There was a time when the color scribbled in my son’s daily school folder held my breath captive every weekday until 2:30pm. On most afternoons, I could peer into the school bus windows and see the anxiety draped across his face in a warm messy mix of fear and disappointment. Our afternoons had been enslaved by the dreaded color codes that clearly marked his teacher’s approval or disapproval of his behavior that day. In hindsight, I regret how often I allowed him to hang his head low and put his discouragement into words. “I didn’t get on green today. I got another yellow.”
It was only a few months into the school year before we resented the colors and let him know in no uncertain terms, that the system was clearly broken. As a first grader, his 7-hour day was broken into 50-minute subject intervals and he was given a brief thirty minute recess. My six-year-old had a schedule more rigorous than the average adult’s workday in the office. Finding academic success was a struggle to say the least. His teacher soon ran out of kind ways to let us know how he needed to do a better job of staying on task and refraining from behaviors that disrupted any class time or lessons.
I have an older daughter who had the same first grade teacher a few years earlier. She also made a mess of the color system at this age, but she blazed through the academic curriculum and the teacher affectionately cooed about her ‘wild creativity’ and artistic expressive nature. The stark contrasts of their grade school experiences was a huge red flag.
We know that grade school girls generally outperform boys in spelling, language arts, reading and writing while boys often have stronger abilities in math, geometric visualizations, and mental object rotations. However, despite these common male inclinations (there are exceptions on both sides), grade school girls still earn higher grades in math as well as most other subjects.
We also know that physiologically, brain development is not only occurring at a different rate for young girls and boys in areas like the pre-frontal cortex, but even that certain areas of the young girl’s brains are on full blast while her male counterpart is still awaiting the physical completions of some bridges and connections. How then, can we fairly set the standard in any classroom?
Psychologist Michael Thompson notes that while “girl’s behavior is the gold standard in school, boys are treated like defective girls. As a result, these defective girls are not faring well in schools.” Many would argue that sweet, princess-like demeanor is desirable for any teacher who aims for decent classroom management and the child who meets that standard will easily find success.
Conversely, we also see how a boy’s active and adventurous curiosity drives them to learn in a physically expressive and hands-on way that the conventional classroom still discourages. In the video below, author Christina Hoff Sommers outlines some of the ways we can step in on behalf of our boys to encourage their learning styles without crushing some of the very traits we hope to see them grow into as the young men we so desperately desire for our own families and communities.