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Education is Failing Boys

In our last podcast, we addressed the primary cause of the boy crisis in America as deprivation of intentional fathers in a nuclear family. This week, we will look at another cause of the problem: the bias against boys as students.

The problem is well documented through a variety of research:

Boys are Repeating Grades at an Alarming Rate

  • For every 100 girls who repeat kindergarten, 194 boys repeat kindergarten.

  • Boys are 50% more likely to be held back in the eighth-grade than eighth-grade girls.

The Gap in Reading and Writing

  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP notes the gap between girls and boys is most pronounced in eighth grade, with the average eighth-grade girl writing at the level of the average eleventh-grade boy.

  • For every 100 girls 6 to 14 years old who have difficulty doing regular schoolwork, 176 boys have difficulty doing regular schoolwork.

  • Nearly twice as many boys as girls have trouble reading, are diagnosed with language disabilities, and are referred to special education classes.

  • 41% of children in the United States are not reading at a basic level by third grade, and a majority of them are boys.

Quick Fixes that Don’t Work – Labels, and Medication

  • For every 100 girls 3 to 5 years old with a developmental delay, 154 boys are developmentally delayed.

  • Boys make up 70% of medicated preschoolers and kindergarteners

Homework, Test Scores, and Grades are Crushing Boys

  • In 2007, the average GPA of boys taking the SAT was 3.42 while girls had an average of 3.54

  • Males earn 70% of “D”s and “F”s and 40% of “A”s

Boys Get into Trouble for Being Boys

  • Boys constitute 95% of children diagnosed as hyperactive.

  • For every 100 girls suspended from public elementary and secondary schools, 215 boys are suspended.

  • For every 100 girls expelled from public elementary and secondary schools, 297 boys are expelled.

  • For every 100 twelfth-grade girls who engaged in a physical fight on school property, 226 boys got into a fight

  • Although there are many gifted but under motivated girls, the actual ratio of non-achieving males to females is 8 to 1.

  • Of high school dropouts, 80% are males.

Boys learn differently. Michael Gurian writes extensively about this subject and best practices in the field of education today. Gurian-model schools apply boy-friendly strategies and tactics; however, there are fewer than 20 model schools in the country! My son asked me why I think this is. I would suggest that there are paradigm shifts involved in the implementation of this philosophy that would be/are difficult to make. People are always afraid of change because they are primarily afraid of the unknown. Throw in powerful teacher’s unions, liberal activists, and government control and bureaucracy and the problem is greatly magnified. Other resources that speak on the boy crisis in education include Christina Hoff Sommers’ book The War Against Boys, How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men or Michael Thompson’s work in this. His book, “Raising Cain: Exploring the Inner Life of America’s Boys, is a good book on this subject of education.

There is no other noted trend in education that denies the fact that boys are failing in schools. Education is biased towards girls and educators have been trying to jam square pegs into round holes to make it work.

So, what are some of the factors in education that work against a boy’s learning style?

  1. Let’s start with the sit down and be quiet! Boys, by their very nature, are rambunctious. Sorry but this is not allowed. Boys by their nature enjoy taking risks. Sorry, no can do. Boys are more aggressive than girls. Hmmm, we may have to medicate you. Boys are known to develop at a rate slower than girls, often times resulting in them having greater difficulty with focusing in the classroom. In the past two decades, ADHD diagnosis rates have nearly doubled, with boys making up the overwhelming majority of these cases. Rather than making accommodations for the playful nature of young boys, and children in general, the education system is forcing students to medicate and address a problem that may not exist. Schools are essentially diagnosing and medicating children for not being able to sit still and pay attention.

  • Then there’s the jam-and-cram-to-take-the-exam. It’s the mug-to-jug model of education. Stuff your head with useless information and then regurgitate it on a test and forget it all the next day. That’s not the way a boy learns best. (Actually, it’s not the way anyone learns well.)

  • Education today, more than ever, is controlled by government. Government is controlled by politicians. Politicians are (how should I say this?) “influenced” by politically- motivated interest groups. And many of the politically-motivated interest groups that choose to get involved in “education” are anti-male (or at least anti-traditional male). That’s not going to go well in building environments for boy’s to be successful. Government education programs like “No Child Left Behind” have left our boys behind the girls and our children behind the rest of the world in education. Playing to the lowest common denominator with a cookie-cutter philosophy for learning that puts both teachers and students on edge is a no-win scenario.

