boy+failing - No Wonder Boys Hate School
I just have to tell you about something that happened with my nephew yesterday.

We homeschooled him for a year and a half, but he went back to high school this year for grade 9. He still comes over quite frequently because he really is part of the family. He’s a smart kid, but he’s not highly motivated to work hard.

One thing he is, though, is a naturally gifted writer. What bothered me when I was homeschooling him is that he wouldn’t take notes, he’d keep his work in utter chaos, and then when he finally did get around to writing the actual report, it would be good. I’d have little to criticize. But his methods were so sloppy!

His English teacher has not figured out that he is a good writer, I think because she gives him assignments that border on really dumb. I don’t know this woman; I don’t even know her name. But one thing I do know is that some teachers think like girls (especially female teachers) and they don’t tend to make assignments that boys will like.

To use another example, I know a little boy in grade 2. He is bright as anything (I sat down one day and taught him the concept of multiplication, and he could figure out on his own what the x2’s and x 3’s were). But he absolutely hates writing. He doesn’t like to hold his pencil, and he’s really awkward with it. So he hates coloring and he hates writing his letters and numbers, which are important things when you’re in grades 1 and 2. So nobody has ever figured out that this kid is smart, even though he’s great at math, he can do puzzles my girls have trouble with, and he’s reading quite well. He doesn’t colour in the lines, you see. Because he’s a boy.

Another family I know had an extremely bright boy in grade 5. He could take apart radios and put them back together. He liked doing logic puzzles. And he was asked, on a test, for 10 points (one quarter of the marks), “how do you think it felt when Susie saw her family kidnapped by Indians?”. He wrote a one sentence answer, “She felt badly.” He’s a boy. He doesn’t like talking and analyzing feelings. So he flunked that question.

Yesterday I was working through an English assignment with Alex, my nephew. He had to analyze a novel on twenty different lines (what is the inciting action? What’s the climax? What are the main character’s physical characteristics? What is the atmosphere? What is the narrative voice? What is the author’s tone?). By the way, if anyone can tell me the difference between atmosphere, narrative voice, and author’s tone, I’d be immensely grateful.

So he had to come up with all of these things for a novel, which I’m okay with. That’s how you analyze a novel. And then he had to come up with a quotation from the book which backed up each of the 20 assertions, I suppose to prove that you actually read the thing.

The problem came with the second assignment. They then had to make mobiles (like those baby mobiles above cribs) of the book. They had to use 3D objects that represent something about the book. It had to be aesthetically pleasing. It had to be attractive. It had to be well done.

So here’s my question: Why? You’ve already analyzed the novel. You’ve already shown that you know all the different elements of it. Why make a mobile? And even if the teacher wants you to think about symbolism (which is valid), why not ask the kids to put all these elements in a shoe box or something? It’s a high school English class, not an art class! Why does a mobile have to be aesthetically pleasing?

If it were me, I would give kids a choice. Either write down about the twenty elements, or make a mobile about ten elements and then present it to the class. They seem about equivalent to me, and both show that you have thought about the book. One focuses on writing; one on art and speaking. Two choices for all the kids. But instead everybody has to get busy with string and scissors and markers when they’re 15.

How many of you know 15-year-old boys who are going to be happy doing that assignment? Kids aren’t happy doing written assignments either, of course, but at least they know there is value to them. They are learning something, and they are working through the text.

As a homeschooler, whenever projects like that come along, I give the kids the choice. Many, many times we’ve abandoned projects altogether because they’ve just seemed like “busy work”. My goal is to get the kids to learn stuff and then move on. It’s not to make them work with the same concept ad infinitum.

But schools don’t work that way. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many schools teach things in a way that alienates boys. I’m not sure girls would want to make that mobile, either, but at least most would be more open to it than males. Most boys can’t even keep their binders neat, let alone do art like that.

So many teachers are female. They have this dream of getting kids to love learning THE WAY THEY DO. But not all students operate the way they do, especially males. And to think that all first graders need to colour, and all fifth graders need to talk about their feelings, and all ninth graders need to do craft projects in English is ridiculous. And then we wonder why boys aren’t engaged in school (girls now surpass them in all subjects in standardized tests).

I suppose I’m not the one to talk, since I don’t have boys in the system, except for my nephew, but stuff like this makes me mad. I don’t think we should be turning boys off of learning the way we do. I wrote a curriculum lately, for instance, called The Any Novel Novel Study Guide, that you can use in grades 6-12 to study any novel. But for each major assignment I gave kids a ton of choice, based on their learning styles. They could write, they could make charts, they could draw, they could build, they could create. (you can see it here). That, to me, makes sense. Making everyone create a mobile does not.

What about you? How are your sons treated in school? Do you ever get frustrated, or find that the girls are favoured? I’d love to hear about it!

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