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Teaching Boys


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In researching a story I am writing about ballet, I have found that a new trend in ballet training over the last ten to fifteen years has been separate training for boys in the early years, recognizing some inherent differences, culturally, physically, and emotionally between boys and girls. These special "boys-only" programs have been very successful in attracting boys to ballet and retaining them in the training in later years. I believe that incorporating some of these findings and practices into other areas of education could be helpful in educating well-adjusted boys.

The programs have found that by allowing young boys to wear shorts and t-shirts, rather than leotard and tights, and emphasizing the athleticism of dance makes ballet training much more attractive to boys who fear perceptions of femininity. One teacher has commented that they recognize boys are far more energetic than girls, have shorter attention spans, and are more competitive. By taking them out of an environment with girls and using these boyish qualities, the boys thrive. They seek to jump higher, leap farther, and they see their dancing as a means to become more athletic and competitive. They like to have a teacher get in their face and be active with them, to let them be boys.

I have read that often boys in early education have more attention problems than girls, as well as discipline. They are made to feel badly because they aren't necessarily behaving the way the girls are and are made to feel that there is something wrong with them when, in reality, they are simply being boys and following their natural, biological tendencies. It is now politically correct (and I am a liberal, not one of these Rush Limbaugh types who hates feminists) but it is now politically correct to suppress or attempt to alter some of the perceived aggressive behavior of boys instead of recognizing the behavior for what it is, a natural extension of just being a boy. One female educator researching this has now recognized this and recently wrote that when she first entered a special group of boys for research, one of them raised his hand like a gun and shot her. She thought at first the boy was unhappy with her and had too many aggressive tendencies. However, she later realized after studying and working with them, that he was simply recognizing her as an equal and including her in his group. Rather than a sign of rejection, it was a sign of acceptance.

I think if educators could see beyond their preconceptions about boys as troublemakers and seek to recognize and even use the emotional and physical differences of boys from girls to help educate in special and different ways, rather than medicate boys to force them to conform to feminine forms of behavior, boys would grow up with greater self-esteem and fewer fears that something is wrong with them. They would perform better in school if we considered, particularly in younger levels, that perhaps separate classes with different methods of teaching might be preferable.

Thoughts?

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That sounds like a good idea, for the dance programs, but what happens when those boys all of a sudden have to conform to the traditions of ballet, wearing a leotard and tights and a dance-belt that looks so much like a padded set of panties? I think the sudden change, at a time when they are going through puberty, and we would lose many very fine dancers.

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Paul, As they start Pas de Deux, it is a gradual transformation. In addition, the boys are 12, 13 14, and a little more mature. besides, they don't really need to be with the girls until later. They do switch to traditional ballet wear at this time. Perhaps your friend has insight on this?

Also, Paul, since you are home schooled and have been given such an excellent education, what do you think about the special attention you have received and how that might translate into the classroom? I think you might be a perfect example of this.

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Despite political correctness and militant feminism, boys and girls of elementary and middle school ages do better all around in sexually segregated classes.

It used to be done that way. We are just too smart to use what has worked for generations and have decided that drugs and pregnancy are so much better.

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Despite political correctness and militant feminism, boys and girls of elementary and middle school ages do better all around in sexually segregated classes.

It used to be done that way. We are just too smart to use what has worked for generations and have decided that drugs and pregnancy are so much better.

I went to an all boys high school (now co-ed). I wasn't interested in the drugs but I did everything I could, to encourage my fellow students to get me pregnant. I wasn't the only one of course. In fact if memory serves me correct, trying to get pregnant was almost as popular as playing football. This lead me to the conclusion that the whole school sports program was a plot to make the students too exhausted to try to get pregnant. If so, that plot failed, miserably, even if pregnancy was an extremely rare outcome amongst the boys. We tried...

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There is the perception, at least around these parts, from people that are teachers or otherwise work with children, that boys today are far more unruly, inattentive, and aggressive than in past decades. I'm always fascinated to note that the people most loudly proclaiming this are either very young adults or appear to have another agenda. The most experienced and, in my opinion, best teachers rarely seem to make these claims. They also seem less likely to categorize boys as "problem children."

Makes one wonder...

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There are a good number of single-sex public schools around here - remnants from an "educational reform" movement (I'd argue that most of what passes as "reform" isn't, but that's another topic) when city leaders said "Our schools are all failing, so let's just...try stuff. As long is it doesn't cost anything." So we got uniforms, magnet schools, charter schools, sex-segregated schools, non-union schools...everything except, say, getting the under-performing schools in the city equal funding as the excellent schools in the 'burbs. The result?

