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What About The Boys?

A recent New York Times op-ed examined the disparity between math scores for boys and girls on average across thousands of American schools. The story begins by noting that “The stereotype that boys do better than girls at math isn’t true.” It goes on to highlight the exception to that rule, which are boys in rich, white suburban school districts.

While the story focused on the gap in achievement between boys and girls in math, what the story did not expand on was the significant gap in reading achievement. Despite having a graphic showing the major disparity between boys and girls in this regard (almost a full year level difference, on average), the New York Times article did not explore this. It is reflective of a media narrative which downplays the widening gap between boys and girls in terms of educational achievement, especially in regards to literacy skills[1].

These findings have significant implications for schools. Higher education is more important than ever before for future prospects. The extent of the gap is examined in a recent article in The Atlantic. For decades, women have been graduating college at higher rates than men. However, the caveat to this has been that this has mostly been among wealthy families. In recent years, working class women have also attained college degrees at a higher rate than men. As traditional working-class jobs and trades fall by the wayside, this gap is likely only to become more pronounced. Yet, it appears that boys are often being forgotten about. How has this issue arisen, and how might this problem be alleviated?

One of the contributing factors may be the lack of male teachers, particularly at the primary school level. In Australia, for instance, recent research has shown that only one in 10 teachers at this level is male. At the secondary school level, the ratio is not much better. There has been significant research done showing that male role models in the classroom can have a positive effect on boys’ self-efficacy in learning[2]. In many instances, boys will go through the school system for years without having a single male teacher. With a lack of positive male role models for boys to look up to in the school system, boys often disengage from the learning process. According to data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey (ECLS), 67% of girls in eighth grade enjoy school, compared to only 59% of boys.

This is particularly important when considering things such as reading scores, where boys find themselves falling particularly far behind in comparison to girls. A contributing factor to this are the gender stereotypes many teachers hold about boys and girls in relation to reading ability. Often, it is assumed that girls are better at reading than boys Expectance-value theory posits that as a result of these stereotypes, attitudes towards boys and girls by teachers are influenced. This impacts the self-efficacy of those students.[3] In some cases, boys are graded down because of these biases from teachers, even though boys generally scored similar marks to girls on standardised tests.

Following on from this, there are differences between how boys and girls learn which are sometimes overlooked by the education system. One of the differences that may account for the difference in outcomes, at least at the primary and lower secondary levels is the difference in the rate of cognitive development. Skills directly related to school achievement such as social and behavioural skills, as well as skills or organisation and planning, develop earlier in girls than in boys. Many courses are not designed with these factors in mind, which results in boys disproportionately being ‘left behind’ at this level compared to girls. Certain proposed solutions to this problem, such as alternative ‘learning styles’ or emphasising the use of engaging ICT, have not worked out. The scientific, evidence-based case for these solutions are dubious at best, while being costly to roll out (Reichert, 2016). What has proven to work is a pedagogy which acknowledges and works with the unique traits boys bring to the classroom environment, and taking advantage of these to produce the best possibly academic results. The adjustments made between teaching boys and girls are often subtle yet crucial. Previous efforts to bridge the gap between girls and boys have utilised pedagogical approaches which account for the unique ways girls tend to learn. Schools can, through a similar focus on pedagogy and school structure do likewise for boys.

While some efforts have been made to address parts of the problem, such as a lack of male teachers, far less focus has been placed on this issue than the achievement and participation gap for girls, especially in STEM subjects. Part of the issue, some researchers posit, is because the issue is framed in zero-sum terms. If attention is paid to boys’ issues in the classroom, it is often assumed this must be at the expense of girls. However, there is no reason why this has to be the case.

While the importance of increasing the presence of male teachers in the education system has been recognised, recruiting and retaining teachers has proven to be significantly harder. One of the key reasons for this, particularly at the primary level is the relative lack of pay. The median salary for an elementary school teacher in the United States was $43,737. Compared to other industries with similar qualification requirements, the pay in education generally does not compare favourably. There are also cultural issues about the profession which keep men away. The stigma of teaching being a women’s profession plays a significant role in keeping men from becoming teachers. As the gender disparity among teachers becomes more pronounced, the issue will only become harder to rectify.