  • There’s a lack of male role models in our schools. As of 2018, only 24% of all K-12 teachers were men, [according to the National Center for Education Statistics]( Digest of Education Statistics,school level (36 percent).). Because of this, boys can view education as being ‘women’s work’ and be turned away by the maternal nature of education.

  • Boys are over-disciplined in schools. They are disciplined more heavily for the same infraction. A study conducted by The University of California Los Angeles investigating discrepancies in discipline rates between races and gender found that boys are punished much more harshly than their female counterparts. For every two boys receiving an out-of-school suspension, only one girl was disciplined, even when students’ behavior was controlled statistically. This means that boys were much more likely to be punished—a result unexplained by differences in behavior. In the same study, it was noted that the disparity between male and female out of school suspensions (2 to 1) is greater than that between Black and white suspensions (1.78 to 1), pointing to a serious source of inequality.

These are some preliminary insights into the bias against boys in our current education systems and some contributing factors to why boys are disengaging from current models of education.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, based on only the limited information presented here, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a few suggestions:

  • Prepare lesson plans that are designed to play to a boy’s learning strength like spacial relationships.

  • Think interaction, movement, and alertness when teaching boys. I like to have wrapped candies like Hershey’s kisses on hand so that I can throw to students that answer a question. Have the first person who raises their hand when you say a certain ‘word for the day’ get a privilege or treat. It’s something that keeps them engaged.

  • There’s nothing better to get a boy interested in what you’re talking about.

  • Did you know that boy’s eyes function better in bright, natural light? Take the class outside. Not possible, you say? Well, that’s part of the problem. Changing learning environments regularly is an excellent way to keep boys focused.

  • Increase vocational training opportunities. Accept that some boys (and girls) would do better in the trades and get them started early on doing what they’re best suited to do. Boy’s learning styles are generally tactile and kinesthetic.

  • Relational learning is better for boys. When teachers can be mentors, it’s a win-win for learning. Did someone say “apprenticeship?”

I have to veer off just a little bit and talk about Jesus’ teaching style. If we can’t learn anything from the greatest communicator the world has ever known, then we’re missing the mark somewhere.

Jesus was a master teacher. His primary tool was called a parable, which is quite simply….a story. So, we could start being better teachers by being better storytellers. Stories are still the most powerful form of communication the world has ever known. This is one of the reasons why film is so powerful in our times. It’s the way we tell our stories in the 21st Century. He was also highly relational. He taught contextually, not concretely. The idea of cramming for an exam would have been a completely foreign (and impractical) way to learn in Jesus’ day. You would never hear him say, “Okay, let’s get out our pen and pencils and start writing!”. As a matter of fact, he would gather ‘disciples’ and teach them throughout the day during ‘teachable moments”. The only ‘sermon’ the Bible ever recorded was the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5 and 6. The rest of Jesus’ teachings as recorded in Scripture are all parables and stories told in context. Jesus mentored “apprentices”. And, by the way, most of his followers were men. That was more a function of the times customs than of any other factor. Still, it can show us how Jesus taught men.

When I was a children’s pastor, the senior pastor said my first assignment was to fix the mid-week programming. I immediately went to an apprenticeship model. I recruited talented people, and as many grandparents as I could, to teach the kids things that THEY were good at doing: cooking, chess, fishing, building bird houses, repairing motors, writing, etc. I called it ‘Children’s Ministry University” and we designed it like college courses. We would bring in new ‘faculty’ every ‘semester’ to teach a slate of classes that were ‘interesting’. OH NO!!! Where’s the Bible lesson? Heresy! Ah yes! I had to work on selling the idea. But that’s what we’re talking about in all-things boys and education, to include how we look at spiritual formation of boys. The system is BROKEN! Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. But change is HARD. This is a paradigm shift in thinking. It starts with the question, “Do you want to reach the boys?” (Dobson, Peterson, Barna, and Farrell would say if you get the boys, you get the girls. And if you get the children, you get the adults and THAT is the model of how to grow your church.)

Regarding the programming above, I built in scripture memory, a short devotion, and a mission project into each semester. BUT, the ministry was building relationships. Relationships were building bridges for mentoring. Voila….MINISTRY. Ministry is RELATIONSHIP, RELATIONSHIP, RELATIONSHIP. At the end of each semester, we would have recitals, showcases, art galleries, video presentations, and TESTIMONIES. Our mid-week program shot up like a rocket.

I have a couple of personal resources to offer that would be helpful in this area:

  1. Knight Moves: Creating a Masculine Environment for your Children’s Ministry. We will be working on developing this as an online course in the next couple of weeks.