Turns out that taking an angry, hopeless kid with a history of poverty, neglect, and abuse, putting him in a uniform and surrounding him with other boys gives you...a really angry, hopeless boy in a uniform, surrounded by the same. Academically and behaviorally, very little change. Shocking, I know.

The research I've read has shown that single-sex education doesn't make much of an impact at best, and supports gender stereotypes at worst. Introverted, cerebral boys would absolutely hate being in a school where they tried to play up the "Boys are boisterous and competitive" stereotype, just as active, competitive girls would hate a school that plays up the "Girls are all about communication and collaboration" stereotype. Not only does this make the kids feel bad because they're being forced to work in a situation that goes against their natures, but they're in a position where they feel that they're wrong because of it - "The teachers act like boys are supposed to be loud and active. I just want to read my book. Does that mean I'm too girly?"

"But EC!" You're saying, "What about all those private schools that separate genders? They do way better than the public schools that keep boys and girls together!"

Well, yes. But those are private schools. The kinds of parents that seek out single-gender schools (and private schools in general) are the kind of parents interested in education. Their kids are going to do well no matter where they go. When you remove that aspect and look at public schools, single-sex and co-ed doesn't really matter.

---

Ideally, teachers would look at kids as more than their demographic information, but the system itself makes that difficult. Here's something crazy that you might not realize if you don't have kids in school (and maybe even if you do):

Because of No Child Left Behind, schools have quotas for success based on demographic information. Meaning, not only do 75% of our kids need to pass this test, but 75% of white kids need to pass this test, as well as 75% of boys, 75% of girls, 75% of African-Americans, etc. Also, the test score is king, so it's the "Bubble Kids" (kids who are failing, but are close to passing) that get the most attention and resources. Kids who are failing by a lot are ignored, because even if they make great gains, they will still be below grade level and will likely fail the test. Kids who are passing or above average are ignored, because, hey, we've already got their numbers.

So it's not unusual to see memos along these lines: "We have enough 3rd grade boys passing math. Focus interventions on the girls!" "We have enough Caucasian and African-American kids passing reading - focus interventions on Hispanic kids!" "Kid X is scoring so low that he stands no chance of coming up high enough to pass the test. Stop working with him and focus on Kid Y, who is closer to the bubble!"

It's a case of good intentions ("Let's make sure schools are accountable for educating all demographics") turning into ridiculous results (playing numbers games to keep the school open, rather than, you know, TEACHING KIDS).

---

Back on topic:

I sometimes hear that line of "Boys are too unruly and aggressive" vs. "Boys will be boys." I don't see it, myself. I've worked with a lot of students, now, and there are as many modes of behavior as there are kids. I've known girls who love to fight and curse and spit, and I've known boys who like to draw and read and cook, and everything in between. I'm a fan of teaching the kid, not the demographic.

I guess in the end, I don't come to the table with a "You're supposed to be this way" attitude - I've got the kids that I've got, I'll make clear my expectations, and I'll hold to them. If I notice a kid that needs to move around, I'll give them a seat near the back and let them stand up while they take notes, or teach them to spin a pen between their fingers so that they're able to burn some energy while working. It's about an equal number of boys and girls to whom I give those kinds of accommodations.

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I was pretty much nodding right along with everybody else on this topic, until I thought of something.

Before I get to that, though, I'd say one of the first big clues that perhaps young Blue was not as straight as other boys was my reaction when a (male) friend did a dance recital for our grade at school. For some reason, young Blue was mightily enthusiastic, cheering for his friend doing a modern dance routine in a bright leotard for a few minutes. Exactly why this got young Blue's full attention and heart rate going wasn't quite clear, besides that the boy was my best friend then. At the time (elementary school) it wasn't clear to young Blue that there was any other kind of feelings going on, but that sure must have helped things along. ... Hurray for dance lessons! -- My friend took a lot of flak from other boys, because (of course) any boy who'd prance around in a skin-tight suit like that must be queer, and apparently, it was more his mom's idea to do the recital at school. Never mind that those same boys making fun of him also read comic books with superheroes in skin-tight costumes, or watched pro sports with skin-tight costumes. Young Blue was (of course) scandalized that anyone would make fun of his friend, and thought the dance thing was terrific.

OK, on to the thought that was different from nodding along.

Oh, I fully agree, boys and girls have plenty of differences in how they think and act, even when they're really little, and probably even before social conditioning of behavior teaches them what is "boyish and manly" and what is "girly and womanly." It's also really interesting that straight or gay or in between, we all want time with "just the boys" or "just the girls," and we all have same-sex close friends, and we'll all complain how the opposite sex just doesn't understand sometimes. -- "Women!" -- "Men!" Nothing wrong with those differences, either, even if they're frustrating as all get out sometimes.

