Sunday, November 08, 2009

what about boys?

Those of you who read here regularly know that the current crisis for boys is one of my topics for concern, and it was also a topic widely discussed at the ISACS conference. One speaker, Peg Tyre, is a writer for Newsweek and she had turned one of her lengthy research articles from the magazine into a book, the Trouble with Boys about the crisis with boys. Another presenter, child psychologist, Michael Thompson, Ph.D co-wrote the best selling book, Raising Cain. NAIS director Pat Bassett, raised the question in his report on education in Finland, so as you can see, the topic was widely discussed. One of the things that teachers had noted was a diminishing level of attention among boys in schools. You might find it interesting that boys in woodshop seem to not be suffering such effects. But then it would have been no surprise to Commenius (1592-1670), father of modern pedagogy, that boys would have interest and attention for woodshop. He said:
Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them.
It seems we have to learn some of the same lessons over and over. Despite our advances in technology, human nature has changed very little in the last 300+ years. And as they have always said, "boys will be boys"... unless we use their schooling to try to turn them into girls, which some at the conference suggested we seem to be trying to do. Is it any surprise that so many boys in such circumstances would drop out before graduation? Just in case you haven't been watching, the underengagement and underperformance of boys is of epidemic proportions from pre-school through college, where enrollment standards are often lower for boys than for girls as a means through which to balance the numbers of boys and girls on campus.

Can you see what we've done to our schools and to our boys, and why it is of vital importance to get children back to working with real tools? You may have seen my youtube videos of kids at work, and what you should know is that they've been edited in length for the convenience of the viewers, not because the children have ever grown weary or inattentive to their work. More from Comenius "...inactivity is more injurious to both mind and body than anything in which children can be occupied."


  1. Anonymous6:14 PM

    Wow! I am so impressed by the Wisdom of the Hands program at your school. I watched your youtube videos on this blog. 1st -3rd graders learning how to use tools! What a great way to engage students and make the social studies content more meaningful. I am a 6th grade teacher in Northwest Arkansas (Springdale), and my colleague and I are looking for an artist who would be interested in participating in a project through the Kennedy Center. When we found out you are an artist AND a teacher, we felt it made you an even more perfect candidate for this program! Either way, I am interesting in following your blog and learning more about your work as a teacher and an artist! Eureka Springs is one of our favorite places to visit!

    Kerri Ann Packwood

  2. Thanks for this observation on boys from the conference. As a scout leader I receive "Scouting Magazine" each month and thought that you might be interested in a feature article in the November/December 2009 that features Michael Gurian titled, "Build a Better Boy" which is based upon his latest book, "The Purpose of Boys". It is printed online at (Hope the html code works here.)Mr. Gurian seems to reflect your views on the destructive nature of video games too.

    When I was a youth counselor for 13 years working in a residential/adventure program for at-risk kids, I never forgot the best training methods that I learned to build the kinds of relationships that changed lives. The most important factor in reaching boys is to engage their problems, their aspirations, or their concerns when they are busy doing something with their hands. When a boy is sawing a piece of wood, lashing a rafter on an outdoor structure, or hammering nails in a new floor... that is the prime time when a boy is most likely to "open up" and speak his true feelings with an adult. Girls are very different but boys are most likely to open up about what concerns them when you first engage them with an action behavior.

    I do regular woodcarving sessions with my students several times a week and it's amazing how much they open up and speak honestly about their feelings when the hands are busy. That is an indisputable fact that educators seem not to understand when a boy just sits in a classroom all day. Thank God for the few schools that see the enormous value to education that a good woodshop program provides.

    I thought that it was interesting in Mr. Gurians article that, “Obama has started a President’s council on girls and women,” Gurian points out. “So did Bush and so did Clinton. There’s no President’s council on boys and men. We’re still fighting the fight to get people to talk about boys. It’s not an either-or.”

    Good insight Doug but I think that I'm just singing to the choir. :)

  3. Kerri, it sounds like an interesting project and I would like to know more. What school are you with?

    I'll send you my email address.

  4. Dave, Interesting insight into when boys open up. It makes sense. I had far better conversations with the man who helped me restore my antique ford than I did with my father when I was a teen.

    It isn't singing to the choir, it is choir practice which will enable us to persuade others.


  5. Anonymous7:27 PM

    I work at Hellstern Middle School (6th-7th) in Springdale. The program is called On Location: spotlight on your community. This program is designed to help students tell the story of arts in their community. The students basically learn from the On Location media artists how to use media/video/technology skills to create a 3-5 minute movie about an artist. They require that the applications come from a two-teacher team who has experience in digital storytelling in the classroom. I am a 6th grade English teacher, and my colleague is a 7th grade social studies teacher (Jamie Walker). I believe he sent an email to your gmail account, which included a link to the application website. You were our first choice! Take a look at the website and let us know what you think! Of course, we have to apply first, but we wanted to make sure you would be interested.

    -Kerri Packwood

  6. As the dad of two boys, this post really strikes home. While my guys don't necessarily want to get involved in woodworking, they love other things outside of school... It's my job to show them there is more to life. That's why I volunteer as a coach for the youth basketball league... gotta keep 'em engaged.