Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Trouble with Boys

I've been reading a book called The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre. A journalist, Tyre gathers data from a range of sources to make the the case that boys of all races and economic backgrounds are not performing well in most schools, which means that most schools are not meeting the needs of boys. I was holding off on blogging about the book until I had actually finished it, but yesterday I read this post on Jezebel which uses as its jumping off point an NPR report "that the US Commission on Civil Rights is investigating whether colleges are violating Title IX by favoring male applicants. But is such favoritism necessary to keep colleges from becoming "overwhelmingly female?""

Before reading The Trouble with Boys I might have wondered all kinds of things about this story. Like, "Oh, here's one more instance where girls have to work harder than boys," or, "Why are they doing that?" or, "WTF?"

Now that I'm two-thirds of the way through the book I know that Kenyon, the college discussed in the post, isn't the only school that quietly makes it easier for boys to get in. Many do. Why? Because boys don't do as well in school and doing anything about the poor performance of boys in school is complicated for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the political hot potato of gender discrimination.

Putting aside the basic question of whether school is easier for girls period or if girls behavior and learning style is better suited to the demands of most public schools as they work to meet the federal regulations imposed by No Child Left Behind (I know it's a lot to put aside), a big problem with feeling like something needs to be done about the low levels of reading and math achievement of a great many boys is while school may be harder for boys, life in the workplace seems easier (anecdotally at least). Not only do more men than women have powerful jobs, men aren't expected to feel conflicted about the demands on their time made by their powerful positions, time they can't spend with their kids.

That said, children, and, it seems, especially boys, need to be better served right now regardless of how the grown-up world works. There's too much that's too obviously wrong about school and what's happening to boys while they're there not to give change a go. Sure in the working world the glass ceiling is firmly in place. The subtle preferences of corporate HR decision makers may be hard to change and golf-course deal-making may be impossible to undo, but so what? Getting preschools to stop with the workbooks, getting recess back into elementary school, not giving up on achievement but saying enough to testing, testing, testing, this can and must be done for boys and girls, because when it comes to school, the world is still half-changed.

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