What is clear is that the gap in achievement is growing more pronounced each year, and the present response has not been sufficient. The problem is multi-faceted and has been developing for a while. Similarly, any solution to bridge the gap in education outcomes between boys and girls requires a multi-faceted approach. Teacher pedagogy has a central role to play in solving the issue. Acknowledging the unique ways in which boys learn in contrast to girls and adjusting teaching strategies accordingly is essential. There are also broader structural and cultural issues within schools which must be acknowledged, such as the crisis of male teacher recruitment and retainment. Finally, teaching must become a more enticing profession for men to enter, and the profession in general needs to be valued more highly by society, both in terms of increased salaries and prestige.

[1] Scheiber, C., Reynolds, M. R., Hajovsky, D. B., & Kaufman, A. S. (2015). Gender differences in achievement in a large, nationally representative sample of children and adolescents. Psychology in the Schools, 52(4), 335-348.

[2] Reichert, M. C. (2016). Unlocking Boys’ Potential. Educational Leadership, 74(1), 22-26.

[3] Retelsdorf, J., Schwartz, K., & Asbrock, F. (2015). “Michael can’t read!” Teachers’ gender stereotypes and boys’ reading self-concept. Journal of educational psychology, 107(1), 186.


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Scott Davies is a freelance writer and tutor. He is currently studying a Master of Education. He is interested in education, economics, geopolitics and history. He's on Twitter and has a Medium page.

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62 thoughts on “What About The Boys?

      • Here’s my regular vote on the pension shuffle:

        1. Offer higher pensions in lieu of competitive wages.
        2. Underfund pensions, using rosy projections of 8% or 10% or 12% growth — if politician, to use money for other things, if private business, to slash costs and improve stock price.
        3. Wait between 5 and 15 years. Original people who deliberately underfunded pensions are gone.
        4. Sadly proclaim that due to “overly generous promises” by “previous administrators” you won’t be able to fully pay out pensions. Slash pensions. Enjoy your 5 to 15 years of people working for far less than the market demands. Saved money goes to bonuses, stock options, or lower taxes on the upper brackets and business.
        5. Repeat.

        Oh, I forgot step 6: A surprising number of otherwise intelligent people believe (4), either due to ideological predisposition, or as a way to deny they can be similarly shafted.

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        • The credibility gap you’ve identified here is precisely why defined benefit pensions are a bad idea. A government cannot bind future instances of itself, and that means it cannot reliably promise you keep paying you in the distant future.

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          • Isn’t a government bond exactly that, a case of binding future instances of itself?

            What happens when the maturity date rolls around and the government is unable to pay the promise it made long ago?

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            • What happens when the maturity date rolls around and the government is unable to pay the promise it made long ago?

              We’ve already tested this in Detroit and we’re seeing it play out in Puerto Rico right now.

              What happens is Math doesn’t care about rhetoric or ethics.

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              • Sorry , if you meant “what really happens”, then we enter the realm of pain and conflict.

                In theory the Bond Holders are first in line and people starve in the streets. In practice we end up with shared pain and a bastard combination of the law and minimizing political damage.

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        • To sum up: Defined benefit pensions are absurdly difficult to manage correctly. The people in charge have multiple perverse incentives, no personal skin in the game, and the period of time is very long. Worse, voters often elect people based on taking advantage of those perverse incentives.

          On a side note, “in lieu of competitive wages” isn’t the only way to end up in this situation, when gov unions deal with officials they elected, increased pensions can hide just how expensive contracts are.

          4. Sadly proclaim that due to “overly generous promises” by “previous administrators” you won’t be able to fully pay out pensions. Slash pensions. …Saved money goes to bonuses, stock options, or lower taxes on the upper brackets and business.

          Not “saved money goes“, “saved money WENT“.

          The time to take action is after the FIRST missed payment or unrealistic interest assumption, not the LAST. Trying to fix things late in the game is hard or impossible. Compound interest is the strongest force in the universe and late in the game it works against fixes.