Boys generally are more rough and tumble, take more risks, more aggressive or assertive, and tend to muffle certain emotions and displays of affection. But perhaps by then, a lot of that is conditioning. (Don't be a sissy, a cry-baby. Be a man.) However much of that is learned and how much is innate because they are boys, there are real differences, deep down, in how boys and girls think and act. A man and a woman may arrive at essentially the same conclusions, but by very different paths. -- And I can tell you that women can be very good scientists and engineers and computer techs and programmers, for instance. I'm not going to claim women and girls aren't suited to things, any more than men and boys are not.

So what was the point where I stopped nodding? Aha!

What about the boys who don't especially like or see the point of all that rough play, the hitting or wrestling or whatever? What about the boys who'd rather do other things? That doesn't make them effeminate, either. It just means they have a different take on things. Some boys would really rather read or learn to play music or take dance or cook, instead of football and wrestling. Hey, some boys even write. Poetry even. ;) Does any of that mean they are not manly, does it make them girly boys? Well, no, not really.

Uh, I was one of those boys. I sucked at sports. I sucked at mechanical aptitude, mostly, either home repair or car repair or shop class type things. Getting roughed up in team sports or one on one? I mostly thought that wasn't much fun, getting hit or getting all dirty. (OK, not entirely. I'm a guy, of course some of it appeals to me too, just not always in obvious ways.) (Someone really should've pointed out why it might be fun to wrestle, for instance. Not entirely joking, there. But as a kid, I didn't get it yet. We want to beat the stuffing out of each other, why? Are you serious? LOL.) ... It wasn't until my pre-teens that it began to dawn on me that I liked boys. Uh, swimming class, for instance. Heheh. (Picture one very self-conscious youngster getting out of the pool, because all that activity got the hormones working and certain bodily reactions...well, you get the idea.)

OK, then there are the boys who *do* like some more typically girly things. You know what? I'm not entirely prepared to say those boys are girly or effeminate either. Boys tend to do those things in ways that are still all boy. Boys might experiment with putting on makeup. In some cultures, makeup or paint or dye, tattoos and other things, are perfectly manly. Come on, you've seen how guys dressed in the 1700's. But there are other things that may blur the lines of what's typically "boy behavior" and "girl behavior," and some boys try some of those "girly" things. ... And again, there are cultures where that's quite manly too. How many boys and men have sat for high tea, or demi-tasse, and so on? Color and pattern in clothing, too. All sorts of stuff.

But then, there are boys like at least one of my classmates, higher voice, swished when he walked, and it was not an act. It was how he was.

Uh, I'm not necessarily the most straight-acting guy on the planet either. (My speaking voice is higher and has more inflection than some. I occasionally still get that over the phone.) (You can hear me on some recordings on my site and on Codey's World, and past recordings on AwesomeDude Radio spots. I've also been in a few fan audio recordings and will be again soon.)

That all boils down to saying, it's a range. There are some very macho boys and some more moderate boys and then there are boys who fit a little more toward less overtly macho things and then there are some who fit in what many people think is somehow effeminate, whether it really is or not.

For the girls, all you need is the word tomboy, and you get that side of the argument. A girl who can take care of herself and be a little tomboyish, or a lot tomboyish, great. We generally don't see that as a problem. Yet for some reason, people tend to act like it is a problem if a boy is somehow supposedly a "sissy." (Sissy is, of course, originally a child's form for "sister" that acquired other meanings. Bummer, huh?)

What I'm saying, then, is that there's a whole range of what it is to behave like a boy. Or a girl. But yes, there are things about being a boy or a girl that are just as built-in as what's in your shorts.

Also, yes, there are folks who are intersex and folks who are transgender. Intersex is quite definitely physical. Transgender is probably a mix of physical, emotional, environment, and upbringing, but I'd say it's real too.

All that said, I think there are times when separate classes for boys and girls are a good idea. Certain teaching techniques also. -- I think it's a great idea for boys taking dance classes, whether ballet or other dance forms, to be encouraged in what is masculine and attractive to boys, things like being a good athlete, ordinary boy's clothes, any of that. (Hey, just because I wasn't a natural athlete doesn't mean I don't appreciate it. I kinda envy it. Swimming's awesome, for instance.) And hey, I would like to learn to dance. (I may not have been the most macho boy, but I would've been just as ticked off as any boy, if you'd tried to make me wear ballet tights and a tutu, no matter how de rigueur et en bonne forme it might be.)

