The Trouble With Boys (Peg Tyre)


Do you have, know, or teach boys? Do they struggle in school?
If you are a teacher or involved with education in any capacity, who are the kids who end up being diagnosed with learning disabilities, sent to the office/disciplined for misbehavior, referred to the BBSST committee, referred to Exceptional Education programs, and end up on medication for attention disorders? Boys, that's who.

*"Between 2000 and 2005, the number of boys from birth to age 19 who were being prescribed ADHD medication grew 48%. That...suggests 2 things: Either we are witnessing the largest pandemic in our country since influenza struck the US in 1918, or school-age boys are being overidentified and overdiagnosed." pg. 111

Oh, this book has riled me up for sure.

The Trouble With Boys is not about what is wrong WITH boys. It's about what WE are doing wrong FOR boys. This author presents some very interesting research and case studies of boys and how they are affected by the structure of our education system. They fail, they disengage, and they drop out. School is not fun for them, nor is it interesting to many boys.

I see this regularly. In most schools, there is a 30 minute reading intervention program which involves sitting and reading. There is a 90 minute reading block which involves sitting and reading. There is time worked in for other subjects, which mostly involves sitting and reading or working abstract math algorithms. We tell them to hush in the classroom, hush in the hallway, hush in the lunchroom, and hush both before and after school during bus duty. We want them to fall in line and produce the work we either worked hours to plan for or were handed by state or local education officials as mandatory lesson plans/curriculum pacing guides.

When, in the midst of all that, when can boys be boys?  Peg Tyre points out in this book that we are simply failing our boys. Fewer boys finish high school, even fewer enter college, and fewer still actually graduate with a degree. The effects on that reach even to our nation's economy and the stability of families for future generations due to the fact that fewer men are becoming college educated and are maintaining well-paying jobs, fewer women want to marry them. Our failure to support the way boys learn best is quickly becoming a national epidemic.

One reason for the underachievement of boys is that there are fewer and fewer male teachers, especially in elementary school. The reasons for that boil down to simple economics and prejudice. Male teachers experience negative prejudice from parents and even other teachers who are female. They also cannot support a family on the measly $32,000 salary that most starting teachers make. What I found incredibly interesting about the male teacher demographic was that even though guys make up only 9% of elementary teachers and only 35% of secondary teachers, males account for 44% of elementary principals and a whopping 74% of secondary principals. Why? Because administrators make the most money in the education system. Pay teachers more, and there will be more dudes serving as positive male learning role models in the classroom. Even outside the school, most of the time it is Mom or Grandma who is making the grocery list, reading a novel just for fun, reading a magazine, writing in a journal, visiting the library. Dads tend not to do those things, communicating to their sons that reading is for girls.

One interesting solution to the gender issue here is that one principal began inviting in very masculine community members such as police officers to read to students. Having them come in once a week and show that reading is for rough-and-tough guys was a powerful motivating factor for the boys in that school. And one very easy solution for parents is for Dads to become intentional about modeling a habit of reading for their sons (and daughters, for that matter). And furthermore, we should be more open in the reading material our boys select. Boys are gross, and they like to read about gross things. They are never going to choose The Little House on the Prairie. Nope, they'd rather read The Adventures of Uncle Stinky or Rumble and Spew: Gross Body Systems. And you know what, parents and teachers and librarians? THAT IS OK. A child's interest in reading something is far more important than how well they can sound out a word. Boys and girls alike should connect with literature in a way that is appealing to them. They should develop an appreciation for how books can help them, both in providing them with information and entertaining them. Just let them read what they want to read, stop interfering with their book choices, and sit back and watch young boys fall in love with literature.

This brings us to the unfortunate see-saw effect between the focus of successful learning experiences between boys and girls. When the nation, states, and local districts get on board with something or issue a mandate, the pendulum swings from one side to the other. In Alabama we have the Alabama Reading Initiative. This means that a whole lot of time and research is spent on reading, talking about reading instruction, analyzing reading data, writing goals for reading instruction, etc. Our kids can read (they hate it, but they are capable-another blog post entirely), but their math skills are lacking. The same is true with gender emphasis. If we shift everything about the learning system to what best meets the needs of boys, then girls are once again at a distinct disadvantage educationally. Balance is key.

So what's the answer? There are a few that the author provides, although she causes the reader to ask more questions than are answered. For starters, boys require movement. Their brains are not hard-wired to sit and hush and write all day long. Let them move. Let them eat. Boys function best when they are full and active. Chunk up your lessons and let them snack, then write, then move around for some active learning. Let them build models instead of writing in a journal or creating a timeline. Acknowledge that not all boys and girls work and think and learn the same way. In the world of education right now one buzz word/term is "differentiated instruction," which basically means meeting the needs of all levels of learners...planning things for advanced learners and for those who struggle. Teachers should become aware of and know how to meet the specific needs of boys, and then they should actually do it. For some boys, an all-boy school may be the best answer to a family's struggle to meeting the needs of their sons. For others, it may be as simple as learning more about how boys think and helping teachers understand their sons (in a non-threatening and respectful way, of course). For all educators and parents, the key that Peg Tyre has successfully driven home with her book is advocacy. Parents should know their sons' needs and how to best advocate for their best interests in the educational setting. Teachers should do all they can to learn about the differences between boys and girls, and intentionally plan lessons to meet their varying needs. Teachers should also be paid much more, which would attract more guys to enter and remain in the classroom.

It broke my heart to read about one little boy who was struggling with school and whose parents were told over and over and over and over that something was wrong with him and that he should be medicated for attention deficit issues (Which, by the way, is completely unethical. No teacher can or should ever make such a recommendation, because we are not medical professionals. This does NOT occur at my school, nor any others that I know of.) But the real problem wasn't that there was anything wrong with the little boy, it was that there was a whole lot wrong with the school's expectations of him and provisions for his learning needs.

Absolutely wonderful book, and should be required reading for every active and pre-service educator. It should be handed to parents of boys when they register their sons for kindergarten. There should be community groups meeting and talking about this book and the issues within it. Our boys deserve it!