          I’ve been warning about this for 30 years. It’s possible we’re still 10+ years out before it gets really ugly… but it will get ugly. A lot of these plans have the choice of serious pain now or crazy pain later, and we’re STILL kicking the can down the road.

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  1. My intuition is, this lands heavily on boys from working class homes, many of which are single mother households. The lack of good male role models seems obvious. In any case, these boys are the second generation following the collapse of the manufacturing sector, and in turn the “crisis of (working class) masculinity.” I suspect they are particularly ill-prepared for academics.

    Raising teacher salaries is an obvious thing. However, I’m not sure if that will automatically attract a large number of men to teaching. Maybe. That is an empirical question.

    The recognition of alternative learning styles is obviously a great idea, both for boys and girls. Speaking for myself, I was dx’ed with ADHD as a child, and my schools made some effort to reach me, but mostly they failed. Ultimately I dropped out of high school.

    I do believe in personal responsibility, but on the other hand, I was a kid with a severe neurological disorder. I was doing my best. I can imagine a kind of learning environment in which I might have thrived. That is not what happened.

    All this said, working class men continue to out-earn working class women, and these single mother households result as much from the choices men make as from the choices women make. As a feminist, I am very glad to see working class women forging ahead with their independence.

    Regarding the boys — as a society how much do we want to invest into education?

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    • So, you are clearly a good writer and hence reader now. I presume that the standardized tests given to you in school would not have shown that.

      You dropped out of school, but somehow got the skills. I’m curious now, how did that happen?

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      • I generally scored in the 98% on standardized tests. In primary school, I had the weird distinction of being both in “special ed” (for remedial students), and also in the “gifted” program (for smarties). I’d spend the morning in one and the afternoon in the other.

        They did their best. Ritalin helped.

        There was less support for me in high school. I had a few very good teachers who shaped me a lot. I owe them more than I can express. But as a total experience — it didn’t work.

        Outside of school, I read long books without pictures. I do math for fun. I taught myself. But still, lacking a university education set my career back at least a decade.

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        • Yeah I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was in my 20s [1] but always performed really well on standardized tests. I was self-medicating by the time I was in high school (about a liter of Mountain Dew and half a pack of cigarettes a day) and I think I got either a better mix of teachers in high school [2] because I was able to get through high school and college without the wheels coming off.

          Grad school was a different story. That’s when I get real medication.

          [1] My parents pretty much knew I had it from the time I was like 4, but wanted to avoid “labels”.

          [2] I know I got some slack on account of my class background. ome weird-but-bright kids got support and others didn’t based on their neighborhood and the sort of work their parents did.

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        • My own daughter struggled with school mightily and eventually tested out of school, so she wasn’t technically a dropout. Her struggles were more with depression, caused in part by her gender dysphoria, not ADHD. Though we have that lurking in our family history, too.

          Your hypothesis about the decline of manufacturing and two-parent families has some merit, and yet I feel the difference in reading between boys and girls is older than that. I seem to recall that it goes back a long, long way.

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          • — True, but these problems are really focused on working class men and women. Middle class (and above) men are, to a large degree, doing just fine, at least modulo the general economic malaise.

            My read, at least at the college level, is this: working class women are taking the reins of their own life and pursuing education, mostly in “practical” fields such as nursing and business admin, whereas their male counterparts — well, they are not. To the degree the men can land one of the remaining working class jobs (police officer, for example), they do quite well. In fact, working class men continue to out-earn their female counterparts. But for the men who fall through the cracks —

            — well, plenty of women also fall through the cracks. Look at the broad statistics. Higher college graduation rates are not enough to bring women up to the level of men.

            This is an economic issue. It has gendered aspects, but it is not fundamentally about gender.

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  2. It’s often been said – by people I believe and more loudly by people I don’t – that schools of education have been completely captured by leaders with a philosophy that will make paying attention to boys or producing more male graduates difficult. Intersectionality and “centering” and all that.

    It’s hard to discuss this sort of thing without resorting to hyperbole; I picture a young man considering his career choices and making a choice to avoid privilege-checking struggle sessions, finding himself on the bottom of the “progressive stack” and whatnot.

    Do you think this is true?

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    • — I say [citation needed].

