September 15, 2013
MANIPULATING INFORMATION IS EASY, MANIPULATING TOOLS IS HARD:
How to Make School Better for Boys : Start by acknowledging that boys are languishing while girls are succeeding. (CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERSSEP 13 2013, The Atlantic)
What can we do to improve the prospects of boys? For one thing, we must acknowledge the fact that boys and girls are different. In many education and government circles, it remains taboo to broach the topic of sex differences. Many gender scholars insist that the sexes are cognitively interchangeable and argue that any talk of difference only encourages sexism and stereotyping. In the current environment, to speak of difference invites opprobrium, and to advocate for male-specific interventions invites passionate and organized opposition. Meanwhile, one gender difference refuses to go away: Boys are languishing academically, while girls are soaring.Young men in Great Britain, Australia, and Canada have also fallen behind. But in stark contrast to the United States, these countries are energetically, even desperately, looking for ways to help boys improve. Why? They view widespread male underachievement as a national threat: A country with too many languishing males risks losing its economic edge. So these nations have established dozens of boy-focused commissions, task forces, and working groups. Using evidence and not ideology as their guide, officials in these countries don't hesitate to recommend sex-specific solutions. The British Parliamentary Boys' Reading Commission urges, "Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading material that will appeal to disengaged boys." A Canadian report on improving boys' literacy recommends active classrooms "that capitalize on the boys' spirit of competition"-- games, contests, debates. An Australian study found that adolescent males, across racial and socioeconomic lines, shared a common complaint, "School doesn't offer the courses that most boys want to do, mainly courses and course work that prepare them for employment."Sumitra Rajagopalan, an adjunct professor of biomechanics at Canada's McGill University, developed a program for disengaged teenage boys in Montreal, where one in three male students drops out of high school. The male students she met were bored by their classroom instruction and starved for hands-on activities. She was shocked to find that many had never held a hammer or screwdriver. Under her supervision, the boys built a solar driven Stirling engine from Coca-Cola cans and straws." Boys are born tinkerers," she said. "They have a deep-seated need to rip things apart, decode their inner workings, create stuff."Rajogopalan's insight is supported by a large body of research showing that taken as a group, men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people. Of course, there are female tinkerers who like to work with things and gladly enter occupations such as pipefitting and metallurgy. But the number of men eager to enter these fields is substantially greater. Women still predominate--sometimes overwhelmingly--in empathy-centered fields such as early-childhood education, social work, veterinary medicine, and psychology, while men prevail in the mechanical vocations such as car repair, oil drilling, and electrical engineering.Young men may be a vanishing breed on the college campus, but there are some colleges that have no trouble attracting them--schools whose names include the letters T-E-C-H. Georgia Tech is 68 percent male; Rochester Institute of Technology, 68 percent; South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 74 percent. This affinity pattern points to one highly promising strategy for reconnecting boys with school: vocational education, now called Career and Technical Education (CTE).In a rare example of the academic establishment taking note of boys' trouble in school, the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently published a major study, Pathways to Prosperity, that highlights the "yawning gender gap" in education favoring women: "Our system... clearly does not work well for many, especially young men." The authors call for a national revival of vocational education in secondary schools. They cite several existing programs that could serve as a model for national reform, including the Massachusetts system, sometimes called the "Cadillac of Career Training Education."Massachusetts has a network of 26 academically rigorous vocational-technical high schools serving 27,000 male and female students. Students in magnet schools such as Worcester Technical, Madison Park Technical Vocational, and Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical take traditional academic courses but spend half their time apprenticing in a field of their choice. These include computer repair, telecommunications networking, carpentry, early childhood education, plumbing, heating, refrigeration, and cosmetology. As Pathways reports, these schools have some of the state's highest graduation and college matriculation rates, and close to 96 percent pass the states' rigorous high-stakes graduation test.Blackstone Valley Tech in Upton, Massachusetts, should be studied by anyone looking for solutions to the boy problem. It is working wonders with girls (who comprise 44 percent of the student body), but its success with boys is astonishing. According to a white paper on vocational education by the Commonwealth's Pioneer Institute, "One in four Valley Technical students enter their freshman year with a fourth-grade reading level." The school immerses these students in an intense, individualized remediation program until they read proficiently at grade level. These potentially disaffected students put up with remediation as well as a full load of college preparatory courses (including honors and Advanced Placement classes), because otherwise they could not spend half the semester apprenticing in diesel mechanics, computer repair, or automotive engineering.In former times, vocational high schools were often dumping grounds for low achievers. Today, in Massachusetts, they are launching pads into the middle class.
The white collar jobs we're educating women for can be done by computer programs, though many need not be done at all. The vocations we should be training boys for--construction trades, automotive mechanics, repair work--are going to be with us for awhile and are actually useful.Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2013 9:36 AM