December 4, 2005

"We need to stop blaming, suspecting and overly medicating our boys, as if we can change this guy into the learner we want."

"When we decide -- as we did with our daughters -- that there isn't anything inherently wrong with our sons, when we look closely at the system that boys learn in, we will discover these boys again, for all that they are."

From an article in the Washington Post, analyzing the gender gap in higher education. Via Gordon Smith.

Here's an old post of mine on the topic of the male/female imbalance. I find it interesting that Gordon says, "The biggest change over the past 15 years is that gender is no longer a diversity factor in admissions." I think he means that femaleness is no longer a plus factor. But I don't think he ought to be assuming that maleness hasn't become a plus factor.

22 comments:

Ross said...

The author asserts this:

"[E]very decade the industrial classroom becomes more and more protective of the female learning style and harsher on the male."

He goes on to cite evidence of better achievement by girls, which is fine, but I'm curious how the classroom has actually changed.

Slocum said...

"[E]very decade the industrial classroom becomes more and more protective of the female learning style and harsher on the male."

He goes on to cite evidence of better achievement by girls, which is fine, but I'm curious how the classroom has actually changed.

I wish I could point to data, but all I can do is compare the classroom environment now that my kids are experiencing with my own experiences 25-30 years ago. I would list the following:

- de-emphasis on competition
- greater emphasis on group projects
- greater emphasis on daily homework (which puts a premium on clerical skills, organization and compliance with rules & procedures) and a corresponding de-emphasis on tests & quizzes.
- turning math and science classes into something akin to subdisciplines of english and social studies ('constructivist math', 'writing across the curriculum' programs)
- behavior issues now addressed by grade deductions (in my kids school, any unexecused absence means a loss of 1% of the straight-scale semester grade and a zero on any work due that day).
- greater emphasis in college admissions on GPA (where girls do better) than on standardized tests (where boys do better -- or at least equally well).
- greater percentage of female teachers (even in 7-12 math/science)
- endless 'you go girl', 'take your daughter to work day', kinds of messages in an out of school.
- a de-facto ban on boys being portrayed in 'stereotypically' positive roles (see Diane Ravich)
- considering the poor peformance of boys in schools as currently set up as evidence of boys inherent unsuitability for education rather than our education system's unsuitability for boys. (Even the article under discussion strays somewhat from the 'why our schools are badly designed for boys' into 'why boys are inherently defective' territory).

The Drill SGT said...

Ultimately, unless this trend can be reversed, it will result in the disintegration of society as we know it today.

I think one of the points that the author implied but did not state clearly was that boys learn better by doing than by being lectured. Sitting there, they get antsy and distracted very easily.

Boys historicly learned by watching their fathers. "In his father's footsteps" on the farm, in an apprenticeship or on the factory floor. The Mentor may not have been a real father, but were surrogate males who taught the traditions, skills, and mores needed to succeed.

He talks about formal schools and about prison, but fails to make the connection. We don't have guilds, or family farms in great numbers or many factory floors with multiple generations working them anymore, or hunting parties

We do have Gangs! In the absence of fathers and looking at a formal education system that fails boys, more and more boys learn skills in gangs. For the most part Bad Gangs.

However, as some have described it the military is a "Gang led by adults". Beyond schools, the best education and transition tool into productive adult-hood had been the military. The military has understood how to teach boys with hands on learning, drills and one on one mentoring. Many boys who dropped out of school had their lives turned around in the military. I'm one of them.

oldgranny said...

Newsflash! Boys ain't girls and no amount of socialization will change that. Give a boy a Barbie doll and he'll turn it into a gun. Actually happened when my little guy was playing with some neighborhood girls. Said gun-crazed maniac is now a pillar of the community and a father of four.

Feminists have taken a lesson from the Soviets. They've taken normal boys-will-be-boys behavior and turned it into a psychological problem that needs medicating. The shame is that parents have allowed and even encouraged it.

Slocum said...

I think one of the points that the author implied but did not state clearly was that boys learn better by doing than by being lectured. Sitting there, they get antsy and distracted very easily.

But we have to keep in mind that boys previously performed very well in school in comparison to girls -- back (not so long ago at all) when school involved more disciplined sitting around than it does now. So I think we need to be very careful with the theory that boys need to get up, run around, and work with their hands in order to succeed. That certainly wasn't the way American schools operated in the first 3/4 of the 20th century.

Boys historicly learned by watching their fathers. "In his father's footsteps" on the farm, in an apprenticeship or on the factory floor.