      The economic and political apparatus of the United States remains male dominated, including at the local level. If schools are seen as a “women’s space,” that is only because the largely male leadership has made that choice.

      Not that I object precisely. “Girl power” remains and important counterbalance to vast institutional sexism. Moreover, the “glass escalator” is certainly a thing, and male academics can be absolute shits, even in the face of all this (imagined) feminist power. It’s all poppycock from fragile men who cannot handle anything less than absolute license.

      What! You cannot make dirty jokes in the staff room? Professionalism hinders your “redpill” theories of seduction in the workplace? Oh noes!

      The lack of good male role models does not emerge from women blocking men. It is equally likely that it emerges from men failing to step up. We women cannot be male role models, definitionally. Men can. Do not blame feminism for your absence.

      Al that said, yeah, teacher salaries suck eggs. They should be raised substantially regardless of gender issues. Likewise, schools need to do better at handling a variety of “learning styles,” both for girls and boys. This, however, is expensive. Who sets the budget?

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      • There go those goalposts! The question was whether the predominant ideological commitments of schools of education make it hard to attract male teachers or address the problems of boys. And it really was a question. Hell yes, citation is needed.

        It is not, however, “do men dominate many powerful institutions?” and “can someone make broad generalizations about men being sh*ts?” Because those are easy questions.

        Next thing you know, we’re not getting any new info on the teacher pipeline and what is being taught to future educators, we’re talking about theoretical redpillers for no reason at all.

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        • I see lots of kids. Boys get plenty of attention in school especially if they have special needs. They get all the same services as girls.

          Is this all a school issue? I sort of doubt it. My guess is that it isn’t’ the lack of male teachers, though having them is good. It is more about the roles they learn at home and male stereotypes. The male as educated and reader is not all that positively looked at in many people. In fact it’s considered effete by some. That is at least part of the problem.

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          • I’m going to side with Greg and Saul. Anti-intellectualism runs deep in American society or even Anglophone society in general.Book learning used to be delivered with a sneer. STEM gets a bit of a pass because it’s seen as cool and a way to make a lot of money. Reading fiction not so much.

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              • I don’t think Lee is off. The flagship universities like Michigan were founded to create better engineers and farmers for America in the 19th century. They offered classes in the arts and humanities but often grudgingly.

                I think there is a very utilitarian way in which America treats education as a goal.

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                  • As was U of Michigan, along with most of the early universities established in states touching the Mississippi and further east, although usually with less theology. One of the first things most state governments did if there was an unmet need was to set up a conventional liberal arts college. Around 1850 almost all of the bigger schools, everywhere, began moving into science and/or professional schools (including engineering). Simply too much prestige and money not to do it. The Morrill Act land-grant schools came along a decade later because the existing universities sneered at “agricultural and mechanical” as fields of study.

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        • I largely concur with Greg even if I find Veronica’s rhetoric on this often extreme enough to be wrong.

          See my post below. I’ve never considered myself feminine. I like being a guy but in the American context I code as gay and have been told this.

          Though I’ve also known guys who said they wish they could go into teaching but did not feel like they could support a family on a teacher’s salary.

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        • — Well, let’s just say I find the general “MRA style” argument that the problems men face arise from too much feminism, which is what you were suggesting — well, my answer is no.

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                  • You were already attacking him in your long comment and in your response when he said that, he was saying “try harder *than attacking me*”. A bit of snideness in response to attack is well within parameters and something I’ve let you do while punishing your interlocutor several times in the past.

                    I didn’t mess with your longer (also attacking) comment that he was responding to, because it had more solid content, less attacking proportionate to the content, and I assumed you had the sense to grasp the point if I redacted one and not the other.

                    You are not expected to be endlessly patient, you’re expected to speak civilly. And to recognize that if you do persist in using “you” in a general sense, and not being willing to distinguish, people will take you literally.

                    I will suspend you if you keep cussing at me about this.

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                • Before somehow accidentally engaging the “feminism cannot fail, it can only be failed” tripwire (and I’m not even gonna ask what she called me in that redacted comment), my initial question was just that: a question.

