Boys and School

By 05/07/2010

16 Comments | Print | NO PDF |

Richard Whitmire talks with Education Next about how K-12 schools shortchange boys and what can be done to help boys do better in school. For more on this topic, see “Gender Gap: Are Boys Being Shortchanged in K-12 Schooling?” in the Spring 2010 issue of Education Next.

“[The problem] really is only about two decades old. It started with education reforms that pushed literacy skills down into the very early grades when boys are not as capable of receiving them or dealing with them as girls are. The boys get discouraged and they figure that this school is just not for them, it’s for girls.” – Richard Whitmire on why boys are failing

Comment on this article
  • Lando says:

    While there is a 16% difference in females to males receiving bachelor’s degrees, I believe to narrow that gap, a little work, not anything drastic, needs to be done. If males are not developed enough for higer reading in Kindergarden, then the schools need to differenciate instruction for males in this aspect so they won’t feel like school should be only for females, as Whitmore states.

  • Dawgs says:

    The information he gives us is true but I disagree that this is solely a schools system problem. If students, regardless of gender, are recieving information that school is not that important from places like home and family then they will more than likely not think post-secondary education is not important. Also while he says that better schools are the answer he never offers any solutions in this inverveiw. Its easy to state a problem the hard part is coming up with possible solutions. Also in his numbers is he a counting for the fact that there are more females than males in this country. That could be one reason there are more females in college.

  • GCSU Female says:

    Whitmire interest in the gender gap and “Why Boys Fail” appears to have been sparked by a concern that “average” (Read: White middle class boys) are not “catching up [to women] at the same rate” as they have in the past. It seems as though his concern is a ficticious one: “it looks like the boys are doing as well but actually they aren’t.” He believes they are only getting into college based on “preferences that the colleges grant.” It is easy to agree and find facts that support the notion that the majority of the student body at selective colleges are White males; however, it’s silly to assert that this “Affirmative Action” is essentially a cover-up of “boys failing in schools.”
    I can agree that the rise in academic standards and accelerated curriculum can and has result in achievement gaps across the board (which would include the gender issue) however, Whitmire is creating his own cause to fight for. I hope too much time, effort, and money is not wasted on his idea.

  • Chris says:

    As a male student from the heart of these previous two decades, I am curious as to the foundation of Whitmire’s assertion that the education system, particularly verbal education in primary school, is the fundamental reason for the fading achievement among boys, to the exclusion of any family, cultural, or economical influences. I am no scholar on the subject, but I seem to recall encountering a range of anecdotes and/or studies that indicate that one of the most significant factors on the development of verbal skills is the level of experience with words and reading long before entering school. I personally attribute much of my verbal success to my grandparents reading to me and with me as a small child in the years before I entered pre-K. Whitmire seems to ignore the potential role of the family in the verbal development, and places all the responsibility on the school.

  • Tommy says:

    I would tend to agree with Mr. Whitmire in his assertion that something needs to be done. But what?? I believe male students would benefit from verbal instruction made fun by some type of sport activity. I know that when I was a young kid, I would much rather be running, jumping or doing anything besides sitting still. I think that if we could make learning a game it would go a long way towards closing the gender gap for boys.

  • Julie says:

    I believe Mr. Whitmire has completely missed the mark. The problem in primary education today is not a lack of emphasis on equitable training for boys, but the inability of society to accept the budding of the strong, self-sufficient, educated woman. The gender gap perceived by Whitmire seems counter-intuitive to the current information about males and science/math proficiency. Higher education does involve a greater cognitive and reading proficiency, but in certain aspects it allows for greater expression of male proclivities. The supposed gender gap seems to be a worry about the white-middle class male being usurped by his feminine counterpart.

  • Bobcat_Man says:

    Does something need to be done? Upon his own admission, Mr. Whitmire appears to be the only one who views literacy as a problem in young males. Affirmative action is not the answer, neither is his “leave no child behind” answer.

  • AMA says:

    I agree with Whitmare that there is a a gender gap between boys and girls. As a current teacher, I have noticed that a majority of my students within my remediation class are boys. I have also noticed that my school is focusing on narrowing the achievement gap between African American boys and their peers. It seems that boys are falling behind especially African American males. Just as Whitmare mentioned that males are becoming more and more uninterested in schooling. As a teacher, I must work earnestly to encourage my males students to do their best in school and its importance. I would like to eliminate the dominance of males in remediation programs and instead see more males in gifted programs.

  • MET says:

    I cannot help but feel that his view of a crisis is merely a picture of those who have not had the power or earned the degrees in the past bypassing the males who were the ones in so-called “power.” Maybe it is a good thing that “twice as many Black women as men earn bachelor degrees.” What is wrong with that? I do not necessarily see this is a bad thing. I see it as times are changing . Gender roles are being reversed, expanded or altogether thrown out, and maybe the man is not the one playing the dominant role but letting someone else try it for a change.

