The Lost Boys

Part III


Parts I and II of this series looked at emerging research that boys around the world in school are struggling in school, and explored some of the reasons why experts think this is occurring. A review of the facts illustrates boys, not girls, are on the weak side of a gender gap in education. That boys, on average, are a year and a half behind girls in reading and writing; they are less invested in school and less likely to go to college. More boys are dropping out of school, and a smaller percentage of young men are going on to college. Young men who do attend college are less likely to earn a diploma, and those men who do earn a college diploma are now less likely than women are to go on to graduate school.


There is growing consensus that this trend is, at least in part, a result of a system-wide misunderstanding of how boys learn and ineffective teaching methods. But the rapidly expanding disciplines of brain science, evolutionary biology, and the combination of the two – evolutionary psychology – are shedding light on science that suggests boys cannot fully realize their academic potential by sitting in a classroom for hours on end.


So what can be done to reverse this trend? According to experts within the aforementioned fields, it’s starts with the knowledge that boys’ and girls’ brains develop differently, and thus, learn differently. As a result, teachers must be given more opportunities to learn how to use gender-specific teaching strategies to get the best out of every student.

“If that happens, the odds are good that we’ll have more girls who excel in math and science, and more boys who love to read. It’s not too late to make a change,” writes Leonard Sax M.D., in his book, “Why Gender Matters: What parents need to know about the emerging science of sex differences.”


“Differences between girls and boys are natural. Those differences should be acknowledged, accepted, and exploited for educational purposes. Instead, many educators today seek to eradicate gender-specific behaviors. In particular, they don’t like “aggressive play.a�� But, in fact, there is no evidence that preventing kids from acting out activities may actually increase the likelihood that the suppressed aggression will manifest itself in less healthy ways.”


Physical Education – Rebranded


Mounting evidence suggests that boys learn best when they are physically active. This is a byproduct of evolution. Because our primate relatives hunted for their food and killed other monkeys, aggression was an important survival trait. Furthermore, chasing and fighting with others were important to practice for survival. Thus, the “use it, or lose it” concept of natural selection proves that the genes related to aggression, and genes used to adapt to action in the environment stuck around because we use them. So rather than suppressing the needs of young men to engage in aggressive play, sports, and games, we should instead embrace that this is part of how boys learn and adapt our curriculums accordingly.


Unlike the past teaching of physical education – traditionally one class, where students run the mile, climb the rope, play kickball, take a fitness test – rebranded physical education should be more all-encompassing, and involve more active and interactive learning in a wide-range of subjects.


“In an era when childhood obesity has doubled over the past 30 years, and adolescent obesity has tripled over the same span, children and adolescents need more opportunity to be active during the day,” Writes Darcia Narvaez, Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. “Daily physical activity is also important for good mental health, a serious issue when adolescent psychosocial disorders are becoming more common. School play, particularly in a recess setting, also plays an important role in the positive development of school-age children, including academic success and development of social skills.”


Physical education does not have to be only kids smashing each other in the face with dodge balls – although substantial evidence suggests it can be good for boys to do exactly that kind of aggressive behavior.


It can be as simple as encouraging more active learning by having kids stand rather than sitting in class. For example, teachers at an all-boys elementary school in Chicago stated the performance of their boys improved “500 percent” after teachers removed the chairs from the classroom. “Young boys just learn better when they stand up. When they sit down, their brains shut off,” one teacher said.


I am currently teaching on the Rosebud Reservation. In my class we’ve been exploring ways to be more active while learning. From incentives like 20 minutes of basketball if we work through the period, to going outside and performing science experiments. Last week, we attended an environmental fair. During a normal school day it is often difficult to keep the boys “on task” for more than ten minutes. But this day is different. It’s not a fancy set up. Six different tables (stations) within a school gym, and we spend 15 minutes with each presenter. At one station the students interact with firefighters from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They hold the ax, and examine the flame suit. He shows them footage of a fire in the area. At another station, a conservation officer explains the importance of ecological balance in the local in environment, he’s laid out skins from a mountain lion, a badger, a mink. He has old bones. The students hold them in their hands, they examine, and they listen. At the soil station, they experiment, they hold the different types in their hands. By the end of the fair, they’ve learned about ecology, biodiversity and conservation; they’ve been provided tools for dealing with these important issues in the future, and they’ve given concrete steps to consider for future employment in forestry, ranching/farming, fire fighting, etc. I consider this kind of learning physical education. Not once in two and a half hours do I have to tell the boys, some of whom can be challenging behaviorally at times, to get back on task. They’re engaged the entire time.


Experts are now suggesting, boys should begin the school day with an hour run. Or, they should arrive at school at play floor hockey (checking allowed). In science class, they should use a telescope outside, they should walk around and collect rocks, or go to the nearest creek to learn about the rock cycle. Students should garden and learn about nutrition, they should study the water cycle by being around creeks and streams. They should study ants to learn about evolution, natural selection, ect. Kids should be playing guitars and drums and mixing for a rap song. Music class is essential, and is another example of active learning. If it’s possible go outside and read. If in a city, students should be out and writing about what they see, what they hear, what they smell. They should be writing about their observations of human interaction, animal interaction, or insect interaction, not simply copying down If they can’t be outside, we need to encourage active learning however possible.