                  This isn’t the first “boys are falling behind” article I’ve read, but they so rarely come with examples of what schools are doing, except for sub-groups, like African-American boys. I read about the zillionth celebrity-penned children’s book designed to get girls interested in STEM. I read about prestegious book awards getting covered primarily for whether the winners are diverse enough. I read about programs designed to change the way boys act around and with girls. I also read dumb takes by conservatives and MRAs. But rarely do I hear about what the career education establishment (schools of ed, mostly) are doing about boys.

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                  • She wasn’t calling you a name, for the record.

                    I don’t know about schools of ed, but you may be interested in this initiative, which is at least a decade old (i think rather older):

                    http://www.guysread.com/

                    (Whoops, it’s 15 years old. And currently under reconstruction. Maybe check back in a month?)

                    In the library community (including school librarians especially), at least, there has been a sustained effort to address and improve upon this problem for a long time. By being vaguely aware of such, I have also gotten the impression that it’s something teachers are aware of and working on, actively.

                    To me, the fact that things are getting worse and not better suggests that there are other factors at play, either in schools or out of them.

                    I don’t have any strong opinions about WHAT, but I do think that
                    1) boys tend to have shorter attention spans than girls (ON AVERAGE, no claims about any particular kid or about whether that’s nature or nurture)
                    2) gruelling weeks of standardized testing are thus more demoralizing and aversive for boys than girls (again, ON AVERAGE, etc)

                    Seriously, I’ve hung out with a 9 year old boy in the middle of standardized testing week and he didn’t even want to play video games, he just wanted to lie on the couch with his head dangling off it staring at TV he was re-watching. Which is *totally* different than his usual approach to life. (I mean, he likes TV! but he generally is doing 5 things at once!)

                    I dunno, that’s just one idea and not even the one I’m most attached to, but it does come up in my mind when we discuss these things.

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                    • OK, that’s interesting stuff!

                      I wonder how the idea that boys have shorter attention spans squares with the now-popular idea that ADHD in girls is highly under diagnosed.

                      As an ADD (no h) kid, I was terrible at paying attention in class and with finishing homework, but surprisingly good with standardized testing and I’d plow through long boy-coded novels that weren’t for school. There are a lot of different ways it can manifest.

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                      • For sure, that’s an interesting part of it too.

                        My brother was adult-diagnosed with ADHD (no surprise to me, his primary caregiver from my ages 6-15 , when he was 2-11, but given our family situation at the time, no one was looking at that stuff), and I’m 90 percent sure he got it from my mom. Who did really well in school, loved reading, etc., but has all the symptoms of the under-diagnosed in girls variety. It’s just that as a girl, in the 50s, those symptoms were parsed into “girls just aren’t as good at school that isn’t reading or english” variety. heck, she wasn’t even allowed to take science so it’s not like her differences were going to show up there…

                        I do wonder if something similar happens with boys, but from what I can see, teachers are working hard to combat it.

                        Another friend has a kid who is 9, has trauma-generated (perhaps) ADHD, and went from not being able to read according to testing, to performing at or above grade level in every subject in just two years in her care rather than his drug-addicted parents’. A *lot* of intervention went into that, and a lot of love and effort from her, his teachers, etc. (he also reads compulsively and excitedly now, picking up stuff that just lays around the house “coincidentally” … has put videos of himself reading or talking about books on Youtube… while also claiming he “hates reading” regularly and loudly (aunt’s response “mmhmmmm”) … peer pressure anyone?)

                        I do think boys in other schools with less effort given may be written off as “trouble”, either by the system, by their parents, or by the system in the absence of their parents.

                        It’s a real problem, not just something ginned up for drama or anti-feminism’s sake, and teachers mostly seem to know that. The good ones anyway.

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                          • Yeah, I meant that implication to come through, it’s why I used the word. Glad it did.

                            (I don’t think it has much to do with any new theories of education or its context though. I remember boys being treated like that when I was in school – I had one teacher who treated me that way too, early on before it became apparent that I was a prodigy which meant I could get away with whatever misbehavior I wanted. In junior high, I would actually act up in class specifically in ways to counteract this as best I could. “If you send him to the principal you better send me too, because we were doing the exact same thing,” kind of stuff. Overwhelmingly, the teachers who treated boys – almost always boys -this way were men themselves, back then, but had no political or ideological commonalities really.)