Yes, well, when boys were doing that, girls were doing hands-on-learning too--learning to clean, sew, cook, etc from their mothers. We need to be really careful with the conclusion that boys recent poor performance in school suggests that most are cut out for manual labor rather than intellectual work. Such a cure could easily be very much worse than the disease.

The Drill SGT said...

Slocum,

In support of my comment and taking a page from yours,

- turning math and science classes into something akin to subdisciplines of english and social studies ('constructivist math', 'writing across the curriculum' programs)

The HS science classes in my day (40) years ago had a high "Lab" component, e.g. hands on "doing" stuff. . My perception of today's classes have less of that. I was stuck on my back in bed having screwed up my knee. My chem instructor sent materials (beakers, flasks, chemicals) home and I did labs on a card table.

I taught math in the Army to soldiers attempting to get into West Point. Basically HS math and college freshman math (algebra/Geo/Trig through basic Calculus/logic). The method we used mimicked that used at WP, which emphasized lots of quizzes and daily work "on the boards" where all the students would go to the blackboards at the same time, either doing a new problem or preparing to present a homework problem. Then students would present/defend their work.

not a passive method.

wildaboutharrie said...

I completed my teacher training about five years ago and can attest that there was a very heavy emphasis on creating a cooperative learning environment. This is not a bad thing, but cooperation was pitted against competion (as opposed to finding a place for both).

As for hands-on vs. lecture, I think that while some can learn well by watching and listening, just about everyone learns better by doing - and better still by teaching. (Slocum - hands-on refers to intellectual work, for example, performing an experiment rather than reading about one, writing a grammar handbook rather than just reading a published one, etc.)

Parents seem to be waking up to the limitations of the "factory model" (which really only serves certain types of learners well) and looking for alternatives (magnet schools, homeschooling, etc.). And maybe single-sex schools will become more available. I have two boys who will be starting school in four and five years - I'll be looking at this question carefully, yes, but this is an issue that should interest everyone.

wildaboutharrie said...

competition, that is.

Adriana Bliss said...

The term, "medicating" in the article and in the comments seems to be used without consideration to its effectiveness. I don't believe parents would be medicating without seeing results. Clinically speaking, if the medication doesn't work, then there is no medical problem and the problem IS in the classroom. If the meds work, then there IS a medical problem that should or can be dealt with medicinally.

The Drill SGT said...

Adriana,

Unless of course that the behavior being medicated out of little boys is boyish. I have heard of cases where female teacher takes boy to female school child psychologist, who identifies a problem, notifies the young mother that the boy has ADD and they have the female Doc prescribe.

Boys really are boys. If you've been around both boys and girls, they really have different behaviors even before hormones.

I think perhaps that boys are over medicated overall.

The fact that a medicated boy sits quietly in class doesn't mean that the medication was needed or that he is now learning better. After all, over medication is the technique of choice in warehousing mental patients as well.

Slocum said...

Slocum - hands-on refers to intellectual work, for example, performing an experiment rather than reading about one, writing a grammar handbook rather than just reading a published one, etc.

Constructivist grammar as well as constructivist math? Always something new and scary in the education pipeline, isn't there ;) But the popularity of 'constructivist' approaches coincides, at least in time, with poorer male performance. Correlation isn't causation, but there's reason to be suspicious.

And I can't begin to tell you how much both my kids (a girl and boy) both despise pointless 'hands-on' excercizes. One fairly recent example that comes to mind--building a 3D model of a cell for Biology. Shopping for craft materials and building a model of a cell out of bits of foam, cardboard, wood, and wire. Hours of futzing (parent and kid), and for WHAT?!? To learn the parts of a cell? Which could be accomplished in 15 minues with no glue or trips to 'Michaels' required? And that's not to mention the parts of a cell are represented schematically anyway.

Boy, I wish I could find the link, but somewhere out there, there's a great story of some elaborate procedure of using 'manipulatives' to teach a mathematical concept to elementary-schoolers and at the end of the thing one of the little kids whispers to the experiementer, "you know--it's much easier if you just do it on paper!"

What's really needed, though, isn't theorizing about what 'should' work well for boys, but rather research based on empirical data about what does work. I am very sure that, if only by chance, there are grading systems, curricula, schools, and classrooms out where boys and girls perform much more equally (as well as ones where the disparities are even more apalling than average). The education establishment just has to care enough about the problem to look for these factors -- to take these issues seriously and make it a legitimate domain for grants, publication, tenure, etc. I'm not sure if the field is there yet or not (but I tend to doubt it).

Bruce Hayden said...

Interesting article, and just as interesting comments.