  • SAJS says:

    Most of the research I have read acquaints the development of literacy and achievement to the exposure you had to it during earlier years than simply school-age. Research suggests that the earlier a child is exposed to literacy skills, the more successful they will be in the acquisition of more abstract level comprehension. Therefore, I find it hard to believe that boys are “unable” to learn literacy at the age in which our current system educates them. However, I do agree with Whitmire that boys are failing and something needs to be rectified in order to help them achieve more success. Maybe it isn’t the fact they are learning these skills at such a young age; more that it is the fact that they aren’t learning using the practices that best suit their learning needs. I have a hard time agreeing with his statement that this is simply the fault of the educational system. Education comes from many different avenues, all of which are important to the success of students, male or female.

  • 6225 says:

    I agree with Mr. Whitmire. The larger issue is differentiation and building positive relationships with students. Our boys need to be shown that they must learn verbal skills to be successful in society.

  • Leslie says:

    After listening to Richard Whitmire on the discussion panel and after viewing this video, I do agree with him particularly on one topic…boys learn differently. We, as teachers, must accept this fact and differentiate our lessons to boys. Boys do not necessarily learn at a slower rate. They just learn at a different rate. Teachers must make sure that no one is being left behind in the classroom.

  • Christy says:

    I disagree with Mr. Whitmire when he says that boys are not ready for the literacy skills early on and that they get discouraged and think school is not for them its for boys. I think boys are definitely ready at that time and we just need to figure out how to reach them. They may be interested in different things than girls and I believe they learn differently. Therefore we as teachers need to figure out how to reach them at an early age and get them motivated to learn so that they don’t get discouraged and want to learn. I believe with this they will definitely show improvement and be less prone to thinking school is not for them.

  • Marie says:

    I think that a lot of Whitmire’s ideas are correct when it comes to helping boys raise their achievement in education and follow into higher levels of education. But, is it bad that some boys do not want to go on to college and would rather have jobs that are more physically challenging? My brother, for example, is very smart but he chose to be a forester and work outside. No, he doesn’t have a very high-paying job, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not successful or that he wasn’t as smart as his female peers. Whitmire’s suggestion that elementary schools need to focus on more literary skills for boys and make sure they don’t fall behind is an important thing to note. I also think that this would work to close the achievement gaps for all groups of students.

  • Regina says:

    I do agree with Whitmire in that our education system is teaching literacy skills at an early age and my experience it that boys do tend to mature at a slower rate than girls. I do not however think that is just a blue collar/middle class issue. I think that boys in general need to be looked at. I do not think that this is just the fault of the education system. Standards in education have been taught in the earlier years to compete with the students around the world. I think that society as a whole needs to think of education as important and make sure that time is devoted to literacy skills at home as well as at school.

  • lynn oliver says:

    Richard Whitmire is doing his best based on our current beliefs regarding development. I feel though the mis-definition of average stress is hurting our understanding regarding the Male Crisis.
    I feel there are three variables at work. 1. Women who in the past chose to have innersecurity from a home and family are now moving more into the job market, where their higher academic and communication skills (due to much more support, stability, care, and verbal interaction). There is also a modeled and directed push by society for this.
    2. For boys, there is a growing war against boys from society, media, and yes, now teachers, and even Female students.
    3. Our average stress is made up of not just- some immediate problem, mental or physical work. It is made up of many layers of mental work that take away real mental energy from past, present, future experiences, problems, needs, fears, circumstances, anything the mind sees as something that needs working on. This then shows us just how our individual environments and differential treatment greatly affect thinking, learning, motivation, and mental health.
    Regarding the third variable and differential treatment. I feel the belief Males should be strong creates more aggressive less supportive or verbal interaction treatment as early as one year of age. This is creating higher average stress (higher layers of mental work) hurting learning; more activity for stress relief; more social/emotional distance; lower social vocabulary; less communication skills, and more fear of adults/teachers (who do use freedom of expression and allowed belief boys should be strong as a convenient catharsis upon boys). This also creates higher mucle tension that hurt writing motivation to write. This more aggressive, less supportive treatment continues through adulthood and has been increased in recent years due to more modeled harshness in the media and by teachers in school.
    I do not see the Male problem as developmental but socially created by more harsh, less supportive treatment, while the more kind, stable, caring, verbal interaction and other mental/emotional/social supports we as girls receive from infancy through adulthoold are providing us with a major advantage in the information age.

  • Comment on this Article

    Name ()


    Sponsored Results

    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform