Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Can't a Boy Be More Like a Girl?

My first reaction upon seeing the title, “Why Can't a Boy Be More Like a Girl?” was, “Why would we want boys to be more like girls? Boys are perfectly fine the way they are.”

The article was actually a summary of a TED  video of Ali Carr-Chellman, discussing why boys are more likely than girls to tune out and fail at school. Unfortunately, her hypotheses are just as absurd and sexist as the title of the article:
  1. Zero Tolerance for boy toys, such as toy guns and violence.  Boys are not allowed to write about subjects they are most interested in - whether it be about a favorite video game or about violent tornadoes.  Boys feel that a teacher "tells me what to write".  If a boy does display an interest in these types of things, the question that inevitably arises is "Should we send this child to a psychologist?"

  2. Fewer male teachers in the classroom sends the message to boys that school is for girls  and "I don't belong here".

  3. "Kindergarten is the new second grade."   Today, what students once learned in second grade is now being taught in kindergarten.  This "compressed curriculum" is due to accountability measures that teachers "must get through" regardless of readiness for No Child Left Behind (NCLB),  Race to the Top, and other standardized measures.  Compliance, not the love of learning, is the rule of the day.

Let’s examine the violence hypothesis. First, there is only a partial ban on violence at school. I doubt that many science teachers are banning research or presentations on violent natural phenomena, particularly if they are relevant to the content standards. And why should such bans, when they do exist, affect boys differently than girls? Plenty of girls like to play video games and watch anime with violent themes. I’m not even convinced that this “ban” is a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, my parents were called in to meet with my 4th grade teacher and told to get me psychiatric help because I wrote a short story about a boy acting out violently in response to a racist attack against him. Fortunately, my parents had enough sense to encourage my writing and ignore the teacher.

While it may be desirable to have diverse teachers, there is no reason why a boy cannot be inspired and motivated by a woman or why he needs male teachers to feel like he belongs. Indeed, if this sexist hypothesis was true, then how would it be possible for single mothers to successfully parent?

Lastly, it is true that kindergarten has become more demanding and rigorous, especially because of NCLB. But why should this affect boys and girls differently? Shouldn’t they both be tuning out and resisting the confinement and stultifying effects of constant test preparation?


  1. You need to read this.

    "HIGHLIGHTS of the Teacher Survey Results

    The public school teaching force in the United States is getting more female and older. Eight out of 10 public school teachers (82 percent) are female. This is up from 74 percent in 1996, 71 percent in 1990 and 69 percent in 1986. Eighty-four percent of teachers who have five or fewer years’ experience teaching in 2005 are women. This is up from 79 percent in 1996. While 28 percent of teachers with 30 or more years experience are male, only 16 percent of those with five or fewer years of experience teaching are male."

    Your "suspicions" are as wrong as your belief that this gender inequity is harmless to boys.

  2. Thanks for the link, Lumberjack, and for pointing out the shocking decline in male teachers in the U.S. (I have edited my post in response)--However, you could have made your point without the hostility and scorn and with a more careful reading of my post (I never said that gender inequity is harmless to boys.)

    While it may be desirable for any number of reasons to have greater gender parity among teachers, it is not at all clear that teacher gender is an impediment to student achievement. A well-trained teacher should be able to effectively reach, motivate and teach any child who is socially and academically ready for their grade. (Check out Richard Whitmire)

  3. I think the problem is female teachers can not reach male students as well. I remember many of my high school English classes as basically being "chick story" after "chick story". The one break from this my senior year was when I was able to choose to read 1984 (which sadly I hated lol). Prior to this I had been considering possibly becoming an English major (a dyslexic English major... hmmmm) but after that no chance in hell.

    This might have been different for you back in the 70s but for me as a child of the 90s/00s, I did not have a male teacher in anything but gym until 6th grade math. In the core subjects I only had 3 male teachers throughout middle school and once again none my 8th grade year. My first male English teacher wasn't until my 10th or 11th grade year depending on if you count speech or not (I wouldn't just because it didn't follow most of what English classes were about) and even then of the 15 or so teachers that taught me English/language arts only 1 or 2 were male (one of whom has since retired and was replaced by a female), and not one teacher who taught me a class that was about reading books was female, not one. You can not begin to tell me that does not matter.

    Just like girls are being pushed out of the maths, males are being pushed out of English. Though a quick fyi even after 5th grade 3 of my math teachers were female the same amount that were male. My AP English class had 4 male students out of 25 students in the class, just like my AP Calc class had 2 female students out of 20 students (though it is important to note here the other AP Calc class at my school was almost equal, sometimes things just happen that way). Young boys and girls are being tracked into different programs by the teachers who are already there. That just tells me the gender disparity is going to keep growing.

  4. Thanks for the bio, Endersdragon. I think there are probably many out there who've had similar experiences.

    Of course your are right about teacher biases. No matter how well trained or well-meaning a teacher is, we all still have biases. Some are quite overt and I'm sure there are plenty out there who think it's perfectly alright and desirable to perpetuate society's gender stereotypes.

    Nevertheless, a good teacher should still be able to inspire and teach most of their students, regardless of gender, particularly if that teacher seeks to avoid gender stereotypes and biases in their assumptions and in their behavior.

  5. But teachers are still going to teach their favorite books. Teachers are still going to teach the way they liked to be taught. There was a post on one of these sites, maybe HP, where they were talking about what is an appropriate level of aggression for boys in school. Then one person raised the question, who gets to decide what is an appropriate level of agression for boys. To which another person somewhat jokingly responded "A bunch of middle aged women". While we would like this to really be a joke, how much truth is there to it. How much are all the decision made about our sons done entirely by females. As a male going into special education it is my hope to stop a bit of that, but there is only so much I can do.

  6. Actually, teachers are somewhat limited as to which books they can teach, especially in secondary school. Traditionally, English was all about the famous white male authors, and this was what all students read, boys and girls.

    You are correct, we are influenced by how we were taught. But a good teacher training program should teach you how to recognize and minimize gender bias in your classroom.

    Lots of decisions are made by women. This is due in part to the many single parent households, but also to the fact that many men are absent physically and/or emotionally, or defer much of the parenting to the mother. On the other hand, if we are to believe the stereotype that women are more nurturing and have higher emotional intelligence, then perhaps they actually are better able to determine what is an appropriate level of aggression is. (My wife is a middle aged woman and not even trained as a teacher and she is doing an excellent job teaching our son how to deal with his emotions and aggression).