I watch my daughter in school, and while I would have done as well on the quizes and tests, she also gets in all her homework. I didn't. Back 40 years ago when I was in high school, in many of my classes, if I could ace the tests, I could get an "A", even if I blew off the homework, as I often did. After all, if I could get one of the top scores on the tests, what was the purpose of homework? But that doesn't work any more. I would be lucky in her classes to get a "C".

So, despite getting high SATs, I would probably find myself in a community college instead of a nice liberal arts college (ok, so they can't beat Wisc. in hockey this year - its still a good school).

Bruce Hayden said...

I think one thing that we have talked about before here is that single sex schools might be very useful here. Maybe not for everyone one, but I see a lot of boys benefitting from a male learning environment where they are not being treated as deficient girls.

wildaboutharrie said...

Slocum, you made me smile…there’s nothing “new” about homemade grammar handbooks. What do you think students did before we got overwhelmed with textbook companies? And yes, I do think the student who comes up with his own examples to demonstrate, for example, the difference between a compound and a complex sentence will have a better chance of getting the concept than one who only reads examples from a book. (Necessity was the mother of that invention, however – we didn’t have enough handbooks for the students to take home with them, so they made their own.)

Hands-on, or constructivist, learning isn’t really about “hands” either – it’s about putting students in a situation where they have to use their own brains to solve a problem. If a project doesn’t support a solid curriculum but is just tacked on to make parents go out and buy glitter, it’s not a constructivist project.

Regarding math manipulatives vs. paper and pencil, both are hands-on if done correctly. I would hope that math teachers using manipulatives are also using pencil and paper, since some folks (like me) find manipulatives confusing. However, there are people who could not understand math concepts until they were taught with manipulatives. So why not offer both, if possible? Isn’t that better than having some kids just bomb out on math year after year?

As for the question of correlation/causation and boys performing poorly, the author points to the de-emphasizing of competition in the classroom. I think that may be a key point.

You sound unhappy with your kids’ school. I wonder if there are alternatives in your area? If not, I hope the cell-model headaches are few.

wildaboutharrie said...

PS Regarding research, "data driven" is the battle cry in terms of education grants, partucularly in this "No Child Left Behind" era. Thank God. It's very frustrating for everyone - parents, teachers, students, administration - to have the wheel reinvented every five years.

Slocum said...

Slocum, you made me smile…there’s nothing “new” about homemade grammar handbooks. What do you think students did before we got overwhelmed with textbook companies?

Oh, please -- McGuffey's Readers date from the early 19th century. Do you really think students in the 1950s, say, were writing their own grammar texts (before those greedy textbook companies took over the educational world)? Sorry, but it sounds like you drank all the Kool-Aid in ed school.

Hands-on, or constructivist, learning isn’t really about “hands” either – it’s about putting students in a situation where they have to use their own brains to solve a problem.

Yes, that's the argument about 'constructivist' approaches--I don't buy it, and I'm hardly alone. Fortunately, in our district, kids are allowed out of the 'rainforest math' program when they hit Algebra in 8th grade. The blood pressure around here is now much lower all around.

You sound unhappy with your kids’ school. I wonder if there are alternatives in your area? If not, I hope the cell-model headaches are few.

Nah, it's one of the top high-schools in the state and makes national 'best of' lists. The things I've been complaining about, unfortunately, are pretty general features of American schools circa 2005, I think.

One thing we have done for our son who's started high-school this year, though, is that he's taking math online, and it has made a huge difference, and not because of the curriculum, but because he's been able to get off the teacher's hamster wheel. Bruce Hayden's remarks about homework were dead on. Our kid was a master at forgotten, late, and lost homework and proved it was quite possible to master all the material in a course, do all the work (eventually), and still flirt with 'D's (it does not take many late assignments at 50% or 100% off to drive a grade into the toilet).

With the online course, there's absolutely nothing to lose or forget. He is the one in charge of the schedule and pacing (within the general constraint of finishing by the end). He wastes no hours listening (or rather not listening) to a teacher stand up and explain material he can readily master on his own. And the homework itself is so much more efficient. Feedback is instant. If he gets a problem wrong, he can hyperlink directly back to the relevant explanation and then work another problem of the same type. This is the way math instruction should be--I'd love to see classrooms of kids working this way, with the teacher providing only ad-hoc 'office hours' style help to kids who needed it. Doubt it'll never happen, though--way too threatening to the position of teachers. No lectures or lesson plans? Many/most of the kids learning the material without any help from the teacher at all? No grading of homework or tests? No deadlines to establish and enforce?

wildaboutharrie said...

