Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Boy Crisis: Is it Real?

Last week, I wrote a controversial issue paper on the question. " Is there a Crisis in the Education of Boys?". I have to admit, I didn't know a lot of the issues going into the paper, but I learned a lot during my research. I am posting my paper, not because I think it is exceptionally good, but I would like to hear your opinions on the matter. So feel free to disagree with me if you want :o)

Imagine that you are a parent of an elementary, middle school, or high school male and you heard that there is a crisis in the education of boys. Wouldn’t you be concerned for the education of your son? Many parents, teachers, administrators, and researchers are concerned as well and have been looking into the situation with great interest. The question is, are boys really in crisis in their education? This paper will discuss the views on the “boy crisis”, the possible problems facing boys in their education, and the proposed responses to these problems.
First, is there a crisis in the education of boys today? There are many scholars, teachers, and researchers who differ in their opinions on this matter. Two major views are prevalent: 1) boys are truly in crisis and need to be educated differently and 2) there is a gap between boys and girls, but it is marginal and therefore should not be of major concern.
Debra Viadero makes the point in her article in Education Week (2006) that boys truly are in educational crisis. Viadero says that this is not a new problem, but that on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test in reading, boys ages 9, 13, and 17 have lagged behind girls since 1971 (Viadero, 2006). Furthermore she asserts that this is a “universal problem”. In 2003 in a reading test given to 15 year olds around the world, females scored higher in all but one of the 41 countries tested (Viadero, 2006). Viadero continues that based on the National Center for Education Statistics, between the years of 1971-2001, men went from the majority of undergraduate population to the minority compared to females (2006).
Leonard Sax also believes that there is a major gender gap in the educational system and therefore, boys and girls should be educated differently. He gave the example in his article called “The Boy Problem” of his experience visiting an all boys elementary classroom in Waterloo, IA. This public school classroom was unique. There was a male teacher, walking about the room reading a book to the students; as he read, the boys in the classroom were moving about the room, twirling, talking, sitting on the floor or just interrupting in response at any time. When asked about how the children were doing not being required to sit still and be quiet, the teacher, Jeff Ferguson, said, “The students are paying attention and thriving under the relaxed atmosphere.” (Sax, 2007). Sax concluded that girls and boys are just different and need to be educated differently. He admits that girls are more likely to read for fun than boys are (NEA 1980-2004), but Sax believes that there are some major factors that have encouraged this trend (2007). He says that video games, medications for ADHD, endocrine disruptors, and the devaluation of masculinity have all contributed to boys not reading for fun (Sax, 2007).
While some like Sax believe that there is a major crisis in the education of boys that requires the restructuring of the classroom, others believe that the gap is marginal and does not warrant reformation. Deborah Perkins–Gough in the article “Do We Really have a Boy Crisis” says that based on recent NAEP scores, girls score higher in some areas, while boys score higher in others (Perkins-Gough, 2006). She believes that there are larger educational gaps of another kind that researchers and teachers should be concerned about - race and class gaps.
Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers agree. They state that “ Overall, among non-poor academically elite students, boys are doing well” (Barnet & Rivers, 2006). They go on to say, “More males attend prestigious universities, such as Princeton and Harvard, and they are excelling in Science and Engineering in schools such as Cal Tech and MIT”. Both of these researchers agree that there is not a major gap between genders, but rather that there should be more focus placed on issues such as race and class.
They cite a study by the Urban Institute concerning the graduation rate of high-school students in Florida. Asians had an 81% graduation rate, whites had a 60% graduation rate, while Hispanics were at 48%, and blacks only a 46% graduation rate. Sarah Mead, a senior policy analyst at Education Sector, says, “Focusing on gender gaps, takes attention and resources away from the real and wide gaps of race and poverty” (Mead, 2006).
The major issues of the boy crisis have been discussed and now the important question of why might there be a gender gap must be answered. Debra Viadero (2006) gives three reasons why boys may struggle in school more than girls do. The first reason is that boy’s brains are hard-wired differently. The second reason is that school practices are not boy friendly. The third reason is that the after-effects of the women’s movement created this problem.
Leonard Sax adds one more reason: boys and girls develop at different rates. He believes that most boys are not prepared to read at age five (September 2006). He states that, “Language centers in many five-year-old boys look like the language centers of the average three-and-a-half-year-old girl.” Thirty years ago, kindergarten was a way of socializing children. They worked on finger painting and singing, but today, most kindergarten curriculums are much like the previous first grade curriculums. His conclusion is that most boys are not quite prepared for the rigid structure of the kindergarten program today. This often sets them behind in their reading abilities from the start (September 2006).
How should we respond to these claims that boys are in crisis? Those that believe that boys are truly in crisis, think that the education of boys must change. Kenneth Wallace wrote his dissertation on this trend. He argues that, “Rather than change boys, we need learn to respect and understand who they are.” Barnett and Rivers say that, “The remedy lies in creating a positive culture of learning in the classroom and beyond that will counteract the wider message that it’s a girl thing to do well in school” (2007). Those who hold this view of the boy crisis believe that boys should be either separated from the girls or that they should be treated differently in a coed classroom. They should be allowed to be more relaxed in their learning style. Just as Sax says, “sitting should be optional, and talking allowed” (2006).
On the other hand, those who believe there is only a marginal gap between the education of girls and boys, have a different take on the appropriate response. Deborah Perkins-Gough says that we should not panic. Boys will be just fine. “Rather we as educators and researchers should focus our attention where it is really needed: on closing the gaps of race and class.” She does however, admit that we should still support and fund the research of the boy crisis. But is that a contradiction?
My response to this question: “Is there a crisis in the education of boys?” is very similar to that of Sara Mead, Rosalind Barnett, and Caryl Rivers. There may be a slight gap between the educational progress of boys compared to girls, however, the margin is not wide enough to warrant changing the entire structure of our present schools and classrooms. In light of the widespread educational gaps presently between races and classes, it would be a misuse of resources to chase after the slim gap between genders.