If more boys could see dance as masculine and athletic, skilled and desirable, instead of supposedly girly/effeminate, then maybe more boys would be eager to sign up and keep dancing. For some, once they get old enough to realize a pretty girl might like them more if they dance well, that's a motivator. (More power to ya, boys.) Um, and yes, for some of us, the idea of seeing our best friend in leotards, dancing his butt off, also a highly inspirational factor. Heh.

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I tried really hard to think of a good anecdote about the differences in behavior between the boys and girls in my classes. I honestly can't think of one. There's no specific trait or behavior that I can say I've noticed in only one gender, or even disproportionately in one more than the other...except one.

Here it is - the one thing I've noticed that's different between boys and girls at my school:

The girls know how to FIGHT.

When the guys fight, it's mostly shoving, bumping, some half-hearted punches here and there. Easy to break up. The worst I've seen is a shot to the jaw that knocked a guy to the ground.

When the girls fight, it's a rolling-on-the-ground, clawing at the eyes, pulling out the hair, biting, kicking, Tasmanian Devil-esque whirlwind of destruction.

I was trained in Crisis Intervention - that is, how to break up fights, disarm kids with weapons, restrain kids who are a danger to themselves and others, etc. Even the trainer said "In the case of a girl fight, just let them go. If you intervene there, you're just going to get hurt."

So there it is - the one big difference I've noticed between boys and girls at school.

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Turns out that taking an angry, hopeless kid with a history of poverty, neglect, and abuse, putting him in a uniform and surrounding him with other boys gives you...a really angry, hopeless boy in a uniform, surrounded by the same. Academically and behaviorally, very little change. Shocking, I know.

[ ... ]

The kinds of parents that seek out single-gender schools (and private schools in general) are the kind of parents interested in education. Their kids are going to do well no matter where they go.

[ ... ]

The research I've read has shown that single-sex education doesn't make much of an impact at best, and supports gender stereotypes at worst. Introverted, cerebral boys would absolutely hate being in a school where they tried to play up the "Boys are boisterous and competitive" stereotype, just as active, competitive girls would hate a school that plays up the "Girls are all about communication and collaboration" stereotype. Not only does this make the kids feel bad because they're being forced to work in a situation that goes against their natures, but they're in a position where they feel that they're wrong because of it - "The teachers act like boys are supposed to be loud and active. I just want to read my book. Does that mean I'm too girly?"

[ ... ]

boys who like to draw and read and cook,

EleCivil's points were all great, but the ones I quoted, especially.

I went to an ordinary public school (not a private or parochial school) with all the other regular kids, like most American kids do. Co-ed, of course.

I was that kid who carried around extra pens and pencils and paper to draw or write with. Like I said above, I was the kind of boy who didn't much see the point in beating the snot out of your classmates in P.E. because it was "fun." It didn't mean I couldn't be boisterous too or get dirty and muddy if I wanted. It did mean I just didn't prefer going too far with it.

I'm mostly joking about the wrestling joke, but there's some reality there too. Some tutoring for martial arts might've helped. The idea of lots of physical contact or less clothing with other boys? Once I was old enough to be aware of some of those feelings and the reasons for them, at least the beginnings of that awareness, I was anything from nervous to afraid of anyone else finding out about that. It did not at all occur to me that a few other boys might not mind one way or the other about it, or that a few might be like me, and like the idea. (I would guess that most gay boys who've had to deal with P.E. and locker rooms know exactly how that feels. But probably others handled it differently.) For instance, I loved swimming, but dressing out, before and especially after, when puberty's starting up? Very embarrassing when your anatomy won't listen to your brain, isn't it? -- If you're getting the idea that nudity and sex were pretty much taboo at home, yes, absolutely. No siblings, either; city boy, and handicapped; religious family.

School uniforms came into my school district way after I'd graduated. I've heard the pros and cons. It still seems like training the kids to be boringly homogenized sameness, training out all their individuality and expression as free citizens, or getting them ready for that business suit or military uniform, like good little drones. -- My default way to dress falls into business casual and yuppie/preppie territory, like most computer or academic geeks. (Hey, that's mostly what I am.) -- But at least with that, there's a little freedom of expression. -- Isn't a little contradictory to use school uniforms to avoid gang colors or rock band shirts, if you're then going to wear the school or house colors on your uniform? Heheh.

I may look like a preppie yuppie guy most of the time, your classic geek, but yes, I have that hidden counter-culture streak. What can I say? My mom was an artist and I grew up in the 70's and 80's. ;) If my parents hadn't been so conservative, I might've been a hippie flower child who grew into a punk / new wave boy.