                            If I see any commonalities among which boys got written off / mitigated and which ones did whatever they wanted, they mostly have to do with class. Not so much because of the obvious reasons, but because higher-SES “bad kids” were better at being two-faced and telling teachers what they wanted to hear.

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                            • Overwhelmingly, the teachers who treated boys – almost always boys -this way were men themselves, back then, but had no political or ideological commonalities really.

                              This seems unpleasantly essentialist to say, but men are much more likely to react to that sort of behavior as a challenge and try to demonstrate their dominance. Especially if the behavior is coming from another man (or boy, for that matter).

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                              • It doesn’t have to be essentialist.

                                There are many many behaviors (good and bad) that are currently socialized the hell into both men and women in our culture, regardless of whether they started out that way or not. Noting such doesn’t mean you’re being essentialist.

                                Claiming all men are just like that, immovably so, because hormones and also howler monkeys, that would be essentialist.

                                :)

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                      • the now-popular idea that ADHD in girls is highly under diagnosed.

                        This makes me wonder if our treatment of ADHD has dysfunctional side effects… and if that’s a big enough effect to matter.

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                  • PS If you really aren’t sure about how you accidentally engaged the trip wire, it’s probably by blaming “intersectionality” for those choices when you were asking the question.

                    You and I have gone around about that before, and I don’t intend to start that up again now, but it may bear keeping in mind that for those of us who think there’s validity to the original theories (not necessarily every person peacocking the word on the internet), our primary experience of people complaining about intersectionality overlaps quite a lot (not 100 percent!) with people being misogynist, racist, LGBTQ-phobic utter assholes (like, literally, aggressively, and persistently). I personally have been taken to the woodshed by utterly vile trolls a dozen times for using the word elsewhere, and attacked by a lot of people who never bothered to read Crenshaw before trying to shove black feminists under some bus of being out of touch with reality.

                    I’m not saying that’s you. I actually *don’t* think it’s you, at all, so I pretty much filter any word that starts with intersect- out of your comments as if it were a verbal tic, or translate it to something like my parenthetical above, about peacocking. (Sorry if that’s offensive, I’m trying to be maximally accurate about my reaction here.) But if you’re trying to avoid red flags to bulls, that’s probably what the red flag is. I had to learn not to associate you with all of that.

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                    • Understood. It’s a shame that the I-word moved from debated theory to decontextualized shibboleth that people of goodwill know not to question, but here we are.

                      I read Crenshaw’s original paper, which has a lot more to do with class action certifications in civil rights lawsuits than what it’s being used for now. But I get it. I’ll look both ways before I cross the inters…. um, yeah.

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    • I have seen an attitude that leads to boys being ignored. You know, “boys are hopeless and annoying, to hell with them”. I’ve seen that attitude, but not a lot. I think someone with that attitude has no business having anything to do with teaching or raising a boy. Yes, that attitude is a problem.

      I think that attitude often comes from women who have been mistreated by men. This makes them hypervigilant toward certain male behaviors. Which can, in turn, result in more abuse. That’s the cycle. And this makes it all that more important to address and reduce the abusive patterns we see.

      Recentering is not that attitude. I understand why it might seem that way, though. We aren’t going to find out what some boys need until we recenter off of the whole idea of “I know what boys need”. Boys aren’t the same. There is, in fact, more genetic variability in males than in females.

      It is very, very common for me to encounter discussions of “what men are like” that did not describe me in any way. And yet, I am a man. This was true for me as a boy, and it’s still true. Lucky for me I had very good parents, and I had some tools that allowed me to succeed anyway. I did not follow a typical “boy” path, though. I followed a path that worked for me.

      “Boy” is a generic and a default, as is “Man”. It’s a symbol, and it’s all too easy to see the symbol, rather than the individual. The enemy is the stereotype, not the person. And I see recentering as a process that will lead to us seeing boys as individuals with widely varying needs.

