No girls allowed?

While researching some gender-specific education trends, Reva wonders whether the co-learning environment she is setting up for her son should be a boys club.

Photo: RichVintage/iStockphoto

“The girls in the class are good and the boys are bad.” For Debbie, a mother of two and dental assistant in Ottawa, it was hearing her seven-year-old son, Adam, share this idea in a variety of forms, plus the regular notes home about his inability to sit still in class that led to her finally taking him out of their local school.

A self-described “reluctant home-schooler,” she told me, “I felt I had to do something to prevent him from permanently identifying as a troublemaker in class or as someone who hates learning.”  She and her husband decided to keep their eight-year old daughter in school, however, since “she’s never had problems with the teachers or classroom structure there.”

Debbie’s story is just one example of the regular stream of bad news we seem to hear about our boys and the education system — at all ages and stages. And as the mother three boys, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried and bit confused about why that is and what to do about it.

For instance, an article in the Globe and Mail states:

  • Boys are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) three times as often as girls.
  • At universities, women account for about 60 percent of the undergraduates. Men that do attend either college or university are less likely than women to complete what they start.
  • Only 31.9 percent of boys have overall marks of at least 80 percent, compared to 46.3 percent of girls.
  • Nearly one in 10 boys repeat a grade (9.9 percent) compared to 6.5 percent of girls.

For decades, establishing gender equity in schools meant helping female students achieve at the same level as boys — but, along the way, the tables seem to have completely turned, although why and what to do remains very much up for debate.
 
Dr. William Pollack, PhD and author of Real Boys, believes that schools fail to create a curriculum that reflects either how boys learn or what their interests are. He suggests more kinetic and spatial learning as well as more breaks.

Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life, suggest it’s a brain-based difference between the genders that shape learning styles, and the current classroom structure is working against boys.

But schools are apparently not the only ones at fault. 

So are parents. 

A recent Canadian study found that parents spend more time reading, telling stories, drawing and teaching their pre-kindergarten daughters than their sons. 
 
This has nothing to do with age (since the trend continued with boy/girl twins). The reason is that parents (probably just like teachers) find it easier and more productive to spend learning time with girls who are more likely to sit still and cooperate.

The research also suggests that this home-based (but unintended) discrimination could be part of the reason why boys lag behind girls in kindergarten level math and reading. It’s a trend that then continues at the primary and secondary education levels.

For the past month, I’ve been speaking to parents interested in some form of co-learning for September (where we would get our kids together on a schedule for set classes or activities).  

Several adorable and very precocious girls are in this mix of kids whose parents are interested in participating.

I’ve always been skeptical about same-sex education (boys, in my view, should be around girls to better learn to engage and respect them), but this last study, combined with all of the other data, seems to make the best case yet for a male-only learning environment — even when its happening at home. 

And so I’m now rethinking my position for next year, and it seems, and I say this reluctantly, but it will be boys only.