I recently heard on the NPR radio show Tell Me More a conversation on the topic of the academic achievement gap between boys and girls in American schools. I was quite schocked to hear that the statistical information since 2003 indicates that for every 135 females that graduate from college, only 100 males graduate. What is more telling is that disparity further increases among African American and Latino boys. This information comes from a study by Cornwell, Mustard and Van Parys (2012) that appeared in the Journal of Human Resources.
An analysis of this study is collected in an op-ed piece “The Boys at the Back” by Christina Hoff Sommers. One of the main criticisms in the interview was that boys were “unfairly” judged for their comportment at the kindergarten level.
Webster’s Dictionary defines comportment as the way or manner in which one conducts oneself. Here are some related synonyms for comportment: etiquette, manners, p’s and q’s, civility, poise, presence, protocol, rules, habits, conduct, demeanor.
The issue is a difficult one. Neurologically, boys are wired differently than girls. It is harder for boys to sit and read. It is more difficulty for boys to conform to the necessary “comportment” that the current school structure needs to deal with the increasing numbers of students. The disruption by high-spirited boys in a classroom affects all of the other students.
But what is happening as early as kindergarten is that boys are rated less-proficient in basic reading skills by their teachers due to their presence and conduct in the classroom. This starts to create a gender gap in basic academic achievement. What is a possible implication of this? “Women now account for more than 60 percent of associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees (Hoff Summers).
Locally, Austin Independent School District are trying new methods of managing the comportment differences in several ways. One such practice is the use of Peace Areas. Peace areas are areas within the classroom that children can go to take a break from moderate disruptions in class. These areas are designed to help the student practice self-soothing strategies during the course of the school day. Other AISD practices include Peace talks, where students are taught conflict resolution techniques. These are very useful social and emotional skills that can help children resolve conflicts peacefully. This is a great step towards teaching all children important social skills to thrive in school.
I think a take away message is that as parents we need to encourage reading in our sons very early on and very often in order to have our boys stay academically competitive. We now live in a knowledge based economy. It is important to help our boys learn early on the skills necessary to cultivate academic and workplace achievement. Our daughters are, statistically, doing very well and we need to continue to encourage them.
For parents of boys here are a few tips:
Less TV, less video games. Read, read, read.
Get reading material that is boy-friendly like sports, science fiction and espionage. I like comic books, anything by Roald Dahl and the Alex Rider series myself.
Get your boys out periodically during homework time. Take regular breaks where they can run around and then re-group for concentrated reading time.
Get family counseling to create more family based ways to build organization, attention and motivation skills.
For the NPR radio interview hosted by Michel Martin: http://n.pr/WNfPK2
For the complete article by Christina Hoff Summers: http://nyti.ms/YkINPb
May our children all be supported and nourished for success of all kinds.