AND boys is interdependent — not just in childhood, but as they mature into adulthood.

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