The Puzzle of Boys


Girls have been the center of academic debate for years, but now that they make up over half of the college student population, some scholars and psychologists worry about the achievement of boys. The article bellows mentions many books published over the last 20 years on the subject. There is a debate over whether there is a real problem boys are facing today, but many of these books discuss varying degrees of masculinity and the need to shed the stoic, emotionally closed-off stereotype boys.

A psychology professor at New York University, Niobe Way, recently finished a book on her interviews of teenage boys about their friendships. In these interviews, Way discovered that boys frequently said they liked their best friends because “They won’t laugh at me when I talk about serious things.” This emotionally intelligent side of boys is seldom seen and seems to disappear during high school. The article below states that:

“Touchy-feely talk about friendships may seem disconnected from boys’ academic woes, but Way insists they’re pieces of the same puzzle. ‘If you don’t understand the experience of boyhood,’ she says, ‘you’ll never understand the achievement gaps.’”

Although these studies contain conflicting data, how can parents use this information to raise emotionally intelligent boys?

What can teachers, principals and districts do to make learning more appealing to boys while encouraging emotional intelligence?

How can a middle ground be reached to pull out the best strengths of boys and the best strengths of girls?


The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 22, 2009
The Puzzle of Boys
Scholars and others debate what it means to grow up male in America
By Thomas Bartlett

My son just turned 3. He loves trains, fire trucks, tools of all kinds, throwing balls, catching balls, spinning until he falls down, chasing cats, tackling dogs, emptying the kitchen drawers of their contents, riding a tricycle, riding a carousel, pretending to be a farmer, pretending to be a cow, dancing, drumming, digging, hiding, seeking, jumping, shouting, and collapsing exhausted into a Thomas the Tank Engine bed wearing Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas after reading a Thomas the Tank Engine book.

That doesn’t make him unusual; in fact, in many ways, he couldn’t be more typical. Which may be why a relative recently said, “Well, he’s definitely all boy.” It’s a statement that sounds reasonable enough until you think about it. What does “all boy” mean? Masculine? Straight? Something else? Are there partial boys? And is this relative aware of my son’s fondness for Hello Kitty and tea sets?

These are the kinds of questions asked by anxious parents and, increasingly, academic researchers. Boyhood studies—virtually unheard of a few years ago—has taken off, with a shelf full of books already published, more on the way, and a new journal devoted to the subject. Much of the focus so far has been on boys falling behind academically, paired with the notion that school is not conducive to the way boys learn. What motivates boys, the argument goes, is different from what motivates girls, and society should adjust accordingly.

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