Slocum, I'm not sure why you're being so hostile, but let me risk another post.

Your son's math program is a hands-on approach that asks him to solve problems using his skills without being lectured at and spoon-fed. That's a constructivist approach. If some teacher thinks that hands-on means dumbing down math, or making math about ecology, or having kids create gratuitous cell models, that's the fault of the teacher.

As for writing a grammar handbook, you find it bizarre and hippie-ish to ask students to come up with their own examples of parts of speech and sentence types, and having them diagram sentetences of their own composing, and putting them in a notebook in an organized fashion. I'll agree to disagree with you on that one. It worked for me when I was in grammar school (the nuns we had favored this approach), and it worked for my students. Actually writing things down (as opposed to just reading rules or filling in a blank) can be a useful reinforcer. (By the way, my students also used a self-paced grammar CD - it was a great complement. We also did plenty of skill and drill. And we used the textbook for practice and review. The key word is "and".)

For some reason, you thought that "hands-on", as referred to in earlier posts, meant limiting boys to manual labor. I tried to correct this mistake. You insist nevertheless that hands-on learning is some sort of flakey concept. Any educational approach can be (and all too often is) abused or misapplied.

I don't think I have a quarrel with you, but you seem intent on making one. That doesn't interest me.

Adriana Bliss said...

Slocum,

Which online program does your son use? I'm interested in that as an option for my son.

Slocum said...

I'm not sure why you're being so hostile, but let me risk another post.

Sorry, wildaboutharrie, didn't mean to come off as hostile to you personally, but I have to admit I do harbor some degree of hostility to certain educational fads.

Your son's math program is a hands-on approach that asks him to solve problems using his skills without being lectured at and spoon-fed. That's a constructivist approach.

I think perhaps the disgreement here is over the term 'constructivist'. Learning without being lectured via an online course is not constructivist in the sense that it is normally used to describe educational philosophies and curricula. See this description, for example:

http://mathforum.org/mathed/constructivism.html

In contrast, the actual material my son is learning is quite traditional. He is learning an established body of knowledge (geometry in this case) -- he is not re-discovering the principles himself. And the work is no more 'hands-on' than in-school math classes. Homework is homework, reading the material is reading the material. The difference is that feedback on homework problems is instantaneous, and there are intelligent hypertext links between the text and the problems. The organziational differences are that he doesn't waste any time daydreaming during lectures, and (most importantly) there's no paper to shuffle or endless stream of arbitrary deadlines to hit and miss.

I'd say that traditional-style math text, in fact, would translate into online, electronic form much more easily than constructivist ones (the instant feedback depends on there being a particular 'right' answer to problems -- which answers are numbers and not paragraphs of text).

Nor, I would argue, is creating your own grammar notebook of sentence diagrams 'constructivist' if you are learning and following standard rules of grammar and standard diagramming procedures. Now if you told me about a class where students were inventing their own rules of grammar and techniques for decomposing sentences, I'd agree you'd be talking about a constructivist approach.

Slocum said...

Adriana Bliss said...

Which online program does your son use? I'm interested in that as an option for my son.

It's through the state's virtual high school program, but I believe the course itself is from ALEKS.

wildaboutharrie said...

Slocum, I see where you're coming from now. I don't blame you for being suspicious of fads.

No, grammar books (sorry I mentioned them, this is too much attention for a modest project) were merely an example of a hands-on project that worked quite well. In fact, I would love to have a class where the students write the textbooks and develop the curriculum - do the research, the fact-checking, adhere to the standards, work with the school board, establish measurable benchmarks, etc. I think you would hate it, though.

In reality, my curricula were always traditional in content. What I took from John Dewey is the idea that we give students something to do (as opposed to merely something to learn), and get out of the way. That "something" has to be carefully constructed and monitored, of course, and there need to be measurable outcomes supported by a solid curriculum (with traditional assessment, i.e. papers, tests, etc.) and the state standards. Otherwise you have "project school".

But back to the author's point - I do agree that draining education of all tints of competitiveness is a problem. There are others, but this is probably particularly harmful to boys. I think the new trend away from considering SATs as significant at all - particularly now that the test includes an essay portion - is a bad sign.

Instructivist said...

And I can't begin to tell you how much both my kids (a girl and boy) both despise pointless 'hands-on' excercizes.

You might be interested in a critique of pervasive, trivial and time-consuming busywork in the form of endless "hands-on" activities and projects:

http://instructivist.blogspot.com/2005/05/trivial-hands-on-activities.html