Symposium; Why Are We Losing Our Boys?

Last night I attended an education symposium by a local education foundation  entitled, “Why We  Are Losing Our Boys?”  I left the presentation with mixed feelings.   On the positive side was the focus on the data that clearly shows how boys are not succeeding as well as girls in our schools.  The facts: 80% of high school dropouts are boys,  75% percent of students diagnosed with learning disabilities are boys,  nationally, of the children classified as emotionally disturbed, 84% are boys, boys account for the overwhelming majority of students receiving D’s & F’s and are far more likely to be suspended for disciplinary reasons.   This information has been known for quite some time but it is still important to remind an audience ofteachers and youth workers of the hard facts about the gaps in achievement between boys and girls.   In addition, important questions were raised.  Can we continue to use the same methods for both boys and girls and close our eyes to the fact that many of the methods aren’t producing equal results?  Should we encourage our schools and legislators to reconsider and modify zero-tolerance policies which are not working and cause collateral damage?  Do we start formal education at too young an age?

The negative side was the lack of depth in the responses by the panel.   There is a great deal of information available through books and research on gender differences in achievement in school and the biological and cultural factors contributing to those differences.  The consequence of ignoring the literature was proposing solutions that were either off target or beyond the scope of a local community being able to implement.   For example, all of the panelists agreed that increasing Physical Education and recess time would be helpful to boys, especially those likely to be labeled ADHD.  Not that this is a bad idea for a number of reasons.  However, changing PE requirements would take action by both local and state legislators.  An upward struggle especially with the emphasis on testing and accountability throughout our nation’s schools.  What was needed were suggestions that teachers can immediately implement in their classrooms that would alter the classroom environment in a way that allows boys to more successfully achieve at the same level as girls.  Shortening assignments, restructuring instructional groups so that boys can take on more hands on tasks and allowing more freedom in choosing reading materials are just a few of the changes that indiviudal teacher’s can make in their classrooms.

Hopefully, the symposium did increase awareness of the problem of gender differences in school achievement and in the future focus more on immediate and practical interventions that create a level playing field in our classrooms.

Boys Will Be Boys?

Seven football players at a New Jersey High School have been arrested and charged with a variety of offenses involving hazing related sexual assaults against younger players on the team.   Hazing, fundamentally the same thing as bullying with the difference being that hazing is more organized and involves initiation and acceptance into an organizational structure like a team or fraternity.  The community in this case, which has traditionally been highly supportive of their football team, is sharply divided about the  alleged criminal charges and the Superintendent’s decision to shut down the program for the entire season. Some folks feel that the acts of the perpetrators were not that bad – boys will be boys –  and that suspending the program hurts the other kids, especially seniors who are seeking college scholarships.   Others are horrified by the allegations and want to have answers from the adults in charge as to how they could not have known what was going on in the locker room.

I am relatively certain that what happened in New Jersey is not unique.   Males are by nature highly hierarchical, especially within the context of an all male organization, and  dominant males will use whatever tactics are necessary to  achieve and maintain their dominance.  Therefore, if, as we should,  want to protect against the most outrageous examples of hazing we need to find other ways of establishing hierarchy without resorting to violence.  The usual response by  adults in charge is to attempt to ban the practice entirely.   In other words zero tolerance for hazing.   Frankly all this will do is to drive hazing underground which is  potentially far more dangerous.   The more logical and ultimately effective response has to be based on the recognition that hierarchical behaviors will not go away.  Those in charge should be attempting to define hazing/initiation rules and regulations that .are consistent with the notion of  hierarchy yet still protect the well being of those subject to hazing.   Of course, this process will work best if the boys and young men who are part of these teams or fraternal organizations have input into the rule setting process.   Bottom line – Boys Will Be Boys but they do not have to be abusers to preserve one of the fundamental components of their masculinity.    .