Boys will be boys, but do school departments care?

Posted Feb. 16, 2009, at 8:02 p.m.

It is bad behavior or is it boy behavior?

It seems that for a very long time, even back in the days when Samuel Clemens wrote a story about a boy named Tom Sawyer, boys are the culprits in school. They are the ones that can’t sit still; they lose focus, daydream and manage to get into all kinds of mischief. We have grown to consider this behavior bad. If a student, especially a boy, can’t or does not like to sit in an orderly fashion, color in between the lines, cut paper dolls and many of the other entertaining approaches to learning that we think are good education, he is bad or, much worse, labeled “not a good fit in school.”

This basic premise, which we have been under for all this time, may be wrong. Much has been discovered lately about boys, the way they learn and what can work for them in school. Much of what our schools are doing may not be right for boys, yet not much has changed.

Do a little research in your own hometown. Take a look at what is happening in schools today. How many boys are in special education programs in your school compared to girls? How many discipline referrals are boys compared to girls? What is the ratio of high school dropouts? How many boys go on to college, or even stay in college, compared to girls? We have accepted this as the norm, that somehow this is what it is suppose to be.

Boys don’t fit in school because our schools are designed and managed in an environment that is of little interest to them. They see no relevance to what they feel is important in their future. The curriculum in our elementary schools is 80 percent literature-based. This provides a great learning environment for girls, but this is probably the least favorable learning environment for boys.

Boys need to be able to move, and most definitely they need hands-on learning. We know that girls’ cognitive skills develop a few years earlier than those of boys. Boys develop faster than girls in other areas, but somewhere along the line, in our literature-based curriculum, boys believe they won’t catch up with girls.

After making it through all those trying years in elementary school, it is easy to see why boys have poor self-esteem, don’t like school and get into trouble. Yet boys face more of the same when they enter high school. Again, they are given few, if any, hands-on learning opportunities. They are expected to learn by reading and writing and many times the assignments are not of interest. Our high schools say “Go to college,” but they don’t say why. If a student wants to be a carpenter, boat builder, or repair cars and such, he is considered a second-class citizen in our high schools.

Boys can and do behave badly. There is no justification for rude disruptive behavior. Teachers and school personnel deserve to be treated with respect. However, if our schools accept that boys learn differently from girls, they can train staff to accommodate the differences. A learning environment that accepts both types of learning styles would have less disruptive behavior and more boys feeling better about themselves.

Glenn McFadden teaches industrial arts in Waldoboro and resides in Searsport. He holds a master’s degree in counseling in education and has worked in private industry.

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