Education is one of the major areas where we see male distress in our culture and world. Boys received approximately two thirds of the D’s and F’s given in schools, but around 40% of the A’s. Boys are behind girls in all states in the mandated standardized tests. Boys are behind girls in overall test scores in all the industrialized countries as well. Boys comprise the majority of school dropouts, expulsions, emotional and behavioral disturbance diagnoses, and learning disability diagnoses. Boys also comprise approximately 80% of the ADD/ADHD diagnoses.
In order to counteract these negative trends, parents need to be actively involved in their sons’ school, asking questions of the child and their teachers to learn whether a boy’s school days are spent in an environment suited to his unique male needs. Even if your son is doing very well in school, you should still consider taking some of the steps presented below.
Step 1: Be Active, Positive, and Supportive
Whatever the specifics of your son’s school and whether or not he’s struggling at the moment, it’s important for him and his teachers to know you are taking an active and supportive role in his education. As parents, if all we do is withdraw and complain, we are not supporting our teachers.
Parents can support teachers and schools in two initial ways. First, support the authority administrators and teachers. Remind your child that even if he is having trouble, the teacher is still an authority and deserves respect. Second, praise teachers and faculty for what they do well, and support them with resources and time so they can continue to do those things well.
Step 2: Study Your Son’s Schooling by Reaching Out to Other Parents
From this place of positive support and understanding, you can study the school system your child is in. A good way to start your research is to talk with other parents. This is common sense, of course, but parents sometimes avoid sharing information because they are ashamed of their sons’ grades or performance. They may not realize many other parents and children are in the same boat. If your son is struggling in one or more subjects, ask him, “Do you think you’re the only kid having trouble?” If he responds, “Well, —– and —- might be too,” find the other kid’s parents and share stories.
Even if your son is not forthcoming about the issues other boys or girls may be having in the classroom, engage other parents in conversation at PTA meetings, in your neighborhood, at church, on the sidelines at games, or anywhere else to discern whether others are having issues at school.
Step 3: Determine Whether the School Has a Systemic Boy Problem
Generally, you will know if your son’s teacher doesn’t fully understand boys’ learning styles if, in talking to other parents, you discover that in a classroom of twenty-five, approximately five boys are struggling in some way. The five out of twenty-five figure comes from the Gurian Institute’s action research and anecdotal data collection.
When you talk with other parents about grades, ask about homework too. If 3 to 5 boys in the class are not handing in homework, losing homework, or even lying about handing it in, this could suggest major problems in the classroom and school system. Distress regarding homework often correlates directly to a mismatch between male learning styles and the classroom system.
Step 4: Help Your Son Reengage in Homework
While you are gathering information and discerning how best to advocate for your son, try these practical steps to patch up any immediate homework problems in your son’s life:
- Teach your son how to develop a homework planner.
- Teach your son to manage his time.
- Supervise his homework as needed, without doing it for him.
- Make sure all cell phones and computers are off so he can work undistracted.
- Withhold privileges and use them as leverage to motivate homework completion.
Step 5: Advocate for Your Son at School
While doing all these things to help your son complete and hand in his homework, you may also need to advocate for systemic change in the school. If some of the class work and homework seems irrelevant and unnecessary, you can urge teachers and administrators to seriously reconsider their requirements and philosophy. Homework should be meaningful, bringing students to a greater understanding of the material and concepts, rather than a mindless series of fill in the blank worksheets without any real purpose. Another clue that you may need to advocate is if the school has ruled out recess or has other extreme rules that may restrict your son’s natural forms of healthy learning.
Step 6: Take a Holistic Approach to Behavioral Concerns
If your son has a behavioral disorder or is having behavior problems, it is crucial that you find a specialist trained in male development to do the proper testing and get the right diagnosis. You or someone in your immediate family will most likely need to get training and counseling to be equipped to handle your son’s developmental needs most effectively. This will involve some lifestyle changes, such as more time spent with your son each day, more (or less) verbal attention and proximity to your son, and more authoritative discipline (or other form of discipline that the specialist can teach you). To handle behavioral concerns that are connected to a mental health or similar issue, a local professional is your best resource.
Step 7: Consider Alternative Classrooms or Approaches
As schools look to innovate in the face of the significant educational distress of so many boys, they are changing what boys have to read (including graphic novels and more sports or technical magazines in reading assignments); seeking out more male teachers; training all teachers in boy-friendly strategies; altering the setup of classroom environments to allow more physical movement; altering the way math, science, and the language arts are taught; and creating more vocational education opportunities for boys and girls, especially in high school.
Our sons love to learn. They are seekers and researchers. The world is interesting to them. People are interesting to them. Numbers, rocks, trees, mountains, leaves, computers, games, words, thoughts, feelings, visions, life’s mysteries—anything and everything fascinates them. School, too, can fascinate them. No matter how your son is doing in school right now, the process of education is crucial to his future success. Everything you do now to innovate with, advocate for, and educate your son can pay amazing dividends later.
This post uses excerpts from the bestselling novel, Raising Boys by Design, written by Dr. Gregory Jantz and Michael Gurian.