Childrearing

Study Highlights What Boys (And Girls) Need To Succeed In School

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shutterstock_156237749A new study highlighting the differences between “typical boy behavior” and “typical girl behavior” makes me glad my first-born was a boy.  I raised him in the way I remember growing up, not according to what I expected of one gender or the other.  We spent a lot of time at the playground, we read lots of books (over and over and over) and exercised our imaginations.  Which it turns out will be a good thing for him in school, because according to Christina Hoff Sommers, it’s an environment that’s hostile to boys.

Being a boy can be a serious liability in today’s classroom. As a group, boys are noisy, rowdy and hard to manage. Many are messy, disorganized and won’t sit still. Young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities. “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”

According to Sommers, educators are tackling the issue in the wrong way.  They believe the boys should and need to conform.

Some may say, “Too bad for the boys.” The ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school and in life. As one critic told me, the classroom is no more rigged against boys than workplaces are rigged against lazy or unfocused workers. That is absurd: unproductive workers are adults — not 5- and 6-year-old children who depend on us to learn how to become adults. If boys are restive and unfocused, we must look for ways to help them do better.

Sommers isn’t just complaining about the current educational system though, she has simple fixes to help equalize the inherent differences in behavior.  Her proposals could be easily implemented in schools and parents can foster them at home from birth.

1.  Recess.  I’ve seen a few studies this week reporting alarming numbers of U.S. schools that have no recess, or as few as twenty minutes, a day.  It’s also a common punishment to take away recess privileges for bad behavior.  But if the problem is sitting still and listening, then accumulating more pent-up energy is a terrible solution.  I know I can tell the difference when my kids have had time to run around during the day and when they’ve been inside for hours.  Especially at bedtime.

2.  Reading.  I admit in my house I read significantly less to my daughter, but only because she’s the second born.  I had lots of time alone with my son during his first year and we did a ton of reading.  Now in pre-K, it’s his go-to activity during downtime.  But the struggle often comes later in elementary school when boys prefer different material than what traditional education offers.  Keeping boys interesting in reading is the real challenge according to Sommers.

3.  Imagination.  Encouraging imaginative play should be a rule for all young kids. We love to make rocket ships out of old cardboard boxes and my son spends a lot of time making up stories about his Hot Wheels car races.

Both my children are still young and, admittedly, they never play by traditional gender rules, so I can’t say I see the severe differences Sommers describes.  But I know I can get behind allowing for and reinforcing the importance of physical play, reading and imaginative play.  It seems all American students could benefit from a lot more of those three basic educational tools.

(photo: Eric Aust/Shutterstock)