Stop penalizing boys for not being able to sit still at school

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, June 20, 2013

This year's end-of-year paper purge in my middle school office revealed a startling pattern in my teaching practices: I discipline boys far more often than I discipline girls. Flipping through the pink and yellow slips--my school's system for communicating errant behavior to students, advisors, and parents--I found that I gave out nearly twice as many of these warnings to boys than I did to girls, and of the slips I handed out to boys, all but one was for disruptive classroom behavior.

The most frustrating moments I have had this year stemmed from these battles over--and for--my male students' attention. This spring, as the grass greened up on the soccer fields and the New Hampshire air finally rose above freezing, the boys and I engaged in a pitched battle of wills over their intellectual and emotional engagement in my Latin and English classes, a battle we both lost in the end.

Something is rotten in the state of boys' education, and I can't help but suspect that the pattern I have seen in my classroom may have something to do with a collective failure to adequately educate boys. The statistics are grim. According to the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, boys are kept back in schools at twice the rate of girls. Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls. Boys are diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls. They do less homework and get a greater proportion of the low grades. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, and make up only 43 percent of college students. Furthermore, boys are nearly three times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Considering 11 percent of U.S. children--6.4 million in all--have been diagnosed with a ADHD, that's a lot of boys bouncing around U.S. classrooms.

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