under-perform in school
is not confined or particular to the United States. A recent
provincial report in Canada begins, "Over the last 15 years, it
has become apparent that girls do better than boys at school, not
only in Quebec but in most of the developed world." (4)
article we look at some of the theories as to why boys under-perform
in school, and then offer a different rationale for why boys under-perform
in school, as well as suggest a solution to resolve the problem.
What is different now is that smart boys from upper socio-economic levels are now falling behind their female counterparts. The Quebec research notes, "Given the same social origins, girls do better than boys at all levels of education." While the roots of the problem go back one to two decades, the issue has only recently surfaced and become an issue.
* Boys are inherently inferior academically. No educator or research has suggested this, and the data indicate otherwise. Indeed, as recently as 1998 boys in several achievement test studies did better than girls in computer studies, economics, math and science.(7)
* Parents are not raising their boys with good academic habits. No research indicates this is the case. The probability that parents would raise their female children with totally different standards and parental behavior than those from their male children is improbable, and unsupported by any data. On the other hand, there is evidence that in the same family a smart boy will get grades of about 20% lower than his similarly smart sister.
* The statistics are skewed because of changing participation of minority and low income students. While this indeed is a problem in the United States, this alone would not explain the identical concern in other countries with very small minority populations, such as Australia and New Zealand, nor that of countries where minorities experience less discrimination, such as Canada.
* That the problem lies in recent social problems in families, particularly the increased number of single parent families and greater numbers of children from divorced parents. There are at least two problems with this theory. One is that girls are also affected by families under stress. The other is that the issue of academic underperformance of boys is well documented in two-parent traditional nuclear families where no family stress has occurred.
* There are psychological and/or behavioral issues with boys today. There are two indicators which suggest this is not the case. The first is that these psychological and/or behavioral issues are not found in boys outside of the school setting. The second indicator is that young men who bypass further education for the work place do not exhibit these psychological and/or behavioral issues.
is a recent phenomenon.
is no performance problem in the workforce.
Technically oriented boys are not experiencing either behavioral problems or achievement problems in the workforce.
is not the problem.
The stories are endless. A techie who shut down his schoolís computer system when in middle school, who now has a top job as a computer and Internet technician. Boys being punished for exploring on computers and getting into school records, which should have been protected by school administrators.
When our oldest son was in high school, he was able to take college classes at the nearby university at the same time he was in high school. When he received his report card, we were initially puzzled that he was getting poor grades in high school and getting an ĎAí in his college class.
Schools, not boys, are the problem
The primary battleground is in the nationís schools. Boys win hands-down on demerits and detention. Worse, boys are now subject to more verbal punishment than ever before. "Today the girls all were well behaved, and will get suckers," a middle school teacher announced in class recently. "The boys will get the broken suckers." "Everyone knows boys donít behave," she reported at another time, reflecting a widely held view among educators and adults in general.
Our schools are failing to help boys learn, and blaming the boys.
The reason there is a war on against boys is that boys are into the Internet and technology. The Internet terrifies most teachers, and some boys know more about the Internet than do many educators. Boys also exhibit those accompanying attributes which go with a future dominated by the Internet, like taking risks, being entrepreneurial, and being individualistic.
On the other hand, what is bad behavior for boys in school is good behavior for young men in the workplace. The very same behaviors for which they are punished in school, boys are rewarded for when they enter the workforce. This is because taking risks, being entrepreneurial, being individualistic are all behaviors that lead to success in the workforce today.
Todayís schools, in contrast, were meant to prepare youth for the factory and the office, where conformity, teamwork and Ďbeing normalí are valued. So todayís schools are bent on conformity, discipline, and other behavior totally unrelated to learning and academic achievement. The Wisconsin Public Schools, arguably one of the best in the nation, currently has a statewide advertising campaign where it proudly boasts of its ban on hats in school.(10) Wearing a hat, they claim, deters learning. By contrast, young men are often allowed to wear hats in the work setting, particularly in technology companies. A recent New Yorker cartoon, for example, has a young worker with a T-shirt and a baseball cap turned backwards telling an older worker dressed in a suit that he will need to change his dress code in order to remain at the company.
Schools and teachers fear technology, do not have a sufficient understanding of the Internet, and do not employ the web in their teaching. A recent National Center for Education Statistics report on what teachers feel most trained for is discipline (80% report feel adequately prepared). At the bottom of the list is the employment of technology, where only about 20% of teachers feel adequately prepared.
Indeed, teachers and schools are usually far behind their own male students in terms of technology.
And the situation is further complicated by the fact that schools and teachers often refuse to learn from their technically skilled students, thus furthering the rift and suggesting to boys that school is no longer relevant for their present and future.
