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.