  2. RIVET: Making Your Message Stick. This book is a book on communication ideas and although not written with boys in mind, it is valuable because I’ve incorporated all the ideas listed above in my teaching model.

Some of the things I discuss in Knight Moves include your philosophy of ministry. The acronym VIM, stands for Vision, Intention, Means. (Dallas Willard) If you can see the need and the benefit of affirming boys in manhood or the spiritual formation of boys to become Godly men, then you have the vision necessary to implement the INTENTION and MEANS. All things start with vision! Without a vision, the people…the ideas, the programs, the structures, etc…perish. (Proverbs 29:18) So I start by talking about Branding. What is your presentation or pitch to attract boys? For example, when I came to the church, the walls were lined with pastels and there were (beautiful) drawings of deer drinking water in a cool spring? Yeah. That had to go. I created a logo with mountains and a message that said, “Follow Me”. It reeked adventure and showed a path heading to the highest hills. Who wants to go? The colors were changed to bright, bold, primary colors and the walls were lined with great men (and women) of valor and faith that did mighty things in the Kingdom of God. It was called “The Peaks” because the church had “Mount” in its name. I get excited just talking about it. I also discuss environments, programming, curriculum, and special events. Let’s take our Vacation Bible School for example:

I write my own every year. I always consider a masculine theme because of my ministry philosophy and my burden for boys. A few years ago, I wanted to do a food theme. (Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8). I thought of about a cooking show. Chef Jeff? But, I can’t sell a cooking show to boys. So, one day it came to me…”FOOD FIGHT”. The brand was masculine and I got my cooking show too. Of course, the end of week activity was a brilliant food fight. It was wonderfully disgusting.

There is not enough time in this podcast to discuss the intention and means. But they take time and influence. Again, if you see the need, you’ll have the vigor to make the climb. And who can refute:

  1. Parents are checking out of organized religion. COVID didn’t help. In his book, “Revolution”, George Barna warned that people would move to building their own faith models to suit their preferences and schedules.

  2. Peer pressure. Matters of faith in a Post-Christian culture are seen as weak and old-fashioned. Friends hold a greater sway and influence than the church. You don’t want to risk not being ‘cool’.

  3. If church isn’t a priority it’s easy to find something to take its place. Youth sporting events have invaded weekend schedules and compete with important family faith time.

  4. The church messaging has been convoluted by trying to appeal to consumer-driven culture. “You-Can-Have-It-Your-Way” is the motto of the church today and it has made the church in Western culture an enigma looking for their identity. Because they appear very much like the world, the church holds no allure to future generations looking for hope.

  5. There was nothing about the message of Jesus Christ that was safe. The notion of ‘safe space’ would be laughable to Jesus. The only place you are truly safe is the center of God’s will for your life. But we have so elevated the notion of safety that there is no risk left to take that is socially permissible. As hard as that may be for your noble sensibilities to understand, there is nothing appealing in that for boys. As we’ll talk about later in our series, risk is necessary for a boy’s maturation to manhood.

  6. This leads to another important point: If there’s no risk involved, then the necessity to learn is diminished. What’s the point? When I was in airborne school (Army), we spent a lot of time learning how to land properly. I was very intentional in learning that. Why? Well, I didn’t want to fall out of a plane and then break my leg because I didn’t land correctly. Survival is still a very strong motivator. Once, I taught as series on ‘courage’ at the church with a group of kids. Anyone who came to at least five of the six sessions was invited to go to a high ropes course for a day trip. There, we put our ‘courage’ into action. I showed videos and images leading up to the event. There was a sense of necessity to be present and pay attention. We had great attendance for that series and a wonderful response to the high ropes course.

  7. Boys want to be challenged. Generally, a boy wants to know that he has what it takes. How can know this if he is never challenged to dig deeply? Since most curriculums for churches are ‘boxed’, they are gender-neutral and appeal to the lowest common denominator. You aim low so no one feels left out or behind. It’s like the participation trophies given to the last place sports teams. Is that the nature of the call of God to ‘fight the good fight’ and ‘finish the race’? Is that what Paul described when he talked about strict training and beating his body so that he would not be disqualified for the prize? I don’t think so.

In this podcast, we examined the second reason for the boy crisis in America: biased education structures in our schools and churches. Next week we’ll look at the third (and final) reason that boys are lost in today’s culture: Distortion and denial around biblical manhood leading to the demonization of masculinity.

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