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This education column is the opinion and analysis of the author and does not reflect those of AllOnGeorgia. 

Forget the “war on women”, there is a war on the education of boys.

Science education in America in the last 20 years has become an afterthought. Most of the focus has shifted to accountability, teaching to a test, and politicization of content standards.

It is no wonder that every demographic in public education is not improving significantly, but the most concerning are boys. Apparently, being a boy today has become a liability and now it has transcended into classrooms.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiatives are a recycled way to try and get students more engaged in the sciences. The initiative is moving at a snail’s pace at being helpful for all students. The way we instruct and measure schools today does not match the creative ability to teach students STEM connections with authenticity. Although math scores and Advanced Placement scores have improved nationally since 2000, our international placement is far below other industrialized nations.

In a recent survey on STEM education, interest from boys has dropped by 12 percentage points (from 36 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in 2018) from the previous year. The interest from girls has remained unchanged at 11 percent in both reporting years. No doubt, the National Girls Collaborative Project is doing their job to maintain and expand opportunities for females and champion gender equity.  With the recently quoted statistic, sounds like inequity to me. Seems like when one group falls behind, we invent another program.

In the same report, the desire to pursue a career in the arts also declined from 18 percent to 13 percent and the percentage of teens expecting to take out college loans to complete a higher education has increased from 33 percent to 45 percent.

These are important factors in how the opposite sex thinks about their future education goals. Science education has historically involved working with one’s hands and inquiring vigorously with the mind. However, today’s current education environment does not favor such creative thinking.

It is no wonder there is a move to incorporate arts into the learning of science – we have lost creativity in teaching and learning. Instead, we have supplanted education with an infestation of test-prep instructional strategies. We also need more teachers that know the content of math and science more deeply.

Boys are highly impacted by these compulsory decisions and bad policy implementations. Why? Test-prep teaches conformity, and boys are hard to conform. As Georgia’s Lt. Governor once said, “it is not about policy, it is about [expletive] politics.” This kind of thinking in education policy stunts creativity in our classrooms.

Young men tend to gravitate toward fields they think they are good at, but if our current education system does not allow for a productive environment for boys, the concept of an American male-born scientist could be an extinct species.

Our current system is doing a good job promoting the idea of a STEM minded education and making it accessible, but the heaviness of high stakes testing are suppressive. Most of all, limiting our brightest students. Schools recognize the need for students to have strong science backgrounds, but they are not allowing the students to make worthwhile connections between math and science.

According to a January Pew Research study, over half of the adults surveyed said they did not want to pursue a STEM field related job because it was too hard. All of this could be attributed to trying to make all things equal, but instead, we have not only created a gender gap with boys, but we have created another gap of evenness for all. When everyone is common, nobody will be.

Science is hard, and it is supposed to be hard. Thinking is hard, but we need to allow teachers time to cultivate that thinking. Today’s “everyone-gets-a-trophy” mentality is a toxic mindset to hoist on our developing young boys. We need to learn and accept the way boys are and how they learn.

In a 2013 study, boys who scored the same on tests and conformed to the same positive outlook on learning as girls were graded similarly. However, the boys that had the same test scores, but had a different outlook on learning, were often graded lower than girls by their teachers.

We know boys tend to struggle more in school than girls. Boys tend to find school boring, frustrating and tend to receive two-thirds of failing grades. Why? The current environment does not favor their learning style.

Test. Test. Test. Sit. Sit. Sit.  That is not good for either sex.

Boys are noisy, boys are rowdy, boys fidget, boys can be boys – and it does not always mean ADHD.  But that does not mean they should be forced to conform to the uniformity and standardization that we see in schools today.

Differentiated instruction is stressed in today’s learning environment because of the diverse needs of students, but we are not measuring schools that way. In fact, we are placing them in categories that are nothing but a game of points such as the state’s report card (Georgia’s CCPRI). So, instead, we force students to conform to the model that limits how they learn.

As long as it’s in the lesson plan, it is being done, right?

I believe the emphasis on learning things earlier and earlier has caused this decline in STEM education interest and a decline in many other subject areas. Boys are generally attracted to those things they can tinker and toy with. Learning through the real modes of scientific learning favors the fidgety, rowdy, and the noisy. Boys like to explore.

Our classrooms need to be boy friendly. Boys prefer reading non-fiction like comics and adventure. Boys will read things that interest them, not what some points systems says they should read. Classrooms for boys need to allow their imagination to be free, and sometimes that goes against norms of the classroom that are often female-centered.  Boys cannot be subject to consistent disapproval and forced to conformities that are not developmentally appropriate.  This causes them to be less engaged. Schools need to work with, not against, the kinetic imaginations of boys. Learning science, in it’s intended form, allows boys to flourish in their learning.

Finally, bring back recess. The boy has got to let off steam! All this sitting and bubbling( now clicking on a screen) in answer sheets hurts the kinetic minds of our next budding scientist, and it would do the teachers some good as well. Since the 1970’s, schools have lost over 50 percent of unstructured outdoor time. Most of this is due to the rigid one-size-fits-all test-prep instructional environment and high stakes accountability which is a bridge to nowhere.

As schools move away from competition free zones and more emotional centered curricula, we will continue to see a gender gap not just in STEM-related subjects, but in other subjects for the sake of making all things less masculine.

Underachieving boys should be everyone’s concern in a society which is increasingly frowning at what they apparently think is toxic masculinity.

Give the boy a chance.

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  1. Every improvement you suggested would be just as good for female students as male students. Yes, let’s bring back recess. Yes, let’s allow children to read what they are interested in – although comics and adventure stories are fiction, assuming that isn’t just a typo.

    In short, there is no reason to bring up gender at all.


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