Boys are Different

Last month I made the decision to follow my principal to startup a new school.  I’ve spent my entire eleven-year career at one amazing year-round middle school, so this will obviously be a huge change.  There are bound to be significant challenges and rewarding surprises, which is just the right fodder for blog posts.  As a result, you should expect to see lots more about the change in this space over the next year.

One of the most interesting challenges that comes with this new school is that it represents a bit of an experiment by our superintendent.  The new school will be a single-sex leadership academy dedicated to educating sixth- through twelfth-grade boys in an environment that promotes scholarship and service.

Although the single-sex environment wasn’t the biggest factor that affected my decision, it is the one that I find myself thinking about the most right now.  I’ve taken to carrying around a small red notebook in which I jot down ideas related to the new school.  When I think of a club or extra-curricular activity that would appeal to the boys in this new school, I write it down.  When an idea for how I might teach science in a new way for this unique setting occurs to me, I write it down.  I’ve found this sort of “analog capture” method to work well for this particular task since I never know when I’ll think of something I need to remember later.

As part of my preparation for the new position, I’ve been reading Leonard Sax’s “Boys Adrift“.  Dr. Sax has written this boy-specific follow-up to “Why Gender Matters” to build on the idea that boys and girls learn differently.  He uses the book to make a provocative point: many American boys are becoming isolated and neglected by a series of factors that include ADHD medications and video game playing.

While my optimistic side cringes at the depressing tone of much of the book, the good doctor also provides some advice.  He announces early on that he sees this tome as a clarion call to educators and parents about the growing problem of lost motivation.  I find his warning to be a bit overstated, but not so much that it can be ignored.

We are dropping the ball when it comes to educating adolescent boys.  But, focusing on intelligent unmotivated boys while simultaneously closing the achievement gap between boys from wealthy and poor homes, and pushing 21st century learning is a significant challenge.  Some may say that this is just the “wheel of priorities” spinning again and that if you wait long enough the focus will be elsewhere.

This may be true, but the bigger issue is that we must continue to innovate in the way we educate boys and girls.  It is essential that we create more unique learning environments so that each child can find a successful educational experience.

What do you think of single-sex education?  Is it unnecessary or long overdue?

4 thoughts on “Boys are Different

  1. You are awesome and I know you will do well in whatever direction you go in. Where ever you are your students will be lucky to have you.

  2. Hi Big Paul-

    Congratulations on your new gig. When I heard that the DRMS principal got the gig at the boyz school, I wondered if you might go with him. I have read a couple of books by Michael Gurian. Are you familiar with him? In one of his books, he refers to how our primary education system is geared to view boys as “under-performing girls.” the phrase hit me like a ton of bricks, and changed the way I plan, teach, and assess (especially in writing, where boys can say in one page that takes girls an epic)…generally speaking, of course.

    Although I am a bit unsettled about the separation of genders as a real world, “21st Century” solution, I am very eager to learn more about what awaits you at your new school.

    Best of luck! I am rooting for you!

  3. Congrats Paul on the awesome new position. I had to give a response to your closing question. I went to an all girls high school and I have always said that if I ever have a child and there was the ability to send them to a girls-only/boys-only school, I would (though it is sadly a lacking opportunity here on LI). From a girls perspective, I never had to compete academically with guy during those hard years of high school – I was never given the opportunity to learn it was “uncool” to look smart since the only people around were other girls. After the first month of college, I had a great prof (Howie) comment to me after class that he knew where I went to HS. I laughed and said it wasn’t NY and he responded that it had to be an all-girls school. Seems I was the only girl in our course raising my hand – it never occurred to me not to ask those questions. While obviously there are differences in boys/girls schools, I have many good friends who went to my HS’s brother school and they all make the same type of comments – that the atmosphere shaped who they became as men. GOOD LUCK!

    1. @Tara, I never knew that about you, but I’m glad that it gave you an edge in college. You definitely had more confidence than the average freshman girl.

      @Steve, I share your concern about separating genders in school. But, I think that the benefits may outweigh the risks, especially for those individuals for whom it makes a difference. And that’s really what this is about: providing a range of learning environments to meet the needs of a diverse generation of learners.

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