Three Ideas To Help Boys Succeed at School

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.

Male heroes
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.

Male encouragement
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.

Male activities
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.

Be patient
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?

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18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Wife
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Children’s Bible Reading Plan

With apologies for the delay in posting these, here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

If you want to start at the beginning, this is the first year of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

The second year of morning and evening readings in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s an explanation of the plan.

The daily Bible Studies gathered into individual Bible books.

Old Testament

New Testament

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Best Commentaries on Proverbs
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Christ in the OT: Calvin’s Eight Principles

Here are eight principles on Christ-centered interpretation of the Old Testament gleaned from a survey of Calvin’s Institutes, sermons, and commentaries.

1. By preaching the Old Testament we are preaching Christ’s Words
When Calvin commented on the Old Testament he repeatedly used phrases such as, “Here Christ comforts his Church…By these words, Christ convicts His people…Christ therefore spoke to Israel.” Calvin, therefore, encourages us to hear the words of the Old Testament as the very words of Christ.

2. Christ is the only teacher of His Church
Whatever stage of biblical revelation we look at in the Old or New Testament, Christ was the one and only teacher of his Church. For example, when commenting on Matt.11:27, Calvin wrote: “I mean that God has never manifested himself to men in any other way than through the Son, that is his sole wisdom, light, and truth.”

3. By preaching God we preach Christ
For Calvin, a God-centered sermon was implicitly Christ-centered. For example, in the Institutes, he wrote: “Whenever the name of God is mentioned without particularization, there are designated no less the Son and the Spirit than the Father.”

4. The Old and New Testaments are united by same covenant of grace
Although Calvin accepted that there were differences between the two Testaments, that did not in any way lesson the fundamental unity: “The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same” (Inst. 2.10.2). In his commentary on Jeremiah 31:31-32, Calvin put it like this:

Now as to the new covenant, it is not so called, because it is contrary to the first covenant; for God is never inconsistent with himself, nor is he unlike himself…God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant….God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses . . . Let us now see why he promises to the people a new covenant. It being new, no doubt refers to what they call the form . . . But the substance remains the same. By substance I understand the doctrine; for God in the Gospel brings forward nothing but what the Law contains.

The relation between the Testaments was absolutely central to Calvin’s thought. So much so, that the title of Book II of the Institutes, which is all about redemption in Christ is summarized in the title: The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, first disclosed to the fathers under the Law, and then to us in the Gospel.

5. There is One United People of God in both the OT and NT
Having surveyed Calvin’s teaching on this in John Calvin’s Exegesis of the Old Testament, David Puckett concludes:

The people of God are one and God’s revelation to his people as recorded in scripture is one. The differences between the revelation under the old and new covenants pale when compared with that which remains the same.

6. Every Old Testament believer was saved through faith in Christ
In opposition to those who insisted that Old Testament salvation was fundamentally different to the New, Calvin argued:

Indeed the ancient fathers were saved by no other means than by that which we have…they had their salvation grounded in Christ Jesus, as we have: but that was after an obscure manner, so as they beheld the thing afar off which was presented unto them…Accordingly, apart from the Mediator, God never showed favor toward the ancient people, nor ever gave hope of grace to them…Here I am gathering a few passages of many because I merely want to remind my readers that the hope of all the godly has ever reposed in Christ alone (Inst. 2.6.2).

7. Old Testament believers had the indwelling Holy Spirit
Calvin compared the promise-fulfillment relationship of the Old and New Testaments using the figures of shadow to light, shadow to body, child to adult, sketch to painting. And these analogies applied not just to Christ in the Old Testament but also the Holy Spirit. Though not to the same degree or power as in the New Testament, the “power and grace of the Spirit was vigorous and reigned in the very truth of the shadows.”

8. The hope of Old Testament believers was spiritual and heavenly
Calvin acknowledged that Old Testament promises seemed to be focused on the earthly and the temporal. However, he insisted that they actually were promises of eternal life. He highlighted New Testament verses which equated the Old Testament hope with that of the New Testament (Rom.1:2; 3:21; Heb.11:9ff), and concluded that God used the earthly promises to direct the minds of his people upward to the heavenly reality, and the Old Testament saints knew this and followed this course.