Both boys and girls perceive teachers as favoring girls over boys, according to The Metropolitan Life Survey of The American Teacher, 1997 (11).
girls (57%) and boys (64%) say the teacher pays more attention to
When given a computer, however, so-called bad boys immediately turn into good behavior role models. On a recent school day, a LERN staff member observed boys in the computer lab so well behaved that there was no teacher in the room, nor one needed.
Boys are leading the technology revolution, the new economy, the Internet Age, and the workforce of the 21st century. But before they get there, they are being roundly punished.
Until our educational system is redesigned for the needs of the 21st century, the war against boys will continue.
Watch any commercial, and you will see the same image of men nowadays. Today the most well known male on television is Homer Simpson, who says things like: "Wow, the Internetís on computers now."
Today boys opt for the workplace once again, especially the technology workplace, as soon as they get past the mandatory school age.
are punished in school.
"They hits you if ye donít learn, and they hits you if ye whisper, and they hits you if ye have string in yer pocket, and they hits you if yer seat sqeaks, and they hits you if ye scrape yer feet, and they hits you if ye donít stand up in time, and they hits you if yer late, and they hits you if ye forget the page." (13)Substitute "yell" for "hit;" verbal punishment for corporal punishment, and this is what too many boys experience once again in school.
Again, 100 years ago boys played with automobiles, which were thought in 1901 to be only a leisure play toy for rich people. No one thought the car had any value.
At that time, G. Stanley Hall, one of our nationís educational leaders and the President of Clark University wrote: "In play children both practice and train themselves for future vocations, and what is still more important, are rehearsing many, if not most, of the practical activities and vocations of the race. "So in right play-teaching we are working in the very depths and not in the shallows of the soul." (14)
By 1920 the school system was totally redesigned for the Industrial Age of the 20th century.
Industrial arts were incorporated into the secondary school curricula. Rural one-room schoolhouses were deemed inadequate for an industrial urban society. "The type of public school instruction is unsuited to the modern child," noted George W. Alger in 1921. "This is partly due to our inadequate system of rural schools: a school house which is an architectural miscarriage; a teaching force without normal training and hired at less than a janitorís pay... This is the combination the rural child laborer has to break if he is to break into the world of education. The effects of this impoverished system of rural school life are beginning to be felt by our educational statesmen and to be met by the modernized departments."(15) Indeed, the rural one room school house faded and was replaced by the unified or consolidated school district more relevant to the needs of an industrial society.
Until the Industrial school system of the 20th century becomes web-based and meets the needs of society in the 21st century, boys will continue to be ill-served by schools. For example, boys may continue to do less well on achievement tests as the tests themselves become more obsolete. The SAT, for instance, was designed in 1901 for the newly industrialized schools and college entrance requirements. But the tests are based on the knowledge needs of the last century, not the current century. Just as we have a hard time passing a math test from the agrarian curriculum of 100 years ago, so technically and Internet oriented boys will find the industrial tests increasingly irrelevant to their learning needs. Here is a common math problem from schoolbooks of agrarian oriented schools of 100 years ago: "How many bushels of oats in a bin 12 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 8 feet deep?" (16) While few of us can answer that question today, it was an important, almost critical, knowledge skill for a society where more than half of the population resided and worked on the family farm. Internet oriented boys today are learning about the frame rate of video (35 frames per second) and other information vital to the information age, but found nowhere on todayís outdated achievement tests.
Adding to the problem of achievement in school is that boysí social skills, never on a par with those of girls, are also changing, or Ďworseningí by the standards of older generations. Julie Coates, an authority on generational learning styles, says that boys use certain terms and vocal behaviors which are misperceived as being disrespectful. She notes that many boys end their sentences on a high note, which is misinterpreted as being disrespectful by older adults. And certain language is also misinterpreted. A common phrase among boys, "Shut up," is a negative and disrespectful statement among adults, but has no such negative connotations among children. These changing mores and behaviors are not understood fully by adults and teachers.
Should boys go to college?
Our current educational system, including K-12 and higher education, was designed for the Industrial Age of the last century and does not prepare young men for the workforce today. By 2020 our educational system will be redesigned for the 21st century, just as it was redesigned in the first two decades of the 20th century for the industrial and office workplace.
But until then, some intelligent parents and educators are arguing that boys do not have to go to college to be successful, and that college is either unnecessary or can wait until later.
The new economy and technology needs of business are undoubtedly driving the opportunity for young men to go straight into the workforce.
