Why are boys doing so badly at schools? And why are girls doing so much better? Some, like Christina Hoff Sommers, believe that what and how teachers teach are tailored to suit female strengths and abilities. She has some good ideas for addressing this imbalance, and for helping boys catch up and compete. Here are three other suggestions from my own painful experience in public schools that I believe would revolutionize schools for many boys.
Teenage boys need men in their lives, and not just any men, but heroic men, men they admire and look up to, men they want to be like. Male teachers have a unique opportunity to be one of these male role models, not least because so many boys don’t have active fathers in their lives.
At least 90% of my school teachers were women. Few if any of them understood teenage boys. Most of them seemed to barely tolerate us and none of them had a clue about how to gain our respect or cooperation.
With one exception, the male teachers I had were very poor specimens of manhood. Some of them were just weird, others had horrific tempers, while others just hated what they were doing and hated most of us as well.
The one exception was my Physical Education teacher, Alec McVake. What a man! What a hero he was to us – and not just on the soccer pitch. Wherever he met us, even outside of school, he was always interested in us, always kind, always an inspiration. He was strict and tough when needed, but the vast majority of his interactions were positive and encouraging. I would do anything for him, and to this day I believe my character and conduct still bears his imprint.
I touched on this in the last point, but boys love to be praised and encouraged by men. Some male teachers would do better as lawyers and prison guards. Of course we need rules and regulations, and discipline, and demerits, and lines, and detention, and privilege-denial, etc. But if that’s all boys expereince, they just give in and give up. Boys need authority, but they are utterly repulsed or crushed by bullying authoritarianism and constant criticism.
In contrast, they do well when surrounded by a general spirit of cheerful optimism, good humor, and individual encouragement. I can still remember the impact of being praised by Mr McVake for a few things I did on the soccer pitch. That’s 35 years ago and it’s still part of my psyche. It boosted my confidence, made me want to try even harder, and the positive vibes even spilled into other subjects too.
Which brings me on to the need for much greater emphasis and respect for “traditionally” male activities such as woodwork, mechanics, strenuous sports, business skills, etc.
I realize that sounds sexist, and I’m not suggesting girls shouldn’t or don’t do these things. But boys do thrive in these areas in their teenage years. They like making useful things, getting covered in grease, knocking lumps out of one another, and especially making money. But in many schools there’s no recognition for these talents and skills. Everything is weighted towards the academics and the studious.
I’d love to see school prizes reflect the diversity of interests, talents, and abilities in the genders. Can someone please explain to me why Algebra and Geometry are prized so highly above technical skills, manual gifts, and business acumen?
If boys would get encouragement in areas they excel in, they would be motivated to improve in other areas too. At the moment, unless you can do Algebra or write a novel, you’re a nothing.
Boys do develop later than girls, especially in academics. I flunked the most important exams in my High School (partly because I was bored out of my skull, but mainly because I was devising ways of making my first million when my parents thought I was studying). I left school one year early with the boast that I’d never read one book in the whole of my high school education. I went straight to work in a large city insurance company and had no thoughts of ever going to college, never mind eventually teaching in a seminary.
All I’m saying is, be patient with us guys. Some of us are slow starters. Don’t give up on us. In the meantime, let’s get more male heroes into our classrooms, let’s inspire and encourage the guys, and let’s recognize the full range of unique talents and gifts that God has blessed us with.
What do you think would help boys do better at school?