Through the Education Lens

Why Can't a Boy Be More Like a Girl?

CJ Westerberg, December 15, 2011 12:10 PM


                     "Indirectly, that's what she (the teacher) tells them (boys):  'Be a Girl' "
                                                  - Ali Carr-Chellman

Why Boys Are Tuning Out

A compelling 12- minute TED video below about the state of boys in school today. 

It covers much more than the title may lead one to believe.  The speaker, Ali Carr-Chellman, deftly paints a picture of the school experience through the eyes of boys and concludes that tuning out of school and obsessive video game use "is a symptom, not a cause" of the alarming statistics surrounding the topic of boys' disinterest in school, quickly summarized in the beginning of talk, such as university attendence approaching 30% of all students.  She gives three reasons why boys are opting to zone out of learning and continuing education:

1)  Zero Tolerance for boy toys, such as toy guns and violence.  Boys are not allowed to write about subjects they are most interested in - whether it be about a favorite video game or about violent tornadoes.  Boys feel that a teacher "tells me what to write".  If a boy does display an interest in these types of things, the question that inevitably arises is "Should we send this child to a psychologist?"

2)  Fewer male teachers in the classroom sends the message to boys that school is for girls
  and "I don't belong here".

3)  "Kindergarten is the new second grade."    Today, what students once learned in second grade is now being taught in kindergarten.  This "compressed curriculum" is due to accountability measures that teachers "must get through" regardless of readiness for No Child Left Behind (NCLB),  Race to the Top, and other standardized measures.  Compliance, not the love of learning, is the rule of the day.

Carr-Chelman asks educators to "meet them where they are" with the development of better on-line learning tools and games that go beyond the predominant "flash cards on-line".  She mentions the charter school in New York - which is Katie Salen's Quest to Learn - and questions the scalability of such as school (rightfully so), and how we must rethink education for boys away from its current form. 

Our riff:  Better on-line tools and games are only one element of the solution and a valid one.  There are also more cultural, attitudinal, and real in-school revamping that also needs to occur.
We think there has to be much more integration of school with the real-world to create relevance for boys (and girls, too)> 

The gun and violence issue is a contentious one, certainly, especially on the heels of Arizona and the images of Columbine-like events.  "Violent volcanoes" are certainly a different story. 
Is it a matter of degree?  Or, are judgment calls too vague?  

Let us know what you think --     

Video below.
Published The Daily Riff 1/2011
We also included My Fair Lady's "Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man?" below.

Carr-Chellman's bio from TED:
A former third-grade teacher, Ali Carr-Chellman realized that traditional elementary classrooms weren't for her, in part because she was frustrated by the lack of innovation, agility, and readiness to change in traditional schools. She's now an instructional designer, author and educator, working on how to change and innovate within schools to make education wok better for more kids. She teaches at Penn State University in the College of Education, working primarily with doctoral-level students to help produce the next generation of faculty with inspired research ideas and methods. Carr-Chellman also teaches online courses focused on helping practicing teachers learn how to improve their own instructional design practices and how to improve their classrooms.

  • There are a couple of problems with these hypotheses. First, the increased rigor and demands at the kindergarten level should affect boys and girls equally. Why would it cause boys to tune out and not girls?

    Second, my guess is that there are more male teachers today than 30 or 40 years ago. When I was in elementary school, there was only 1 male teacher out of 12 teachers total. Also, there is no reason why a boy cannot be inspired and motivated by a woman or why he needs a male teacher to feel like he belongs. Indeed, if this sexist hypothesis was true, then how would it be possible for single women to successfully parent?

  • Good points, M. I grew up with two older brothers and played shoot 'em up in various forms and know these were not precursors to violence. Yet we do know that watching extremely violent movies, etc. has set off acts of violence. Guess it's all about drawing the line somewhere but where?

    Carr-Chellman's remarks about the volcanoes and the windstorm blowing out the windows does sound hyperbolic. My take-away was more about how teachers dictate what students read and write about with not enough attention paid to what interests or genres may spark a fire.

    Your point about teachers knowing the students individually is really so key.

  • M

    I think the real problem is that 'boy toys' are immediately equated with violence and guns. That is a societal problem, but is that really something that educators want to encourage? Trying to solve complex gender issues by boiling them down to stereotypes is a very poor way of handling these problems. I think that rather than concerning themselves with what boys and girls should like, teachers should get to know their students individually and make an effort to incorporate as many student interest topics as possible.

    I also think it's disingenuous to suggest that any teacher is going to equate all video games and natural disasters with violence and make these forbidden topics. Are there really teachers who outlaw all mention of volcanoes, wild animals and earthquakes from their classrooms? I don't think I've ever encountered a teacher that straight-laced.

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