      One of the most difficult hurdles we face though, is that as a culture, we have a norm that says that men and boys are not supposed to express hurt or need. Expressions of hurt and need are often attacked as weakness and “whining” – and the gender of the listener doesn’t matter, both men and women do this.

      This is a major roadblock to this sort of program. This is a major problem for our culture.

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      • The reason for “decentering” is simple: this remains a deeply sexist society, and while certainly their are a growing number of men on the margins, there are still far more women on the margins. Furthermore, those women often bear the greater share of childcare, in the face of “deadbeat” and absentee dads.

        More male role models would be great, but women are the ones stepping up.

        Yes, more money for teachers. Please. But also, more social support for struggling women, who are actually raising their sons and daughters (and non-binary kids).

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    • LTL FTC: It’s often been said – by people I believe and more loudly by people I don’t – that schools of education have been completely captured by leaders with a philosophy that will make paying attention to boys or producing more male graduates difficult. Intersectionality and “centering” and all that.

      It’s hard to discuss this sort of thing without resorting to hyperbole; I picture a young man considering his career choices and making a choice to avoid privilege-checking struggle sessions, finding himself on the bottom of the “progressive stack” and whatnot.

      Do you think this is true?

      As someone who has gone through an education program, I think you’re way off the mark.

      This isn’t about which students are problems, it’s about what are the solutions. I spent more time studying reading difficulty among boys than I did studying math difficulty among girls, and this as I was studying to be a math teacher.

      But I also left that program with more useful ideas and tools for helping girls with math than for helping boys with reading. The former problem is just… smaller. And the solutions are more identifiable. With boys & reading, I felt that the causes of the issue were poorly understood.

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  3. People don’t trust men who want to be around kids. I don’t see how pay raises would change that. We’ve got to get a little less paranoid, or get to the right level of paranoia, I guess.

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    • I teach a kids martial arts class. The parents trust us to be with their children.

      However, we have a very strong commitment to never having just one adult around the children. This protects the children, and it protects us.

      There’s always at least two adults around. Sometimes we ask a parent to stay around until the other instructor shows up.

      This doesn’t seem feasible in a school setting, but maybe I’m wrong about that. It doesn’t require two teachers after all.

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  4. I agree that raising teacher salary is important but there are other issues as to why men don’t go into teaching. We have viewed teaching as women’s work for a long time especially before the high school level. I think there were only a handful of male class room teachers when I was in elementary school. Slightly more in middle school and then only in high school did you see a good number of male class room teachers. This was from 1985-1998.

    As to boys and men and reading, a lot of people just don’t read in the United States. We never quite had the reading/literary culture that other nations had and have. Part of this I think is because we pride American identity on common sense and practical ability. Reading is considered far from those especially reading for pleasure. Doubly so once you get into something like poetry. The number of books required to be a best-seller in the United States is shockingly small. Book publishing seems to make money via the law of averages and a few knock out best sellers.

    Here is the thing, I never questioned my guyness or heterosexuality. Nor have I felt particularly feminine ever. However, my interests have never been very guy by American standards. I don’t really care for sports or video games. I am perplexed by men my own age who talk about WWE with all the zeal of a 10 year old boy and I am in my late 30s.

    But I’ve been told by women that I code as gay by American standards because of my hobbies and interests (art, literature, theatre, aesthetics in general, etc.) but in a European or some Asian contexts I would not code as gay.

    American men do seem to often self-enforce a very limited variant of masculinity, there does seem to be a movement to expand this but I think the movement has the right intentions but wrong tactics. The tactics mainly seem to be about it being okay for boys to wear dresses and/or get butterflys painted on their cheeks as small children. This is of course fine but I wonder why we put all the emphasis here instead of on “It’s okay for boys to like art and reading and not care about sports very much.”

    https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/06/imagining-a-better-boyhood/562232/

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        • For years the studies showed that women date “up” and women were criticized for that (gold diggers) Now, newer studies show that women, especially women under 40, prefer men who don’t mind them earning more money, which happens to coincide with women dating “down” because more working class than middle class and upper class men are comfortable with not being the primary wage earner (and also because, see OP, working class women often get pink collar jobs, even ones with degrees attached, that are steadier than the working class men they grew up with’s jobs). And women get criticized for that too. (Middle class and higher men are rarely criticized as a group by the same sources for not letting go of the “breadwinner” mentality, though they certainly get criticized by feminists for it.)

