An interesting email landed in my inbox last week from one of my all-time favorite students, a boy that we’ll call Jack that I taught a few years back.
What caught my eye came at the end of Jack’s email, when he wrote:
Oh yeah, and on my last report card I got 5 As, 1 B, and for comments I got
- classroom conduct average
- classroom conduct is below average
- classroom conduct is average
- classroom conduct is excellent. Jack is a pleasure to teach
- classroom conduct is above average
- classroom conduct is average. Good work habits. Creative.
I don’t get it, I behave the same in all the classes!?!
Now, I didn’t say it to Jack, but I know EXACTLY why his conduct grades are all over the board: Because he is the PROTOTYPICAL middle school boy!
What does that mean, exactly?
It means that he’s a constant ball of energy, tapping his pencil, blurting out answers, standing, sitting, squirming, moving, shouting, and running all over the room. And if you let him stop by during lunch, he’ll burp the entire alphabet, stuff fourteen Cheetos up his nose, and chug milk like a frat boy on a weekend bender.
It’s certainly a sight to see!
If you patiently sift through the movement, though, it’s hard NOT to fall in love with “Jack the Student.” He is an inquisitive kid who is ALWAYS focused on what’s going on in class. Everything that he blurted out in my room was brilliant, directly connected to the broad themes that we were studying in class and challenging the thinking of everyone in the room—including me.
He buries himself in books, writes touching short stories, engages audiences as a budding star in school plays, actively leads as a member of his school’s student council, and turns in amazing work—when it hasn’t been swallowed by his binder!
He likes a good political debate, ready to challenge you on universal health care or on the risks and rewards of standing up to power. He’s deeply religious and can explain his personal beliefs better than most of the adults that I know. Give him the chance to compete and you’ll see him work harder than anyone in your class.
The problem is that there are far too many teachers in schools today who are unwilling to look past the Cheetos. For them, kids like Jack are walking disruptions to be dismissed and disciplined. What’s worse, schools only get more frustrating for active boys as they get older.
They spend more and more time sitting in one place listening quietly to teachers who are lecturing for hours on end, sending the subtle message that knowledge is held by those who are in charge. They either conform—pushing their energy and creativity to the side and beginning to believe that there is something ‘wrong’ with them—or they push back and end up labeled as troublemakers.
Is it any surprise, then, that boys make up almost 60% of the high school dropouts in our country, even though they make up only 50% of the student population? Or that boys are suspended and expelled from school more often than girls?
Or that boys are placed in special education programs more often than girls? Or that boys are diagnosed with emotional disturbances more often than girls?
In the end, I’m starting to think that schools are rigged against kids like Jack.
And that breaks my heart.