Boys and school

So many boys are underperforming in school. Could it be the passive nature of the school environment? One conclusion states that schools are the problem—not boys. Could technology provide the voice and control boys need to stay engaged?

I was talking with a colleague today about the particular challenges many boys face in school. So many boys underperform in school, especially once they enter adolescence. I’ve seen this firsthand in the mostly white suburban school I attended in the 90s. I’ve seen it in the two urban public schools I worked in here in NYC serving students of color. And now I see the same pattern to some extent in the unusually diverse Brooklyn charter school where I currently teach.

I’m convinced that it has to do with the passive nature of school as we know it today. Boys just have a bigger problem complying with the demands of a school day that asks them to perform in a passive role so much of the time. Following directions, waiting for permission to speak, answering questions, sitting down quietly, etc. This is especially difficult as boys work through the identity issues of adolescence. Is it also hard for girls? Yes. But I don’t think the requirements are as diametrically opposed to the demands of their identity formation.

Just one more reason to create a more student-centered classroom where kids can make decisions for themselves and become agents of their own learning. It’s not easy to do within the current construct of school but far from impossible either.

This article by William Draves provides some good statistics and information about boys and lists the theories that have been put forth by others about why boys have underperformed in school over the last 20 years. He discounts most of them, deciding like I have that schools are the problem, not boys or their families. He gets a little more specific—schools don’t provide boys with the skills needed in today’s workplace, and the integration of technology is the key to turning around boys’ performance in school.

I don’t disagree with him on these points but I don’t think technology is the only way to fix the problem. In my opinion, the reason technology seems to “work” is that students feel like they have more control over their learning when using technology—and it is probable true. However, there are many ways we should be exploring to give students more control over their learning. Improvisational theater is one, for example.