There are an estimated 7 jobs for every 1 qualified candidate in the technology sector. The job shortage is so bad that the U.S. Congress recently passed legislation allowing up to 500,000 foreign workers to gain long term employment in the U.S., provided they are qualified to work in high tech fields.
Young men can get good paying jobs with only a short term computer or Internet certification course.
And college no longer offers the long term higher pay record it once had. True, college graduates earn more than high school graduates, but that is due to the declining wages being paid to semi-skilled high school graduates, reports New York Times education writer Richard Rothstein. High tech jobs pay the same or better than other jobs where a four year degree is required.
College also does not provide a supportive environment for many young men. Limited curricula in technology related subjects, professors ill-prepared to teach using the web, and the lack of 21st century relevant models are all too obvious. Colleges still donít "get it." Thereís no question that college provides non-work education, and that it is a nice warehouse as boys mature emotionally and socially. But whether qualified boys should go to college or directly into the high tech work force, the debate continues. Meanwhile, boys are making their own decisions, and colleges are more likely the losers.
Why boys are into technology
Boys are naturally more into new technology than girls. Dr. Judith Kleinfeld, a professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, in her groundbreaking article " The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls," provides the documentation on why this is so.(17)
She says boys have a greater variability in many human characteristics than do girls. So boys and girls have different bell shaped curves to describe their variability. Both curves have the same averages, she notes, but they have different peaks and slopes.
Girls have a much higher peaked curve than boys, putting girls much more in the middle or being similar in terms of human characteristics.
Boys, on the other hand, show a bell shaped curve with much more variability, according to Kleinfeld. Thus, at the leading edge of the curve one finds more boys than girls. Applied to technology, there are more boys than girls engaged in the new technology and the accompanying behavior required in the new economy of the Internet Age.
This can be demonstrated by the numbers of young men in technology related occupations.
To relate this to the 10,000 or more year span of human history, girls have more likely to have taken the role of the keeper of the cave, which meant establishing and keeping relationships and holding the family and society together. Without women, everything would fall apart. To keep things together, women are more likely to be able to make things go better, and are better at adapting and keeping others in harmony. That means as students they not only are better able to respond to teachersí expectations for behavior, but also cluster together on the characteristics curve that Kleinfeld cites. This also means there is less variability to the female curve, with fewer Ďstand-outsí at either end of the spectrum.
The male role over the last 10,000 years has more likely to have been the hunter and gatherer, going out of the cave and exploring new territory, trying new things, hunting, fighting and stealing. It is only Ďnaturalí (either biologically or socially acculturated) that boys would explore the new technology first. Women are just as capable with technology, but do not explore new technology in the same ways as men nor at the same rate. For example, girls use the Internet just as much as boys, but they use it in different ways than boys. And they are less apt to fix, explore, hack, take apart, or put back together as are boys. Thus, there is a biological reason why boys learn differently than girls, accoring to neurological development expert Michael Gurian (18).
Between 1900 - 1920 schools were totally redesigned to be relevant to the needs of the Industrial Age and the 20th century. Rural one room schoolhouses were abandoned. Unified school districts were created with large buildings resembling factories, including the bells that prepared students for the factory whistles that lay ahead. Students were age-graded to create conformity and the myth of the "normal" student was developed. Importantly, "industrial education" was brought into the curriculum, a central feature of Industrial Age education and preparation for the workforce.
Boys dropped out of school in huge numbers in the 1900-1920 period as soon as they were allowed by law. But after schools were redesigned, boys stayed in school after 1920 even after they surpassed the minimum age of schooling.
business leaders are calling upon schools to bring "technical education"
into the curriculum. (19)
* Education will no longer be a place but an activity. Thus students will spend their day at home and at other places in the community as well as at school. The requirement that study and learning occur only in a particular single building labeled a school building will disappear as a relic of the factory-Industrial age.
*Schools will be web-based. Records of learning, monitoring of student progress, communication, dialogue and learning will be done on the Internet. The Internet will replace the school building as the "place where the school is."
learning will occur daily and be a substantial part of a studentís
interactions with other students and with teachers, but face-to-face
learning will be more small group oriented and be facilitative of
learning. The introduction of online learning, home study, and community
learning will make it possible for teachers to have smaller face-to-face
classes and spend more time and attention to helping students learn.
Between now and then, teachers and school administrators can do the following:
He is author of "Teaching Online" and "Learning OntheNet." Draves did his graduate work at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, receiving a Masters Degree in Education in 1976. He does consulting, teaching and writing about online learning, lifelong learning, and education. Online courses for teachers are available at http://www.TeachingOntheNet.org (for faculty in higher education) and http://www.K12OntheNet.org (for K-12 educators).