Oh, Boys
posted by Amy

I have two little boys and teach at the college level, so whenever I see some headline about schools failing boys and the decline in college attendance among males, I tend to pay attention. However, much of the recent writing about how boys just aren't cut out to sit still and pay attention and how their mostly female teachers are prejudiced against them has disturbed me. For one thing, through my years of volunteering in public schools classrooms and teaching in the college setting, I've seen plenty of boys who are able to sit still, and plenty of girls who aren't. I don't think our schools are perfect, but I'm not sure that bias against boys is the main issue. For another, the assumption that any difference in how boys and girls behave in school stems from biological differences, not any caused or exacerbated by cultural constructions of gender, is questionable given that we live in a time when we have to choose between Buzz Lightyear and the Disney Princesses when buying Pull-ups for our toddlers.

Ampersand has a two-part response to the most recent article about boys and schools. In Part 1, Ampersand notes the lack of attention paid to how race and class affect college attendance. In Part 2, my favorite quote is: "Gurian argues that in the past, boys' classroom deficiencies were covered up by greater parental involvement, unlike today." As Ampersand notes, there's no evidence of that being true. I can't imagine parents being any MORE involved than they are today. Given that we're required to volunteer 40 hours a year at one child's school and 24 at another's, plus work in the classroom weekly at the third kid's if we want to have a clue about what's going on in the school, I'd say parental involvement is probably at an all-time high. Neither my grandmother nor my mother—both stay-at-home moms—did anything more than bake the occasional cupcakes and chaperone dances. In their days, they were highly-involved. By today's standards, they'd be total slackers. And it's not just my family—everyone I know whose kids go to public schools contributes plenty of time, money, or both to the schools.

I'm worried about the state of public education, but as the parent of two boys, I'm not more worried about them than I am about my daughter, who will have to contend with sexual harrasment from an early age, fight stereotypes about girls not doing well in math and science, and figure out if she wants to play baseball with the boys, since there's no softball league in the neighborhood (there is, however, a cheerleading club). As a teacher of non-native English speakers from immigrant families, I hear stories about young women not being able to get to the computer because their brothers—the ones the parents believe truly NEED an education—get first priority on the family's one computer, as well as stories about women having to babysit their brothers' kids or their own younger siblings while balancing paid work and full-time college. I also hear from young men whose cousins, brothers, or friends join gangs rather than go on to college. Like most parents, I worry about my kids—but realistically, my white sons have better chances than most of making it through the school system relatively unscathed.