This is a summary of Chapter 2 in the book, “Boys Adrift”. This chapter had 53 pages of stories, research and Dr. Sax’s experience. I am trying to tantalize you so much that you will get your own book off of Amazon—I always buy used—or download it on your Kindle. Dr. Sax’s book has helped me see more clearly that the alarm I was feeling was justified.
“The First Factor: Changes at school.”
Dr. Sax states: “1 in 4 white boys with college educated parents today can not read at a basic level of proficiency, compared to only 1 in 16 white girls.” (page 44)
“Kindergarten has become first grade. Why is that a problem? Twenty-first century kindergarten has become a place where children are supposed to sit quietly and learn about digraphs and diphthongs.”
This causes kids to hate school.
Boys who can’t sit still or aren’t engaged in academic exercises are put into the “dumb group”. They learn to hate school because even though they are smart they are not developmentally ready to learn. When they are ready to learn, they will like school better.
Back to Finland which I mentioned in the previous post, “If the kids start school two years later and are taught material they are developmentally ready to learn, the kids are less likely to hate school.”
“Hold him back so he will get ahead.”
Girl’s motivation to succeed in school is different from boys. “The first question we will try to answer is why the acceleration of the early elementary curriculum might affect boys from the way it affects most girls.”
“Reason #1 is that the brain develops at a faster tempo in girls compared to boys in most brain regions related to reading and writing. As a result, the average 5-year-old girl is better able to adapt to the academic character of a 21st century kindergarten than the average age boy.”
“Most 5-year-old girls are able to do what the kindergarten teacher wants them to do.They can sit still. They can be quiet for ten whole minutes without interrupting or jumping up and down. They are more likely to possess the fine motor skills required to write the letters of the alphabet legibly and neatly.”
Reason #2? “Most girls are at least somewhat motivated to please the teacher. Many boys don’t share that motivation.”
Dr Sax went on to say, “Here’s one thing I have learned: motivation is key to understanding the gender gap in academic achievement. There is growing evidence that the intensive reading drills that now characterize early elementary skills may actually lead many students to disengage, particularly boys. What’s important, as neurologist has observed is “for students not only to learn the mechanics of reading, but also to develop a love for reading.”
“Kids need to be reading in their spare time. Kids need to be reading for fun.”
One of your best roles as a Fierce Mormon Mother is to limit the media in your home so that your children can enter these wonderful worlds of imagination. You have to become a regular at the library and yard sales where you can pick up amazing books for a dollar. I was never good at getting books back on time, but there is nothing like the feeling of walking out of the library with 6 good books that you get to read for free. It always made up for any small fees we had to pay. Going to the library is like going to a big, beautiful store where everything is for the taking once you have a library card. Use your commitment skills and take your child consistently to the library. Let them pick whatever books they want. You make sure there are a couple of good read aloud books and read those to your children, as much as you can, so your child learns the story by heart and begs for more. Media can’t compete with a parent who is reading in a connected and loving way.
“School has become Unfriendly to Boys”
Dr. Sax tells a story of his own school in Shaker Heights, Ohio, from kindergarten to 12th grade. He said,
“During the winter months at my elementary school, we would put on our coats and go outside and more often than not, throw snowballs. The teachers would come out and join us. Students versus teachers. I remember one teacher by name: He was a great shot. He’d get you right between the eyes every time.”
His point, and he goes on for several pages about this, is to create a place at school which is “in-bounds and out-of -bounds.” Things have swung so far to the far end of the spectrum where nothing is allowed that can be deemed unsafe.
“In the 21st century, most North American schools allow little place for team competition outside of athletics. Indeed, any school competition with clearly defined winners and losers is disparaged in many schools nowadays, on the grounds that the self-esteem of the children who lose might be in jeopardy in a competitive environment. We need to change that and we can.” On another page he says, “Boys doing things that boys have always done now gets boys in trouble. That’s what I mean when I say that schools have become unfriendly to boys.”
“I quoted a famous saying attributed to the Roman Poet Horace: You can try to drive out nature with a pitchfork; yet she will always return.”
“If your son is motivated by competition, then eliminating competition from his school, throwing our his toy guns, and forbidding him to write stories with violent themes (Dr. Sax gives a good example of this in the book) won’t change him. He may disengage from school because of those policies, however. The end result may be a boy who feels the only place he is truly understand, as he really is, is in the world of video games.”
Hopefully this post will help you with your own sons. My own experience is that one of my sons loved school until the 4th grade. Because we live in Utah we have one of the lowest spending per pupil ratios in the country.1. However, in 2013 Utah students ranked highest in the nation on their ACT scores.2. I attribute that strange combination to the dedication of parents. In the 4th grade, three classes were made into two classes.Three classes of 20 became two classes of thirty. The teacher, who I felt was very gifted and loved teaching, also had 6 special education children and their aids in the classroom. She had 36 children total that year. She didn’t have parent helpers come in for the first time, because she said, “there is no room.” It was a disaster for my son. He went from star pupil to class clown. The next year we enrolled him in a private school that he went to for four years. It was a sacrifice for us, because in the 7th grade the tuition went up to six hundred dollars a month. We were paying more for his schooling than our BYU students. If they would have had a high school I would have managed it, but they didn’t. Public school has not been the best option for him. He hasn’t been as motivated as he was in the private school. I asked him if he feels unmotivated at school. He told me that it depends on the teacher. He said, “Remember, I didn’t like my English teacher and I went to the counselor and got transferred.” Which is really the secret and takes more effort on your part. There are good and bad teachers in both public and private schools. Being aware of that makes a difference. You can also do homeschool if your options are limited, but that’s a huge undertaking in itself. I am telling you all of this because there are other options for your sons than public school. Hopefully, as you wrestle and pray about this problem, you will find answers. My purpose here was to help you be aware of the challenges boys are facing in their schools today.
I was going to group the “2nd Factor: Video Games” with this post but there was too much information. I will cover that Factor #2 in my next post.
1.”Report ranks Utah education 38th in nation.”The Salt Lake Tribune, 1/15/2013
2.”Utah students’ ACT scores rank highest in nation”.Deseret News, 8/21/2013