Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Trouble with Boys

Being in academe, I hear a lot of talk about the barriers to women's success, be it at universities or in industry. But maybe we're worrying about the wrong sex - this Newsweek article presents some startling evidence that we need instead to worry increasingly about a male underachievement gap! The article discusses the reasons for this, including the fact that girls mature earlier than boys (an average of 18 months earlier), and also discusses the implications of educational actions, like gutting PE progams, on male academic performance. But there were a couple of interesting ideas that really caught my eye:
Across the nation, educators are reviving an old idea: separate the girls from the boys—and at Roncalli Middle School, in Pueblo, Colo., administrators say, it's helping kids of both genders. This past fall, with the blessing of parents, school guidance counselor Mike Horton assigned a random group of 50 sixth graders to single-sex classes in core subjects....Although it's too soon to declare victory, there are some positive signs: the shyest boys are participating more. This fall, the all-girl class did best in math, English and science, followed by the all-boy class and then coed classes.

Hmm, I'll be darned. I've heard people say that students are less conscious of the opposite sex and can learn better before, but I always chalked it down to traditional Indian ideas. Having lived my whole life in a coed school, I always figured this was the way to go, but maybe those sex-segregated schools may not always be a bad thing.

But this article is also in some ways, a call to action. This is something I knew, but bears repeating:
One of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school rests on a single question: does he have a man in his life to look up to? Too often, the answer is no. High rates of divorce and single motherhood have created a generation of fatherless boys. In every kind of neighborhood, rich or poor, an increasing number of boys—now a startling 40 percent—are being raised without their biological dads. Psychologists say that grandfathers and uncles can help, but emphasize that an adolescent boy without a father figure is like an explorer without a map.... In neighborhoods where fathers are most scarce, the high-school dropout rates are shocking: more than half of African-American boys who start high school don't finish.

There is a solution, one we can all be a part of, if we cared enough:
David Banks, principal of the Eagle Academy for Young Men, one of four all-boy public high schools in the New York City system, wants each of his 180 students not only to graduate from high school but to enroll in college. And he's leaving nothing to chance. Almost every Eagle Academy boy has a male mentor—a lawyer, a police officer or an entrepreneur from the school's South Bronx neighborhood. The impact of the mentoring program, says Banks, has been "beyond profound." Tenth grader Rafael Mendez is unequivocal: his mentor "is the best thing that ever happened to me."

PostscriptIf anyone has the opportunity to see the new documentary 'Boys of Baraka' do so, and let me know what you thought. I've heard good things about this story of a group of boys from Baltimore, the most violent school district in the country, going to boarding school in Kenya and coming back as honor roll students. None of my local theaters are showing the movie, and I hope to convince a friend to get it from Netflix.

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