My old high school now has metal detectors and school uniforms, and has been in the news twice because some kid or other brought a gun to school in his backpack.

My old high school does have a GSA thes days, and no longer sends boys or girls home for as many things about clothes or hair or makeup or jewelry or, I guess, piercings.

Take the good with the bad, try for better. :)

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... it's not unusual to see memos along these lines: "We have enough 3rd grade boys passing math. Focus interventions on the girls!" "We have enough Caucasian and African-American kids passing reading - focus interventions on Hispanic kids!" "Kid X is scoring so low that he stands no chance of coming up high enough to pass the test. Stop working with him and focus on Kid Y, who is closer to the bubble!"

Man o man! Would I love to see that memo and ones of its ilk find their ways to the local papers. Maybe embarrassing a few 'educators' would be the beginning of a change of attitude. If nothing else, hopefully Mr. and Mrs. X would descend on the author of that memo with rage in their eyes and a lawyer in tow.

C

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EleCivil makes good points and perhaps its too easy to stereotype and what I wrote earlier could be used to justify bullying and other forms of negative behavior. I suppose what I want to say is that sometimes boys are negatively stereotyped as aggressive and troublemaking and often the solution by some faculty and administrations- not all- is medication just to get them to shut up and conform.

I certainly agree that equalizing funding between affluent suburban schools and poverty-stricken urban schools would make a tremendous difference. The United States is 26th in the world in education achievement. Pathetic. But, those in the suburbs see any attempt to equalize funding as taking away from them and giving to those who don't deserve it.

My point is that sometimes, girls may perform better in a segregated environment free of the distractions of boys who in some ways be negative influences and that boys may perform better in a segregated environment in which they are not made to feel bad because they are boys. Some boy traits may not translate to all boys-- I certainly wasn't a "typical" boy, whatever that might be-- but choosing some other way of dealing with traditional boy issues other than medication and enforced conforming to certain standards.

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When I grew up and attended public school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) we had no male teachers in my elementary or low secondary experience. Our "schoolmarms" were typically maiden ladies who enforced behaviors from above through expectations and commentary. Girls behaved and boys didn't, in their world view, and for the most part we lived up to their preconceptions. It wasn't until I was in high school that I encountered male teachers==but these were, for the most part, tired old men who had no use for fulfilling anyone's idea of a role model. For a boy to emerge from that molding process with any attributes other than rough and tumble ones would have required a clear and consistent counterpressure from his own family or his social setting.

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It's been noted that, generally with older teachers, it's the teachers themselves that can be the problem. Back when James and I were in school, research studies have shown the societal expectations were that boys were brighter than girls and becasue of that they were favored in the classrooms. Girls were expected to get married, stay home and raise the children. Boys would either go to college or enter the work force. Teachers often reinforced those expectations in the way they treated the kids at school.

When it became known that teachers were favoring boys in the classroom and that girls were getting short shrift, things began to change, but slowly. I'd guess there's less of that now, especially with younger teachers in the classrooms.

C

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There is the perception, at least around these parts, from people that are teachers or otherwise work with children, that boys today are far more unruly, inattentive, and aggressive than in past decades. I'm always fascinated to note that the people most loudly proclaiming this are either very young adults or appear to have another agenda. The most experienced and, in my opinion, best teachers rarely seem to make these claims. They also seem less likely to categorize boys as "problem children."

Makes one wonder...

Gee, when I read your post last night I decided to ask my granddad what it was like when he was in school. He's 73 and went to Catholic elementary school until seventh grade when my great-grandparents moved and he switched to public school. So this morning I sent him an email with the contents of your post then phoned him to find out what he thought. Here's what he said:

"I attended a Catholic grammar school in Los Angeles, Saint Ignatius, and then in Long Beach I attended Lakewood Junior High for grades seven through nine and Wilson High for grades ten through twelve. The boys (and remember I was a boy back then) were much more unrully and unattentive and aggressive compared to kids today. I know because I've worked as a volunteer teacher's aid in all three levels of public school and at the local Catholic elementary school since I retired eleven years ago. I don't know anything about how it is at Saint Anthony High School."

He told me a lot of the things that went on when he was in school, and participated in when he was in elementary school. He says one difference is that when he went to school kids would be physically grabbed and dragged out of class and taken to the office, teachers would shout at and threaten kids in class, kids would be hit with things like a map pointer or a ruler. None of that can be done today; the school and the teacher would be sued. He says kids where he volunteers today are not as disruptive as they were when he was in school. But he volunteers is in a nice area so maybe the kids tend to be well behaved.

Colin :icon_geek:

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