April 10, 2015

Does being “pro-boy” mean “anti-girl?”

In a short article titled, Save Our Boys, by Esther J. Cepeda in the Washington Post, she describes her conversation with Dr. Leonard Sax. Dr. Sax is the author of the book, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men. Dr. Sax, M.D., Ph.D., is a family doctor, a PhD psychologist, and the founder of the National Association for Choice in Education (NACE).

In the description of his book Dr. Sax says, "Something scary is happening to boys today. From kindergarten to college, American boys are, on average, less resilient and less ambitious than they were a mere twenty years ago. The gender gap in college attendance and graduation rates has widened dramatically. While Emily is working hard at school and getting A’s, her brother Justin is goofing off. He’s more concerned about getting to the next level in his video game than about finishing his homework."

Something scary is happening to boys today.

At the heart of her story, Ms. Cepeda uncovered Dr. Sax's disappointment with how often showing up for boys is seen as being anti-girl. It's sad, but often the reality I've encountered in speaking to groups. In Ms. Cepeda's interview with Dr. Sax, he said, “. . . I didn’t have an appreciation for the degree to which this topic is political,”. . . . “The assumption is that if you advocate for boys, you are right-of-center, and if you advocate for girls you are left-of center. And you must work very hard to make people understand that not only are the politics not the most important issue, but that if you’re seeing boys as the ‘losers’ of good education and work opportunities, girls are not the ‘winners,’ either. But when you start talking about offering boy-friendly instructional strategies, then you must be against girls.

Dr. Sax does offer gender-neutral prescriptions in his book. He told Ms. Cepeda, “With just a little bit of training and permission, administrators and teachers can greatly boost achievement for boys without drowning out girls,” Sax said. “It is not a zero-sum game. Gender-aware instructional strategies don’t cost much money and have the potential to get boys excited about writing and girls excited about computer coding. But the notion that boys and girls need something different to love writing or computers is deeply offensive to scholars.

Sadly, Dr. Sax has become cynical about ever finding a motivated audience and has returned to full-time medical practice. I believe Dr. Sax is very much on the right track. Too many of our young males are "adrift," and would benefit greatly from experimentation with young-male-focused educational approaches. I also feel the overarching quest should be to come up with an educational system that brings out the best in all of our children.

The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which collects test results from 65 countries for its rankings, says in 2012, "U.S. students ranked below average in math among the world's most-developed countries. They were close to average in science and reading." Taken directly from their data, 29 nations outperformed the United States in math, 22 in science, and 19 in reading, all much worse performance than the data collected in 2009. All of our kids deserve better.

As you consider the idea of more young-male-literate educational approaches, check out what comes up for you! Are you carrying a gender bias when it comes to their education?

You can read Ms. Cepeda's full article on her Washington Post web page, and find Dr. Sax's book on Amazon.

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