Why are boys lagging behind girls in today’s schools? Last week, The Toronto Globe and Mail published a whole series of in-depth articles entitled “Failing Boys” and focusing on the so-called “boy problem” in our schools and in the wider North American society. As recently as 1998, the popular press was full of stories about schools short-changing girls and residual examples of gender bias in our supposedly sanitized, politically-correct textbooks. There’s a new gender gap in education: in Canada and North America, boys now rank behind girls on nearly every measure of academic achievement and young men are gradually being superceded in universities and the professions. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/failing-boys/
Boys are lagging and the problem is fast emerging as the educational issue of our time. Searching for the root cause leads us in many different directions. In a fine Overview piece (October 16, 2010), Education Reporter Kate Hammer identified five key factors: the feminization of education, the appeal of video games, the boy code of behaviour, developmental differences, and the lack of positive role models. The most contentious of these is “feminization” because it raises fundamental questions about the unintended consequences of one of the most important social movements of the 1960s and 70s.
The “Boy Problem” has crept up on us in schools. But the basic facts can no longer be ignored:
- Only 31.9 per cent of boys have overall marks of at least 80 per cent, compared to 46.3 per cent who make the A grade.
- Only 20. 4 per cent of boys score in the top 25 % on standardized reading tests, compared to 30.1 per cent of girls. Thirty per cent of boys score in the bottom 25 per cent, while only 19 per cent of girls do so.
- Nearly one in 10 boys repeat a grade (9.9 per cent) compared to 6.5 per cent of girls.
- Boys are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and prescribed medication three times as often as girls.
- In Ontario, just 27 per cent of teachers are male, down from 31 per cent a decade ago. In B.C., 28 per cent of practising teachers are male.
- Young men are now the minority in most university classes , and women account for about 60 per cent of all Canadian undergraduates.
Talking about the possible feminization of education has been taboo until recently, at least inside the educational system. It’s already a raging debate in Western Europe where the “feminized pedagogy” is a divisive political issue and scholars openly debate whether “feminization” has led to a “softer” curriculum less suited to boys than girls. In Canada, English literature teachers are often accused of loading their course reading lists with “women’s books” by the Bronte sisters, Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. In its 2009 report, the Ontario EQA Office noted that boys are not reading as much outside of class, with those reading 3+ hours per week dropping by 4 percentage points to only 32 percent. While in class, the mostly female teacher force generally find today’s adolescent boys unruly, tuned-out, or inclined to skip heavy reading classes.
The Big Question arising from The Globe and Mail “Failing Boys” Series is What has Happened to the Boys in our Schools? How has the feminization of the teaching profession impacted upon the education of boys? Do new teaching methods such as pair-and-share, cooperative learning, and other “soft” pedagogies work to the disadvantage of boys? In diagnosing record numbers of boys with ADHD, are we in danger of treating “boyhood” as a disease? And what can be done to reverse the trend line for today’s boys and tomorrow’s men?