As the mother of boys, I suppose I'm fairly sensitive to what feels like prejudices and misjudgments concerning that half the species.
In my Psychology of Education class earlier this week, the professor was discussing gender differences in the classroom. The fact that boys and girls learn differently, that they possess different strengths and weaknesses, really wasn't a question in my mind. Of course they do. BUT when we make statements to young teachers like, "boys aren't good at . . ." (or, for that matter, "girls aren't good at . . .") we are doing everyone involved a disservice.
"Boys aren't as good at verbal-linguistics as girls . . ." said the instructor pointing at a graph he'd drawn. "As you can see--Girls aren't as good at math as boys are . . ."
I raised my hand. I am fairly sure that the instructor knows my name better than he knows anyone else's. I can't decide if this is good or bad. It's just that when you ask for an opinion on something when I'm in the room . . . Well . . . I'm going to have one. This instructor asks for input regularly in a classroom full of young people who aren't yet confident enough of their opinions to state them without some coaxing. I like to think of myself as encouragement.
I pointed out that I have four boys, four different styles of learning, four very different people. But all four of them love to write and do it well and three of the four will talk your ear off at the first opportunity (They're my kids, after all). While Daniel struggles with spelling, it doesn't slow him down as a storyteller. He writes short papers, but they're well organized and to the point. (Daniel likes specific, logical outcomes, so math is more his speed). Now I realized before I spoke, that my boys were not representative of all boys everywhere. But I also know that they are not THAT exceptional either.
The instructor pointed out that four boys do not represent a larger study group and I didn't argue that. "My boys are good at these things because it's important in our house and they've caught on to it-- so my question is--how much of this is about what comes naturally to boys and how much of it is us pigeonholing them."
He conceded that we needed to be careful about this and elaborated on the pitfalls of doing so. But he continued to talk about boys being "bad" at certain subjects--talking about how they are usually the worst students in the class (but are often the best as well and are typically the valedictorians--which I suspect is nonsense). There was also some more talking about gender differences in behaviors--specifically with respect to aggression--that girls are often more verbally aggressive and boys physically so. That part of the conversation was interesting and--basically-accurate, in my opinion. But the whole "boys are bad . . ." didn't sit well at all.
Today I did my first practicum--classroom observation--in a fourth grade classroom in a small rural school. The teacher had warned me in advance that this was the worst class she'd had in ten years of teaching. She called them a "bad class" more than once, expressing dismay at how they treated one another--being "mean", adding that they seemed to "feed" off one another's behaviors. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I think I envisioned something far worse than I saw. And I diagnosed her "problem" almost immediately.
As they trooped in from the gym at the beginning of the morning, I took a tally. There were eighteen children in this class--five girls, thirteen boys That's right. Thirteen boys. All of them having gone to school together since kindergarten. Mystery solved.
Later as the kids were off to "specials" she gave me more information about the students, singing the girls' praises almost exclusively, I noticed--for being on task, and helpful, and affectionate and quick, discussing this or that boy's tendency to be disruptive and inattentive. I kind of felt like defending them, but that's not what I was there for. So I listened and asked a lot of questions and worked hard to suspend judgment. One morning in a classroom does not make me an authority on this class. She knows more about these kids than I ever will.
Also, she is an exceptional teacher--she clearly cares about her students and is has done wonders with them in just the six or so month she's had them in her classroom. She tutors after school to ensure their success. And it is also obvious that they care about her. These kids are going to end the year at least proficient in a subject they were lagging notably in at the beginning of the year.
But it's the label "bad class" that bothers me. When we label entire groups of kids "bad"--there should be a pretty good reason for it. And when the class is overrun with boys, well . . . Then I have to wonder--how much of it is bad and how much of it is boy?