Is your son failing? That was the question I posed yesterday, and it is the question that author Richard Whitmire believes is answered all too frequently with a resounding “Yes!” by parents. He writes in his book, Why Boys Fail, about the reasons that our sons are failing as they flounder in an educational system that is not created and formulated for the male gender. While success isn’t just measured in academic performance, research has shown that when kids fail t0 thrive in school they become more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and dangerous and detrimental activities.
Understanding Why Boys Fail
The case Whitmire makes about the levels at which our sons are failing is compelling. In order to adequately help our boys succeed, it is important that we thoroughly understand why our sons are failing. Two of the main reasons why our boys do not find success in the American public school system include
- Curriculum shifts in schools (ones that align more closely with typical female learning strengths)
- Testing pressures that leave boys behind
How Can We Help Our Sons Succeed?
As the mother of 3 sons and 1 daughter I see firsthand the differences that genetics can play in the learning styles, motivations of, and energies of children. Whitmire also writes about the value of acknowledging these differences, and quotes children’s author Jon Scieszka about the fears that politicians and school officials have over recognizing these differences, especially when it comes to literacy.
“They need to start thinking of this the same way we went about doing something for girls with math and science. We just recognized that girls need to learn math and science in a different way. Why wouldn’t we do the same for boys?”
Whitmire makes several suggestions for ways we can help our sons succeed.
Implement research-based tutoring programs. Research shows that boys who have positive academic role models will do better in school. Programs like Book Buddies target the reading challenges of boys and pair them with mentors who help them overcome these.
Intensify literacy education, especially in the middle years. It seems there is such a huge push to get kids reading, that schools are failing to keep kids reading. If your son didn’t catch on in the early years, he is at risk for never catching up with his peers.
Make high school more relevant for students. Three cheers for this one! Schools have been finding that when they incorporate hands-on, vocational style classes, that their students are more engaged and motivated to succeed (this goes for the girls as well as the guys). Teaching real-world career academics, where students understand why they need to know what they are learning is gaining momentum, even showing up as more than 300 “career academies” across the country with intense learning programs with goal- and career-focused outcomes.
Consider single-gender classrooms. The jury is still out on the benefits versus the losses on this one, but some students do perform better in single-gender classes. Because boys and girls learn differently, the successes and failures of one gender or the other can make successful teaching coed classrooms more difficult. Perhaps the solution lies in certain classes being offered as gender-specific. My oldest attends a book club just for boys, and the positive atmosphere and results of such a class would definitely change if their teenage female counterparts entered the mix – that’s just how kids are.
Restructure community colleges. The pendulum has been swinging when it comes to male versus female enrollment in higher academia. Where men used to dominate schools of higher learning, women are now surging in numbers. Some community colleges are finding success in bringing in marketing that targets the male population, and programs that appeal to their needs. The goal isn’t to swing the pendulum back to a male-dominated population in college, but to strike a balance.
Experiment with reading programs throughout education, not just in the early elementary years. Educators and parents are noticing an increase in interest in reading among boys when it comes to good old fashioned comic books and new fashioned graphic novels. While it might not be Wuthering Heights, these reading selection are doing their jobs – getting boys reading.
Pay attention to the numbers. Schools need to assess their progress not only in race and socioeconomic categories, but along gender lines as well. It is OK – in fact necessary – to acknowledge that overall, boys and girls learn differently. Once we get over ourselves and the need to have everything the same, we can help our sons become their own unique successful selves.