The Blog

Have a Boy in School? You Need to Read <i>The Trouble With Boys</i>

Boys are falling behind in school -- and not just because they develop a little slower, read a little later. The system is failing boys, argues Peg Tyre.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Ever since women got the right to vote in 1920, they've been on the march. In less than a century, they've muscled their way into the same jobs traditionally reserved for men -- and they're already earning 70% of a man's salary.

Why, at this rate, they'll.....

Stop! Hold the presses! At this rate, girls will grow up to be a ruling class. And today's boys will grow up to work in auto-body shops (not that there's anything wrong with that) and dream of advancing to the manager slot at Burger King (ditto). Why? Because boys are falling behind in school -- and not just because they develop a little slower, read a little later, blah blah blah.

The system is failing boys, argues Peg Tyre in The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do. A feminized curriculum, behavior norms that disadvantage boys, schools with few men on the faculty, a misguided belief that kids are ready to learn at an earlier age -- Tyre rolls out a laundry list of reasons.

I take Peg Tyre very seriously. First, because she's been there -- she is the mother of two boys. At Newsweek, where she covered education, she wrote a story about boys falling behind in school. It struck a nerve -- parents of boys tended to think only their lads were not doing well -- so she dug more and wrote this book.

I'm the father of a girl, and while I'd like her to have every advantage, what's happening now may not be good for anyone. Just one of Tyre's conclusions:

At all but the very highest income levels, our country is bifurcating into two groups: educated women and less educated men. That division will have massive implications for the way our children live their lives -- their opportunities, their career choices, what they do, who they marry, how they raise their children, if they can afford to retire.

Strong stuff. You want to push back. Well, here are some facts:

-- Boys get expelled from preschool at nearly five times the rate of girls.

-- Boys are prescribed medicine for attention-related disorders at twice the rate of girls.

-- Kids no longer get to "play" in preschool. But "children who attend preschools that emphasize direct instruction experience more stress at school....[in one study] the boys who fell farthest behind girls were the ones who had attended the academic preschools."

-- Since 1992, girls have been taking more science and math courses and doing better in them than boys. "In most schools," Tyre writes, "classrooms where AP courses are taught look like a branch of a local sorority."

-- "39% of all first-graders get 20 minutes a day or less of recess....by fourth grade, nearly half of our students get less than twenty minutes a day." What replaces gym and music and art and free play? No Child Left Behind --- rote learning for a national test, arguably the most uncreative way of learning imaginable.

How does this play out? Boys revere sports, not school. And they pay the price of this sorry focus. The suicide rate for boys aged 5 to 14 is three times higher than the suicide rate for girls; between the ages of 15 to 19, it's four times greater.

Tyre steps back to explain why. Among her compelling observations: The mid-l980s saw a changed attitude about crime and safety. Parents wanted to protect their kids. Free, unsupervised play in public spaces -- the kind of unfettered free time that made childhood such fun for many of us -- became a thing of the past. More recently we have seen an expanding class of parents with money, and more competition to get kids into prestige colleges. Kids need to be "little Einsteins" -- so in a single year (2003 to 2004), sales of "learning" and "exploration" toys jumped 19%, to $510 million; in 2005, "Hooked on Phonics" sales doubled.

What do little boys need? "To get him ready for school, talk to him, rhyme with him, and sing with him," Tyre says. "After kicking the soccer ball, take him to the library for story hour." In other words: Boys need to be boys. And to be treated as boys.

And how will that happen?

Tyre couldn't be more blunt: It's your responsibility.

[cross-posted from HeadButler.com]