Friday, January 25, 2008

You want to know how to teach our kids? Ask us!

In his latest newsletter, George Siemens kicks off with this paragraph:

The current issue of Forbes is focused on educating our children. Numerous experts have put forward their theories in short articles. Missing, however, are the views and opinions of teachers, parents, and students. While the commentaries of prominent people will obviously gain more attention, I think more wisdom is likely to be found in educators in the trenches. Better yet, host a "submit your view of education" session on YouTube. Then allow the network to filter the best ideas. Or host the discussion in a wiki. Don't tell us how to fix education. Involve us in fixing education.
I couldn't agree more!

Year after year, when the school exam results are published and the boys have fallen even further behind the girls... yet again, they trot out experts to tell us why this is the case and to talk about what is going to be done to address this imbalance.

Year after year, I yell at the TV - don't tell me what you think is wrong... ask me what I think is wrong! I'm the mother of sons, I know a bit about learning. Give me (and others like me) 5 minutes! Track down a sample of their better teachers - preferably the male ones - and ask them.

So, just in case you care what I think (acknowledgement - this is a generalisation):

I think it has a lot a lot to do with what I have come to call oestrogen poisoning.

The proportion of male:female teachers in early years and primary school being what it is, by the time a boy reaches high school, chances are he has not yet been taught by even one male teacher. That represents a stream of teachers who, the research seems to suggest, think in an innately different way from him. With the best will in the world, a female teacher leads by example in feminine thought and learning strategies. I suspect that this means that the assessment/examination process reflects a feminine thought process, too. Of course girls will do better at this than boys!

Is it any wonder that, by the time he gets to high school, many a boy has decided that he isn't going to crack this learning thing? It might take him years to overcome the early conditioning and find a way of working that fits.

Also, it seems to be fairly cut and dried that boys develop/mature more slowly than girls. So why are we forcing formal education of them so early? Why must a child be in a particular year group based purely on his chronological age? Why can he not tackle the school year for which he is developmentally ready?

As a woman, I am delighted to see girls coming into their own. As a human being, and the mother of sons, I am appalled to see boys becoming marginalised. Unless we are trying to head towards a Wicker Man society (heaven forfend!) please, please will someone listen to what the parents and the teachers have to say, instead of these pontificating people who haven't been associated with a school going boy in years (if ever)!


Cammy Bean said...

Have you read Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys? Delves into much of what you discussed here: how the current educational system is largely geared towards girls.

Anonymous said...

Cammy: I haven't come across that one, yet. Sounds like something I should look into. No doubt it would have me grinding my teeth even more, though!

I found James Dobson's book Bringing up Boys quite enlightening, too, but it has a strongly Christian slant that might not sit comfortably with those not starting from that perspective.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea how unbalanced the male:female ratio was there among teachers there. It's unbalanced in the US, especially in younger levels, but I still had several male teachers. Just thinking back, I had 2 or 3 in fourth grade, 2 in 5th, 7 or 8 in middle school, and nearly half of my high school teachers. My experience might be a bit more balanced than others, but I don't think it's completely atypical for the US.

Then again, I don't think that the gender difference appears the same way in standardized tests in the US. Generally boys still outperform girls on math & science tests here, but girls outperform boys on verbal tests. Do you see that set of results in the UK, or do boys do worse across the board?

Anonymous said...

My younger son never had a male teacher until he got to Year 8. My elder son had his first in Year 7. In the UK, the kids still have one teacher for all (or most) subjects until high school, when they begin to have exposure to subject specialists.

As far as I know, the boys are doing worse across the board, although the differential in the sciences is less than in the languages.

When I was in high school in South Africe (a LONG time ago), the situation was much as you describe it in the US, except, interestingly enough, in single sex schools. I can't speak for how it is there, now, though.