Barnett, Rosalind C., & Rivers, Caryl. (2007). “Gender myths & the education of boys”. Independent School, 66(2), 92-4, 06, 98, 100-3.

Mead, Sara. (2006). “The truth about boys and girls”

Perkins-Gough, Deborah. (2006). “Do we really have a ‘boy crisis’?” Educational Leadership, 93-94.

Sax, Leonard. (2007). “The boy problem.” The School Library Journal, 53(9), 40-3.

Vail, Kathleen. (2006). “Is the boy crisis real?” American School Board Journal, 22-23.

Viadero, Debra. (2006). “Concern over the gener gaps shifting to boys” Education Week, 25(27), 1, 16-17.


Don & Katrina Hines said...

I would tend to agree with you Jules! I think most, but not all, of my "slower" students were boys. However, some of them also fell under the category of minorities, which also presents its own problems as well. I think the total restructuring for the gender difference would not serve its purpose well, but only cause more issues of discipline etc. in the classroom. Thanks for you thoughts and thanks for my B-Day card! Love and miss you!

jeileenbaylor said...

Thanks Kat! It's so good to hear another teacher say the same thing :o)

Don & Katrina Hines said...

It's okay, Jules! I appreciate your card! Since I just sent you a dorky little comment on facebook for yours!

Love you! Hope you're having a great day! Miss you!

Lacie said...

Great paper, Julie!

jeileenbaylor said...

Thanks Lacie.. you need to post one of yours now :o)

Suz (the sister) said...

Julie, I thought your paper held good truth and good thoughts. I have wondered before about the educating of boys. And now that I have 3 of my own I do see that there distinct differences between the sexes and they learn differently, too. I must say, too, that after teaching for 8 years before having my kids, I saw first hand the differences. I agree, though, that the differences don't warrant changing our entire system. Great job and I'd like to read more about this topic. It fascinates me....especially now that Will is heading to Kindergarten next year.

jeileenbaylor said...

Hey suz, I do agree with you that boys and girls generally learn differently and I think that teacher's should be aware of that and be sure that they are not teaching to the girls. I have to say, I have learned that from my research and I'm looking forward to implementing my new found knowledge into my teaching :O)