The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Ducks and geese are foolish things, and must be looked after, but girls can take care of themselves."...  ...Washington Irving.

Commentary of the Day - May 20, 2008: As the Song Says "Girls Rule, Boys Drool."  Guest commentary by Susanne Shaphren.

A recent New York Times article by Alan Finder spotlighted the need for a new breed of tutor.  Combining the traditional skills of those who help students improve their grades in specific subjects with the new age methods of personal counselors and life coaches, these scholarly magicians earn up to $100 per hour by helping boys bridge the widening educational gap separating them from their more successful female counterparts.


The author detailed a typical session where the tutor emptied her eighth grade client's backpack and asked the fourteen-year-old to sort the stack of papers.  More like a toddler on Christmas morning than a student mere months away from starting high school, the boy was amazed by the treasures he discovered ... a class schedule he'd misplaced and the form he was supposed to turn in the next day to let officials know exactly how he wanted his name to appear on his diploma when he graduated.


Poor Johnny.  Over the decades, experts told us he couldn't read and had difficulty writing too.  Mastering the mysteries of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division were problematic as well.  Now, it seems he can't even manage to perform simple tasks like keeping track of important papers and turning in his assignments!


"Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success" points out that girls, who are described as having better organizational skills and a superior ability to multitask, outperform boys in high school and college.  The author suggests there is an ongoing debate among educators as to whether or not this constitutes a crisis situation worthy of major changes in how schools should teach boys.


Some of the proposed solutions to the problem include: shifting to single-sex schools, providing more male role models, and implementing new teaching techniques geared to the specific needs of boys.


As I read the first few paragraphs, I made the mistake of assuming this was a recent phenomenon in the academic world.  It soon became abundantly clear that wasn't the case at all.  One of the experts quoted in the article has been helping boys develop organizational skills for seventeen years ... ever since she discovered her son (a seventh grader) hadn't been turning in his homework assignments because nobody had invited him to do so!


While it would be ever so tempting to simply agree that females are naturally more intelligent and more organized, I'm forced to stumble around in a vain attempt to find the appropriate ladylike expletive deleted to describe my gut reaction to the author's flawed hypothesis.


The truth is that it's absolutely appalling that a student of ANY gender could progress beyond the primary grades without a parent or a teacher noticing the red flag failure to develop the fundamental skills of keeping track of homework assignments, completing them, and turning them in at the appropriate times.


How does a student make it to eighth grade (or worse still to high school where many of the organization experts are guiding juniors and seniors through the process of applying to colleges) without having report cards and/or interim messages being sent home to parents indicating that assignments aren't being completed and submitted in a timely fashion?


During a period of time when we hear so many complaints about helicopter parents who hover over their offspring preventing them from doing anything on their own, how can there be parents who have absolutely no clue that their children are failing to complete such basic tasks?


It's been a long time since my brother and I were in elementary school, but I still clearly remember our parents teaching us that it was our responsibility to set alarm clocks early enough to be ready when the school bus arrived at the stop down the block.  It was our job as students to keep track of assignments and make sure that we finished them and turned them in on time.


There wasn't any significant disparity between the organizational skills of the honor student with the pink notebook and the honor student with the blue in our household.


I strongly suspect that clearly understanding what was expected of us from the very first small bits of responsibility helped us develop the skills we needed as those responsibilities grew larger and more complex.


It shouldn't take a $100 per hour expert emptying a student's backpack and setting up a color-coded system of organization to help Johnny (or Janie) take personal responsibility for waking up in time to get ready for school, making sure they've finished assigned homework, and turning it in without a gilt-edged invitation.


Maybe what's really needed is a bit of old-fashioned parenting!

2008, Susanne Shaphren.
Susanne Shaphren is a freelance writer from Arizona who publishes both fiction and non-fiction.  She is the daughter of a teacher.

The Irascible Professor comments: Susanne may be on to something here.  Perhaps a major reason that boys are falling behind girls in school these days is a lack of discipline, which boys may need in larger doses than girls.

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