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Why Boys Fail, Richard Whitmire

2011/05/20

As someone who witnesses at work on a regular basis the failings of the education system in preparing students for college level work, I have found the research on K-12 education fascinating. There have been numerous studies on the lack of rigor and depth in American high schools, especially when compared to countries who are at the top of the lists in key subjects such as science, math, and reading. This book addresses this topic, but from an unusual perspective — the gender gap. There has been a recent surge in research regarding the seeming prolonged adolescence, particularly in young men: much of it cites the rise of women in education and the workforce, permissive parenting, lack of employment opportunities, the prevalence of escapist entertainment. And although some of these are briefly addressed by the author, his self-proclaimed summary statement is “The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven’t” (28).

Whitmire begins by looking at the lack of information regarding the gender gap in K-12 education; namely, that it has been ignored for the more “politically correct” failings along racial and socioeconomic lines. He examines the effects that this has had so far — female majority (sometimes overwhelmingly so) university populations, increased challenges in the job market for unemployed and undereducated men, the lack of verbal and writing skills among young men, even those born to and raised by college-educated parents. He looks at the “feminization” of the classroom: the curriculum and teaching methods which are more effective with already verbally-inclined girls, and how this causes boys to fall further and further behind. He even discusses the children and young adult’s publishing industries, pointing out their emphasis on producing and marketing books to girls.

One of the things I really appreciate about this book is that Whitmire does not stop at reporting the data on why boys are failing, but goes further and finds schools, programs, and administrators who have made changes for improvement. He talks about mentoring programs, tutoring, curriculum reviews, teaching styles — all practical, real-life applications that educators, teachers, and administrators can consider for improving the odds for the boys in their schools, as well as the challenges and obstacles that they faced while implementing these changes. This is an excellent book for those who are interested in both education and gender roles, and it tackles issues which many people have spent too long avoiding.

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