Sunday, May 18, 2008

School for Boys

After writing my last post about Noah’s challenge of getting three “green cards” (three days of good behavior) I got an excellent comment from a fellow blogger, GPC, who made a lot of wonderful points. I was just going to respond to her but it started to turn into a blog post of its own.

I, too, became quite disheartened about how the current educational system seems to work against the way boys think and learn. I read a couple of Michael Gurian’s books. He is one of the preeminent minds on how to parent and teach boys. His books explain how not only the American school system works against boys and their self esteem but also how our current culture does the same.

I have heard in the past of single-gender schools and thought they were not a good choice because kids need to be socialized with both sexes. But after educating myself about how boys and girls learn SO differently, I can see why a school for boys, geared toward more kinesthetic learning, one that is more hands-on, with activities that are less verbal and focus more on spatial mechanics, would be so amazingly good for boys. It would be a godsend to find a school where they can carry out a physical activity rather than be lectured about it or see a demonstration, where a boy can learn by doing rather than having a thought or a theory first and then act on it, as girls are excellent at doing.

I admit, I was pretty taken aback when Noah’s kindergarten teacher stated that he would not be taking the class trip to the zoo on Monday if he ended the day in anything below the coveted green card zone on the behavior chart the class keeps everyday.

(By the way, in case you were wondering, he came through with flying colors and got his three green cards and WILL be going to the zoo!)

I really do have to stand up and defend this teacher, though, because she is simply stunning in her perseverance with finding methods and ways of teaching EACH INDIVIDUAL CHILD in her classroom, and working with and accepting each child’s idiosyncrasies, seeing them as parts of a child’s personalities, not flaws to fix.

For instance, she recognized right off Noah’s love of music and his need for physical movement. He is often distracting of the kids in his class because he hums or sings or drums on his desk or gets up and bounces while writing or reading. Because of this, she created Noah’s Music Box, which is a box full of musical instruments, and whenever he feels the need to use it, if his work is done, he can go get his box, step outside the classroom and play maracas, tambourine, whistle, or whatever and dance and move around. He can even bring one friend if he can find someone who finished as quickly as he tends to finish.

She uses methods I know are used for teaching kinesthetic learners, which many boys (and likely, Noah) tend to be. She includes a lot of hands-on activities and music. She is sweet as apple pie, but she is no nonsense when it comes to breaking the rules. There are NO interruptions when instruction is being given. There is no shouting out of answers without raising hands. There are rules. And lately, Noah has been breaking them more and more often. And while I was gripped by fear of my son’s failure and the consequences of being left behind, I understood why she had given this somewhat out-of-character ultimatum. She said she could handle kids that don't follow the rules within four walls, but not when she is in charge of an entire classroom in a huge outdoor setting where one can get lost or hurt.

I don’t have faith in the public school system when it comes to keeping most every child from falling through the cracks. I thought the system would be good enough for my kid. I really do believe, that despite the sudden zoo ultimatum, Noah is currently in an awesome environment for him because his teacher is tireless when it comes to attempting to meet the learning needs of every child even if it means using different methods for every kid, all at the same time.

She really is something to behold. But I know nothing about the first grade teachers he will be assigned to in a few months, or the second grade teachers the following year. I know there are only two male teachers in the whole school; males who just inherently know how to interest a boy because they were one once.

And I worry when I imagine Noah sitting in the back row of 2 dozen desks someday, unable to concentrate because he is shunted into a system that is better set up for how girls learn, possibly because the system is run by women according to how it would work best for them.

And I think again about those private schools for boys. And wonder if I should see if there is such a thing in my city.


AlaskaTeacher said...

My husband is an elementary teacher. He is the only male elementary teacher in our school. He is able to have success with kids that nobody else can handle (usually boys).

There's just something about the way he teaches and arranges his classroom that resonates with certain boys. A lot of girls excel in his class too, but he's especially good at reaching the boys.

I would definitely look into a school that focuses instruction and methods toward boys. It might be just what your little guy needs.

gpc said...

I am glad to hear that Noah's teacher has many good qualities, and it is nice of you to defend her, but we all have room for inprovement and I still say she was wrong, wrong, wrong to threaten to exclude him. She had other options and, if she was afraid for his safety on a field trip, should have at the least given you the option of going along and being responsible for the safety of your own child. Even the littlest boys can understand that we have rules for their safety, a whole different thing than the message that they aren't good enough and don't deserve to be with us.

That said, I am a huge fan of good single gender education. My son, the one who never caused me one second of concern, didn't seem to have much in common with his public school classmates and I was concerned that he was becoming shy and introverted. He switched to a boys' school (his choice - he was always smarter than I was) and I fell in love with the concept.

In addition to self confidence and the ability to concentrate on their studies, there were so many unexpected benefits, including the delightful side effect of forming a group of young men who are still as comfortable looking in ties and jackets as they are in jeans and sweatshirts. The wildest boys didn't get the spotlight treatment that causes them to act out even more, and their wildness didn't impress or bother either their classmates or their teachers, it was just an aspect of who they were. Discipline didn't seem to carry the stigma there that it had in the mixed gender atmosphere even though the boys' school's rules were more firm and more consistent.

And it seemed to me that the boys in the boys school actually got along better with girls than their public school peers, maybe because they actually thought of girls as people and hadn't embraced the gender stereotype of giggling foolishness that goes along with public schools.

For sure, many years later, he is successful in his work, a calm and practical problem solver, and the best husband and father I have ever seen. And he is still in touch with several of those old classmates despite many years and very different paths.

I never regretted the bizillion dollars his school cost me, and only wished I could have convinced my daughter to try a girls' school, which I think could have made a huge difference for her. I'm sure it isn't the answer for everyone, but I think it is worth looking into.

I am so glad that Noah has you.

Karin Zirk said...

This is such a reverse opinion of the world that it's hard for me to believe the system is set up against boys. Granted I'm old, but in the world I grew up in and still live in, female's are the second class citizens. As a person who works in a male dominated environment (IT), I feel it every day.

I believe that we all learn in different ways, but let's not put that down to how boys or girls learn. Let's just accept that there are different teaching styles that work better for some people than others. As my sister, the elementary school reading specialist, says, 80% of the kids will learn to read no matter how it's taught. But the remaining 20% need things targeted their learning style to get it.

As to male teachers being better at handling boys, I think there's an assumption that because culturally speaking it's OK for boys to act out, but not for girls which causes girls to internalize their unhappiness while boys often act out. In fact, if you're a girl who acts out, you're punished twice as hard because "girls don't act like that."

I place the blame on American Henry Ford. He invented the assembly line in this country and culturally we embraced it as the solution to all lifes problems.

But people aren't identical and don't come of assembly lines (yet).