Thursday, July 3, 2014


I saw this graphic today and it reminded of a number of conversations I had a few years ago with prospective parents when I was leading a school. More recently, I did some consulting for a group of parents who wanted to set up a specific type of school. All were women, many characterized themselves as hard-core feminists and some were in same-sex female relationships. The link? All were seeking a "boy-friendly" program, and all shared the view that teaching and learning today is weighted against boys.

These parents were not showing some knee-jerk reactionism or neanderthal chest-thumping. They had seen something happening with their own sons, or with the sons of family and friends, and were concerned. So what was going on?

Much of today's lifestyle involves sitting, watching TV, traveling by car instead of walking or cycling; much of today's diet is often based around sugars and carbohydrates, all of which convert directly to energy. Boys are genetically active, fidgetty and "high-energy". They require an outlet, to "let off steam" and, if fed extra energy yet cannot easily run around, they will find a way to release this energy somewhere.

We need to remember that boys (more than girls; I am speaking in general terms and not exclusively) must "accidentally" knock things onto the floor, "accidentally" fall from their chairs, "accidentally" poke their friends. Boys are also loud, opinionated and demonstrative, all of which can be disruptive. This behavior is of course discouraged in today's classroom, to the extent of punishments all the way up to expulsion.

Education today, and especially preschool and elementary school, largely comprises sitting and listening, sitting and sharing, sitting and drawing, siting and coloring, sitting and tracing and of course, thanks to nickleby (NCLB), sitting and bubbling. (Bubbling is practising coloring in the bubbles of standardized tests.)

Politics, changes in views on what it is to be a teacher, and funding-shifts have led to a loss of recess. I knew of one district near us which gave its students only one 15-minute break per day. Students do not get to go outside and let off steam. I was also reminded of this when I read this blog of teaching in a Finnish elementary school where students have a 15-minute break every 45-minutes. What do the boys in this school typically do? Run around, shout, let off steam.

I am also intrigued by reports of schools which commence with 30 - 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The reports suggest schoolwide academic improvement; I wonder if what is really happening is that the performance of boys has improved.

Education today, and especially preschool and elementary school, is virtually exclusively provided by women who may not, and often do not, see the need to run around. They see restlessness and the loss of interest in a long and/or quiet activity as a discipline matter. They see quiet study as superior to noisy learning.

Sports are reduced or gone completely, Games are non-competitive or "safe". Risks are removed from play, and even from classroom activities. The few scientific experiments which occur are successful and predictable, and more often a teacher-demonstration rather than a student-inquiry. For a while in the nineties and noughties, many boys were routinely drugged with sedatives to keep them quiet, or what was called "biddable" when I did my teacher training. Increasingly today, parents are seeking non-pharmaceutical therapies and, as boys are at school for half of more of their waking hours, they are seeking "boy friendly" programs.

A "boy-friendly" program has regular breaks, lessons are broken up into smaller active and sedentary chunks, opportunities are provided to create, build, and break things. Science is experimental-based with noises, flashes and smells. Reading occurs in pairs or groups rather than whole-class. Math includes mathletics. Quizzes in all subjects are conducted with teams which compete for some kind of recognition. And so on. Anything other than extended periods of sitting.


Father of a boy said...

I think you are right, and you are not alone - "for the average boy, school is not as good a fit as it is for the average girl. More boys have problems with attention and focus than girls. Because of their higher activity level, boys are likely to get into more trouble than girls. And they are not given enough opportunities to move around — both in actual physical activity and in how they learn — because they spend too much time sitting and not enough time learning by doing, making and building things."


"The culture of schools, especially for young children, is much more feminine than masculine. There are almost no male early childhood educators. Many teachers of young children find boys' interests in violence, gross things, and bodily functions to be boring or stupid."

James D said...

Very good, and quite right.

I think it worth pointing out that while there is a word, boisterous, there is no word, girlsterous.

Anonymous said...

The first punishment that would routinely be given to my rowdy son is that he would lose recess and have to sit somewhere during recess- such as the office or the hall. I volunteered to work for field day one year only to discover that he was banned from field day due to classroom misbehavior. In the third and fourth grade, I am amazed that he spent any time in the classroom because he was in time out, sitting in the hall or the office so much. I am glad to hear that some teachers are aware that boys need more time to blow off steam, however that did not help my son.

Granny Smith said...

This is exactly the wrong punishment. If he had done something wrong, eg backchat or interfering with others' work, some intervention is obviously required. However, removing the chance to run around and let off steam would be counter-productive, Too often teachers and administrators focus exclusively on the manifestation and not the cause. My guess? An executive function issue (aka "self control") which is what schools are for, or a lack of engagement issue (boredom, too easy, finished early, repetitive, seen it before, too "girly" or "finicketty") which is what teachers are for. However, if this not addressed (behavior, executive function, engagement or whatever is actually happening) before age 8, the damage is likely irreparable.

Granny Smith said...

An interesting development in UK examinations. They have dropped modular-based programs (breaking up a course into small chunks, each individually assessed) in favor of final examinations, and reduced the reliance on coursework. Result? Boys do better. And boys' enrollment in Math. Chemistry, Physics where answers can be 100% right has gone up Result? Boys do better.

Dan said...

It looks like research supports your views.

Anonymous said...

My son's kindergarten gave the children 20 minutes of daily recess. Twenty minutes of free play, out of a 7 hour day! The school brought in a "Behavior Specialist", without my knowledge or consent, I might add, to evaluate my son's behavior. They declared they had never seen a child like him before, in almost 17 years of work in education. I said "Really? You've never seen a bored little boy run around the classroom before? I find that hard to believe". I withdrew him when they suggested there could be a "medical cause for his inability to sit still". No, I'm not medicating my child to make your teaching day run smoother. We decided to homeschool him for now, and it seems to be a good fit for him at this stage of his life. I do not care if he rolls around on the floor or wants to lay under the table when he does math. Who cares! He's six! If laying under the table makes it more fun to do the math, then we'll get under the table. The table was apparently a big deal to the school, because my son wanted to sit under it for story time. They said it just wasn't possible, because the table wasn't safe. It could fall on his head, they said. And besides, it made the other kids want to sit under their table, too, and they couldn't have that. I said "Why can't the children sit under the tables for story time if that's what they really want? And if the tables are so unsafe, then maybe we should get tables that *are* safe for the kindergarten room". They just looked at me like I was nuts. So yeah, we withdrew him. :) And this was from a supposedly "good school" in my area.

Granny Smith said...

I agree absolutely. I recently left a school which was quite boy-friendly, with three breaks spread throughout the day. A few parents complained the day was too long so the new head, straight from a public school, shortened the school day by 30 minutes. How? By reducing recess. The result? The school now has behavior issues it did not have previously.