It is no secret that our nation is facing a crisis when it comes to boys’ education. Boys are lagging behind in almost every subject, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. According to NPR, boys are not only falling behind in school when it comes to the grades they receive, but also in their overall graduation rate and their participation in advanced placement classes. This also makes them less likely to pursue education after high school and, if they do, makes them less likely to be successful.
Recently, the attitude towards this growing national issue has been to create more boy-friendly classrooms, sometimes going as far as to create single-sex classrooms. The idea behind this solution is that, when boys are in classes with other boys, the teacher can target his or her activities to that audience, creating more hands-on and physically active assignments that will help boys learn.
The problem with playing into that “boys will be boys” mentality when it comes to education, though, is that it doesn’t seem to work. According to the new Gender Achievement Gap report by the Council on Contemporary Families, treating boys like the stereotypical rough-and-tumble gender only serves as a detriment to their education:
Our research shows that boys’ underperformance in school has more to do with society’s norms about masculinity than with anatomy, hormones or brain structure. In fact, boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama, and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these cultural activities are often denigrated as un-masculine by pre-adolescent and adolescent boys — especially those from working- or lower-class backgrounds… Our research shows that, contrary to what is rapidly becoming “conventional wisdom,” [single-sex boys classrooms are] precisely the wrong strategy. Most boys and girls learn more in classrooms where girls are present. In classrooms with more girls, both boys and girls score higher on math and reading tests. And several recent studies refute the claim that teacher gender matters for boys’ or girls’ achievement.
The report details options for helping boys in school, and the most interesting of them all is the suggestion to start treating boys more like we treat girls. This means that we need to ditch our traditional notions of masculinity in school. We need to encourage boys to participate in more tradiationally female-dominated activities such as drama, music and art and strip these activities of the stereotype that they are not masculine. We also need to paint a clear picture of how academic success translates into financial success for boys like we do for girls.
These changes will definitely benefit boys, but will also benefit girls. There is already ample evidence that shows that girls’ and boys’ ability levels are not different, and that they don’t actually learn that differently. Furthermore, when we start rethinking our definition of masculinity, as educators and as a society as a whole, we will be headed towards a much better society for women and men.
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