Tuesday, May 3, 2011
As he worked, I thought a lot about what I had read that morning. In Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives (amazon affiliate link), she quoted Harvard psychologist William Pollack who says, “More boys than girls are in special education classes. More boys than girls are prescribed mood-managing drugs. This suggests that today’s schools are built for girls, and boys are becoming misfits.” And it was these words that forced me to muster every ounce of self control in me and refrain from chastising his work. I wanted to say, “Can’t you do that a little neater? Don’t you think it would be better if you were more thoughtful?” But I didn’t because I realized that what I wanted was to cloud his vision with what I perceived to be a more correct vision. I wanted him to do it my way. My female way.
This got me thinking about how often we do this in schools. Are children, particularly boys, doing things “wrong” as often as we think they are? When they write, is it really not that good or is it that it doesn’t match a preconceived notion of what they should have written? Are they really misbehaving or is it that they are not behaving in the way that we would have? Is their artwork messy because they didn’t color in the lines or is it that they intended to add action in ways that we could not conceive of?
Most school faculties are comprised of a female majority. School activities and classroom management and expectations of how children comply are driven by the female psyche. Could it really be that the female way of thinking is different enough from males that we create environments that alienate half of the learning population? On this one occasion I stopped short of committing the crime of imposing hearts and borders on my son’s scrapbook but I have to wonder, how many times did I not? I am willing to stand among the convicted when it comes to admitting guilt of making boys feel like misfits. But I am repenting. I am thinking hard about what I will do differently to embrace gender differences and create learning environments that cater to the unique needs of boy learners.
To start, I will no longer insist that children write or read sitting down. If they need to stand and shift from side to side, so be it. I will no longer insist that reading time be uninterrupted by bathroom breaks or short periods of gazing out the window. If they need to let their minds wander or to think more about what they are reading, so be it. But past this, I’m not sure what else I should change and that is why I am appealing to you, my readership, to share your suggestions for modifying common practices to make boys feel more at home in the classroom. What else can we do in schools to close the gender gap?