The Chicago Tribune does some surprisingly generous reporting on Central Elementary School's concern about supposed latent gender biases in the classroom. Some key points:
- A male student, now a sophomore in high school, recalls that his elementary school teacher would yell at his group of friends who sat in the back of class more than she yelled at the girls. Admittedly, he "often talked and didn't pay attention in class."
- In response to a study that shows males "lag behind" females academically, District 39 plans to "hire more male teachers, keep a long-term database of grades and test scores, build awareness among parents and teachers, and review classroom arrangements and teaching techniques."
- "Among other things, the research told them that boys are more attuned to spatial-mechanical functioning, and girls use more of their brain for verbal and emotive functioning." (Particularly appalling is this remark: "The more words a teacher uses, the more likely boys are to `zone out,' or go into rest state," according to the Wilmette report. "The male brain is better suited for symbols, abstractions, diagrams, pictures and objects moving through space than the monotony of words."--so words, words are no longer suitable for a learning environment?!?)
- "Researchers suggest that teachers let boys move around more in the classroom, from walking around their desks every so often to sprawling out on the floor." (That's called indoor recess, guys).
- The report states that the percentage of male applicants who are hired as teachers is low, and that analysis suggests "the evaluation criteria used for selecting teachers may reinforce these gender disparities."
Superintendant Glen "Max" McGee assures us that "you really can teach to the way [boys] learn." Maybe I'm missing something, but I thought we've been teaching to the way boys learn since the beginning of time.
Excuses like those being made on behalf of males are rarely made on behalf of females. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote of masterfully in The Second Sex, women are the "other," meaning their behavior is compared against the standard of male behavior. Males are the independent variable, females the dependent. If males are lagging behind in school, our teaching is problematic, but if females are lagging behind in school, they just weren't cut out for academics.
I also attribute District 39's current education quandry to the larger societal trend of giving children more credit than they are due. Children are special because they are innocent, their minds are blank slates and thus much more tolerant than most adults, they are inquiring; but all of this hardly means they have their own best interests in mind. Yet, parents today increasingly defer to their children's or adolescents' judgements, from letting them run around in grocery stores yelling when they are young to facilitating their parties in the family basement, sometimes to the point of supplying them the alcohol.
In keeping with this belief that one's child can do no wrong, when s/he is called out on something by a teacher or other authority figure, the parent gets defensive. Thus, it is not the fault of a group of boys who cannot seem to listen in class because they are sitting in the back playing around (ever heard of seating charts?--first rule is never to let kids choose their seats in elementary school) but rather the fault of the teacher who cannot keep their attention. Furthermore, if the teacher is to take some disciplinary action, s/he puts himself/herself on the proverbial chopping block of the sharp wrath of the child's deluded parent.
I hopefully am not saying this without basis, because I admittedly have not been a child for many years, nor even a teen, but when on a weekly basis, I see children on the Metro treating the train as their own personal jungle gym free of parental discipline or parents letting their children cry or scream free of their scolding or complaining when asked to keep their children quiet in public, I can't help but think these small events part of a larger societal picture. If I am right, this represents a sea change in the American attitude towards children and how they should be taught, one that should make us wary, for in endlessly empowering children's less mature instincts, we are disempowering their sense of personal responsibility that they must, at a young age, learn to cultivate.