Theresa Clancy, Attorney at Law (708)819-1580

My mother was a strong woman. She was assertive, spoke her mind, and did not pull her punches. Considering that description, you would think she would also be described as a feminist. She was not. In fact, some would describe her as an anti-feminist. My mom believed that nowadays men were the ones being discriminated against not women. She thought that discrimination was a zero-sum gain. If women were shown an advantage, then men were disadvantaged.

My mother would say that boys and girls are very different and as such they need to be treated differently. She argued that attempts to treat the genders the same would lead to big problems. To me, my mom’s beliefs were antiquated and self defeating. However, turns out some of my mother’s beliefs were accurate.

Boys are very different from girls. Research has shown that boys’ brains have more connections within hemispheres and girls’ brains have more connections between hemispheres. Boys have better spatial and motor skills and girls are better at integrating analysis and intuitive thinking.

Consequently, it is no surprise that boys and girls learn differently. Boys are visual, spatial, and experiential learners. They learn better with movement, pictures, and graphics rather than just words. Girls are verbal learners. They like to talk about how to solve a problem and collaborate with others to find a solution.

Since the late 1980s school curriculum has changed. There is more emphasis on written expression, explanation, and showing process not just the right answer, particularly in math and science. An advantage for verbal learner girls, a disadvantage for visual learner boys.

Until 4th grade both genders learn at similar rates. But 4th grade is a defining time. If a student is not a strong confident reader by 4th grade, the decline in school begins. A weak reader may begin to fall behind, and soon troubles in reading will affect other subjects, as most learning now depends on those reading skills. Unfortunately, at 4th grade boys begin to shift their focus away from reading. On average, beginning in 4th grade, girls begin to consume more words than boys —approximately 100,000 more words per year.

Why do so many boys shift their focus away from books as they grow? There are different theories. One theory is that girls’ brains mature faster than boys’ allowing girls a greater ability to focus. Some experts identify it as a behavioral issue pointing to the stereotype that liking and excelling at reading is considered a feminine trait. Still others say there are too few books that appeal to boys’ interests.

Whatever the reason, boys’ lack of interest in reading and success in school contributes to boys’ having higher rates than girls in dropping out of high school and not attending or finishing college. Unfortunately, this gap is growing. Sure, some young men may find success without an extended education (look at Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg); however, they are the exception. Even a job in the trades requires attending trade school. Rarely, does an entry level job without some education lead to longterm opportunities and advancement.

So, what’s to be done? Researchers say the first step is to acknowledge the problem that boys are languishing in school and girls are succeeding. Next, address in the early grades the two main reasons boys give for not succeeding — shame of not being able to keep up with peers academically and lack of connection to school staff.

One expert has four suggestions to attack the problem.

1. Untraditional success. Many boys like to compete. But if they are not at least above average in the class, they may disengage. Boys would rather stop trying than work hard and ‘fail’. This ties into a fear of shame. A response to this problem is to broaden the scope of success. Rewarding ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks with attention to detail and resourcefulness may give boys the ability to find untraditional success in school.

2. Technology. Incorporate boys’ interest in technology as an element of their learning. Gamifying learning using Mathletics, Language Perfect and Kahoot could help.

3. Real life learning. Boys tend to prefer tests because they are over quickly, and they are not required to speak in front of their peers. However, the soft skills of oral communication, understanding process, and working on long-term projects are needed for most careers and achieving goals and dreams. Using real life learning situations to illustrate these concepts would help boys gain more interest in learning those soft skills.

4. Connections. Fostering relationships with teachers and school staff will help boys feel more connected to school. As boys get older, cultural forces tell them that focusing on relationships is feminine and immature. Yet, boys will work harder for a teacher with whom they have a great relationship. Having teachers take an interest in boys’ lives and having boys’ parents share with teachers important information about their sons will help foster those connections.

Boys’ success in education is declining but it does not have to stay that way. Recognizing that there is a problem and applying creative solutions will improve the state of boys’ education and ultimately boys’ lives. Similarly, once we recognize that we need an estate plan we can solve that problem by creating our estate plan and ultimately improving our lives and our families’ lives.

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