Boy culture is out of sync with school culture. There are sev- eral reasons for this, including
zero tolerance policies that are too
often taken to extremes, the lack of
male teachers, and the compression
of the curriculum. What’s more, boy
culture is not socially accepted, and
boys quickly come to feel that they
aren’t good at school.
The results are startling: In the most
recent set of tests administered by the
Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) across 65 countries,
boys scored lower than girls in basic
literacy skills in every country tested.
In fact, while girls caught up to boys
in math, they soared ahead of boys by
39 points in reading.
Do not misunderstand the point.
I am not interested in blaming educators. Teachers really are doing all
they can within the social expectations and the culture of schools. Nor
am I interested in suggesting that all
boys are one way, all girls are another,
and they all must behave within rigid
gender stereotypes. Rather, I’m suggesting that the vast majority of boys
and girls do function in certain ways
and are engulfed in cultures that, in
the case of boys and many active kids,
put them out of sync with school
mores and expectations.
Boys are tuning out of learning at
record rates, far outpacing girls. This is
particularly true for literacy in the early
grades, and this is where we should fo-
cus our attention. Great work has been
done to re-engage girls in learning
about math, science, and engineering.
Educators and parents need to learn
from that effective movement and
help boys’ literacy grow and flourish
throughout the early elementary years.
There are many possible ways to do
this. Nick Ferroni, a high school social
We can begin to look for ways
to engage boys in their own
learning so as to empower them
rather than just channeling
their energy into the behaviors
that schools might prefer.
studies teacher in New York City, uses
pop culture references, such as The
Simpsons and The Family Guy, in his
teaching as a way to generate critical
thinking among all of his learners. And
the democratic schools movement allows boys and girls complete freedom
to create their own curriculum.
Gaming, which appeals to many
boys and girls alike, may be one of the
best ways to teach boys. More than one
school is using World of Warcraft as
There are three ways that we can
approach gaming in an effort to bring
boys back to the learning experience
with joy and excitement. First, we can
create better educational games. Second, we can use existing high-motiva-tion games in the classroom and focus
on the sorts of things they can teach us.
Finally, we can also allow kids to create
their own games. It is easiest to consider these three interwoven possible
approaches together as we look at the
variety of games available to us.
I find most online educational games
to be disappointing. Far too many are
nothing more than glorified flash-
cards. Some kids do seem to do well
with and enjoy IXL math, Starfall, or
Ooka Island for early letter recognition
and reading. So maybe the drudgery
of rote learning is best relegated to a
computer that never tires. However, if
your students don’t find it much fun to
do flashcards with their teachers and
parents, how likely is it that they are
going to enjoy them when there’s no
caring person attached to the task?
Integrating games into a K– 12
environment, particularly at the
elementary levels, appears to
be one way to send a strong
message that is counter to the
dominant culture in schools
today—a welcoming message
to most boys and active kids.