Fifty years ago boys dominated school – they earned better grades, graduated at higher rates, and received higher degrees than their female counterparts. In the United States, at least, this is no longer true. In fact, female students now outperform males by almost every measure available:

  • Boys are 30% more likely than girls to fail or drop out of high school
  • Girls earn 56% of bachelor degrees and 55% of graduate degrees (compared to the 44% of bachelor degrees and 45% of graduate degrees earned by boys)
  • Boys are five times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls
  • Boys make up 2/3 of students in special education 
  • A recent Gallup poll indicates that boys are less likely to be engaged in class than girls are
  • Girls are even beginning to outperform boys in STEM fields, at least at the high school level: 

As educators, we’re left to ask ourselves “What about the boys?” Why are so many of them being underserved by our schools and what can we do about it?
According to Dr. Joseph Tobin, Professor of Early Childhood Education at Arizona State University:
“The culture of schools, especially for young children, is much more feminine than masculine. There are almost no male early childhood educators. Many teachers of young children find boys’ interests in violence, gross things, and bodily functions to be boring or stupid. We need to recognize that many of us have ‘internal prejudices’ against these interests. Just as we used to ask ourselves in the ’70s, ‘In what ways am I being sexist in my treatment of girls?’ we now have to ask, ‘In what ways are we disapproving of boys’ interests in our classrooms?’ “
Researchers at Gallup offer these thoughts:
Boys have higher disengagement rates because they are less likely than girls:

  • to receive praise and recognition for good schoolwork
  • to consider school important
  • to do what they do best every day

Given these findings, we could attribute the engagement gap to our school systems’ failure to meet young boys’ psychological needs for praise and meaning. We have essentially made school a place where boys don’t want to be. 
So how do we make school a place that boys DO want to be? How do we provide appropriate praise and meaning for boys at our schools?
We can infer some simple solutions from the problems boys face early on:

  • Bring back recess…or extend it. Boys are more active, especially at the elementary age. They have a greater need to expend energy in a physical way, which often gets them into trouble when they can’t sit still in class.
  • Engage boys in active, hands-on lessons.
  • Less reading, more building. Boys develop language and verbal skills later than girls, so when early elementary classrooms spend 4/5 of their time on verbal activities like reading, boys’ weaknesses are accentuated and strengths ignored. We need to rebalance. 

Rosalind Wiseman’s newest book, Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World, explores “boy world” further and offers deeper solutions for parents and educators who want to help boys succeed.
Wiseman suggests that adults need to find new ways to connect to boys on an emotional level, even though this may be difficult. She told the Atlantic:
“We have a very hard time seeing the signs of how and when boys want to talk to us. We also have a hard time–even though we think we don’t–acknowledging that boys have deep emotional lives. We believe that because we can’t see it, it’s not there.”
As we talk about joyful learning environments this week, keep this idea in mind. Boys have different needs and may express themselves differently than girls. It is incumbent upon us as educators, then, to tap into the energy and deep emotional lives of the boys in our schools to make sure they feel the joy of learning.