          It’s almost as if women get blamed by certain parties no matter what.

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        • Dating up does not necessarily mean dating any intellectual. You could be upper middle class and really not into recreational reading because most people aren’t. I’ve heard on NPR today that the average American aged 15 to 44 watch two hours of television today but only engages in ten minutes of recreational reading broadly defined.

          I also meant something a lot more limited than what people imagine. For every woman writing about designing a better boyhood or against toxic masculinity, there is another woman who likes her men more traditionally masculine.

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  5. My two boys are very strong readers, but neither of them have any interest in reading for pleasure and making them read every night during the school year is a battled- which makes them hate it more. I tried hard to instill a love for reading in them. I read to them every night- we went through all 7 Harry Potters and the Lord of the Rings books, interspersed with shorter books, funny books, etc. I even tried non-fiction, thinking maybe they would surprise me and enjoy it.
    No dice.
    As a little girl I always, always had my nose in a book and am still an avid reader. In a poll among my mom-friends, almost all said their daughters liked to read and their sons didn’t, with a few exceptions.
    Of course, being a good reader is partially born of practice. So, if boys don’t enjoy it, generally, and girls do, maybe that’s rooted in normal differences between the sexes, and results in disparity in skill?

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    • You can be a strong reader and still not read for pleasure. I know lots of people who went to top schools for undergrad and grad school and managed to do so by doing cliff notes versions of reading for English class and/or still not being academically inclined.

      The issue in the U.S. is that we can’t decide what is the purpose of education. Is it to produce people who are interested in academics and learning and being informed citizens? Is it to produce good workers and economic producers? Both? Something else?

      A lot of people, including a lot of people at our top universities see education as a tool for economic advancement alone, and not because they are keen on learning about physics or the culture of the Renaissance or whatever else. But they know (or are taught) that going to schools in the HYPS level and doing well there will set you for life economically. These people still need to be good readers but not necessarily like it.

      I think among the UMC professional set, there are lots of people who don’t like reading but feel like this is shameful to admit because they are educated professionals. They should like reading. So they make excuses. “If I can read a book, I should be doing more work” or something similar. But TV and video games are seen as acceptable passive entertainments.

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    • Not sure how old your boys are, but I didn’t start really reading for pleasure (beyond comic books/graphic novels) until I was 12 or 13.

      Then I couldn’t stop.

      Part of the reason I didn’t like it was that I had a hard time building the imagery in my head that the author was trying to convey. Especially if the author preferred to let the reader do a lot of filling in the un- or understated pieces. What got me over that hump were the RPGs Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and the Steve Jackson game Cyberpunk. Having a GM (my father, initially) who was very good at helping the players fill in the scenes incrementally taught me how to do it myself. He’d describe a scene in very broad, general terms, and then, as we asked questions, he’d help us fill in the blanks, often coming up with details on the fly, since such details were rarely part of the pre-written description.

      It also helped that he had a broad range of knowledge regarding the minutiae of the setting, so if we asked something like, “What is the difference between a mace, a morning star, a flail, and a holy water sprinkler?”, he could describe each weapon and even sketch it out for us. Which helped, because oftentimes, an author assumes the reader has knowledge they don’t, especially a young reader.

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    • I have a friend whose older boy adored reading for pleasure and whose younger boy did not (though he always enjoyed being read to). Being as I am a librarian with reader’s advisory specialty, she decided I was the one to work on this problem. (Nevermind that my skills / experience mostly lie with adults.)

      I actually did fix it, around the age of 12-13 but working on it before (Oscar makes me wonder if it would have solved itself!), and I would be happy to share my thoughts with you if you want, but don’t want to proffer unwanted advice.

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  6. Hello everyone, author of the piece here. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments on the piece. For some context: I’m a preservice teacher based in Australia, so that’s the perspective I’m drawing on when writing this piece. I’m less familiar with the various issues which may affect teacher salaries in American schools (the pension issue for instance) so thank you to those people who raised that point.

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