Monday, January 23, 2006

Do Teachers Dislike Boys?

Okay, this is in no manner directly related to divorce or custody. However, once you cross over to joint custody you will have to deal with school issues with your ex. And when things go badly at school the natural tendency can be to try and place the blame with your ex.

This is something we are currently going through. My husband is the father of a bright, articulate, sweet, athletic, high energy boy who is having substantial difficulties with "behavior" in second grade.

I should qualify - most of his problems stem from either talking in class or not being able to sit still. This is not a mean or malicious child - though I believe he did have on incident when he and buddy decided to flush paper towels down the toilet after they claimed the trash was full.

While my instinct is to give you the whole history of this child - including that he has been in daycare since he was two, moved on to pre-school and manipulated kindergarten and 1st grade without such "issues." This is not to say he has been perfect - but until this point all of his instructors have successfully been able to manage his behavior.

I realize that I am biased so my singing the praises of this child will be perceived with a certain degree of speculation. Also, I was the first (when his parents were wringing their hands in the air about how this teacher had for some reason singled him out) to come to the teachers defense. She has 20+ students and needed to have an expectation of order in her classroom.

However, as I sit here trying to think about things my husband should address this afternoon when he and his ex go in for their latest "conference" - I am truly starting to wonder if I was not championing the wrong party.

My husband is becoming very frustrated. They (he and his ex) tried to support the steps taken by the teacher until they felt it was obvious they were not helping behavior and were damaging this child's self esteem. And really, the question has lingered as to how bad this behavior should actually be considered. Not to minimize the teachers standards - but should the inability to always sit still be something the parents can (and should) address daily at home? Further, this is a child who is performing academically at the top of the class. His work has been advanced several times to reflect his abilities and at the last meeting the teacher indicated he was doing the most advanced math in the class and was at the highest reading level (with two other students). He has lots of energy - but could he be bored as well?

Compound this with two parents who are talking to each other and are both saying that they don't have issues like this with the child. And inevitably my husband begins to wonder if this isn't a result of .... at his mothers house. I'm certain his ex has at some point done the same. Maybe the teacher does at well - wonders if his behavior isn't due to the nature of his custody situation.

And I'm starting to wonder if my step-son isn't falling victim to the same problems witnessed around the country with boys in schools. As I was getting ready for work this morning, the Today Show was doing a story about boys in schools and the widening achievement gap between girls and boys. Then I get into work and this article was listed on my home page: Do Teachers Dislike Boys?

From the article:

Jenkins says that she talked to a kindergarten teacher about this recently and was told, "Because some teachers are exasperated with trying to control boys' energy, they [sometimes] recommend holding a boy back until his body catches up with his brain."

This teacher also told Jenkins that if all a young boy hears all day are comments like "Sit down" and "Stop that," he may be labeled as a problem child and his self-esteem could suffer.

I have come to believe that schools need to do much more to adapt to the way boys learn. This belief has been bolstered by the stories of other parents, who tell me that they are being pushed to put their active young sons on Ritalin. "Being a boy is not a disease," one parent writes.

"Our schools," Pollack writes, "in general, are not sufficiently hospitable environments for boys and are not doing what they could to address boys' unique social, academic, and emotional needs. Today's typical coeducational schools have teachers and administrators who, though they don't intend it, are often not particularly empathic to boys; they use curricula, classroom materials, and teaching methods that do not respond to how boys learn; and many of these schools are hardly places most of our boys long to spend time. Put simply, I believe most of our schools are failing our boys."

Read Pollack's book, in particular the chapter "Schools: The Blackboard Jumble," for a detailed analysis of how he thinks public coed schools are failing boys. His most compelling arguments are simply numbers: Research shows that most of the students at the bottom of the class are boys, most of the students in remedial classes are boys, most of the students suspended are boys, fewer boys than girls go to college, and many more boys than girls have serious difficulties with reading and writing.

The Today Show segment was due in part because the latest Newsweek is looking at The Trouble With Boys.


The problem won't be solved overnight. In the last two decades, the education system has become obsessed with a quantifiable and narrowly defined kind of academic success, these experts say, and that myopic view is harming boys. Boys are biologically, developmentally and psychologically different from girls and teachers need to learn how to bring out the best in every one. "Very well-meaning people," says Dr. Bruce Perry, a Houston neurologist who advocates for troubled kids, "have created a biologically disrespectful model of education."

Boys have always been boys, but the expectations for how they're supposed to act and learn in school have changed. In the last 10 years, thanks in part to activist parents concerned about their children's success, school performance has been measured in two simple ways: how many students are enrolled in accelerated courses and whether test scores stay high. Standardized assessments have become commonplace for kids as young as 6. Curricula have become more rigid. Instead of allowing teachers to instruct kids in the manner and pace that suit each class, some states now tell teachers what, when and how to teach. At the same time, student-teacher ratios have risen, physical education and sports programs have been cut and recess is a distant memory. These new pressures are undermining the strengths and underscoring the limitations of what psychologists call the "boy brain", the kinetic, disorganized, maddening and sometimes brilliant behaviors that scientists now believe are not learned but hard-wired.

When Cris Messler of Mountainside, N.J., brought her 3-year-old son Sam to a pediatrician to get him checked for ADHD, she was acknowledging the desperation parents can feel. He's a high-energy kid, and Messler found herself hoping for a positive diagnosis. "If I could get a diagnosis from the doctor, I could get him on medicine," she says. The doctor said Sam is a normal boy. School has been tough, though. Sam's reading teacher said he was hopeless. His first-grade teacher complains he's antsy, and Sam, now 7, has been referring to himself as "stupid." Messler's glad her son doesn't need medication, but what, she wonders, can she do now to help her boy in school?

For many boys, the trouble starts as young as 5, when they bring to kindergarten a set of physical and mental abilities very different from girls'. As almost any parent knows, most 5-year-old girls are more fluent than boys and can sight-read more words. Boys tend to have better hand-eye coordination, but their fine motor skills are less developed, making it a struggle for some to control a pencil or a paintbrush. Boys are more impulsive than girls; even if they can sit still, many prefer not to, at least not for long.

In elementary-school classrooms, where teachers increasingly put an emphasis on language and a premium on sitting quietly and speaking in turn, the mismatch between boys and school can become painfully obvious. "Girl behavior becomes the gold standard," says "Raising Cain" coauthor Thompson. "Boys are treated like defective girls."

I suppose my point with all of this is simply when you have two involved and concerned parents who are having difficulty making headway with any issue involving your children - try and resist the urge out of frustration to point fingers at the other. This is not to say that issues cannot arise because of home life in one setting or another - only that one must try and be as objective as possible. Implicit in this I suppose is trust that what the other parent is telling you is accurate and a true belief in the parenting skills and intentions of the other parent.

I look at my step-son and I see how heavily this school issue is weighing on him. I would hate to see this become further complicated by two frustrated parents who would now prefer to turn on each other than to continue to explore positive options to address these problems.

UPDATE: (As I sit on pins and needles waiting for the results of the latest conference) Dr Helen is talking about this as well and as always her post has generated lots of interesting comments. Boys are Just "Defective Girls"

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might find this interesting. It is a bit of a smoking gun explaining the current situation:

Girls Education

4:56 PM  

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