Boys and books

In the climate of No Child Left Behind and bitter recriminations about the failure of public schools, Richard Whitmire offers a critical look at one of the largest issues facing school: the gender achievement gap. The statistics he cites from the Department of Education are sobering:

Nearly every chart told the same story. Boys are over 50 percent more likely than girls to repeat grades in elementary school, one-third more likely to drop out of high school, and twice as likely to be identified with a learning disability.

Whitmire draws one troubling conclusion—that the people who are concerned about this issue are either feminists or pragmatists. Feminists, according to Whitmire, think that boys lack the emotional skills necessary to achieve in schools, and pragmatists believe that the approach on emotions is the root of the problem. Unfortunately, Whitmire ignores the whole school of right wing anti-feminists who have written books like The War Against Boys, so this formulation  seems misguided.

In the end, though, Whitmire gets to the heart of what makes schools succeed: this crazy idea that hard work is the answer. He cites the Indian River Elemenary School District, who both improved scores and reduced the gender gap by focuing on literacy. I’m no right-wing ideologue pining for the the days of the three Rs, but the lack of rigor in many American schools and classrooms is the elephant in the room that no one ever wants to talk about. Year after year of decrying a lack of achievement among students is professional malpractice. It isn’t time for schools to go back to the past, but it is time to move to a future where every child is given the framework that allows him/her to develop literacy skills, as well as an environment that challenges them to grow.