Reading & Literacy Opinion

The Liberals’ Explanation for the Boy Troubles

By Richard Whitmire — January 21, 2010 1 min read
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For years now, conservatives have blamed feminized classrooms for boys falling behind. Less attention gets paid to what liberals blame (actually, if you’re the AAWU or NOW you say: What boy troubles?).

But anyone visiting classrooms and talking to liberal-leaning teachers will soon hear this explanation: The problem lies with the standards and accountability movement -- in particular, No Child Left Behind.

This report from The Advancement Project -- Test, Punish, and Push Out: How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School to Prison Pipeline -- lays out the fine print behind that viewpoint.

Their talking points:

* The common origins and ideological roots of zero tolerance and high-stakes testing; * The current state of zero-tolerance school discipline across the country, including local, state, and national data; * How high-stakes testing affects students, educators, and schools; * How zero tolerance and high-stakes testing have become mutually reinforcing, combining to push huge numbers of students out of school; and * Successful grassroots efforts to eliminate harmful discipline and testing practices.

Naturally, a report coming from liberals doesn’t mention gender -- that would be politically incorrect (Boy problems? No, it’s only about race and income). Given that everyone knows that males drive the dropout/prison numbers, that head-in-the-sand attitude is laughably sad. You’ll never solve this problem while embracing denial.

So who’s more right? Based on my classroom visits, the conservatives have the least to offer here. Feminism simply can’t explain what’s happened to boys. Even Christina Hoff Sommers acknowledges that now.

The liberals have some good points. The by-the-numbers methods for teaching reading and writing can backfire, especially for boys who are less inclined to pick up advanced literacy skills in the early grades. But that doesn’t mean we should embrace Alfie Kohn and go back to the days when teachers could close their doors and make a personal decision whether to teach poetry or grammar. We experienced some of that damage personally with our own children.

Frankly, until the U.S. Department of Education acknowledges that educators and politicians created an unsolved problem with boys by pushing advanced literacy skills into the early grades and launches some corrective research, the true solution will elude us.

Me, I’m anxiously awaiting word from the Core Knowledge reading experiments in New York City. Matching reading instruction with lush content seems like a logical solution to me. You know, just because E.D. Hirsch has been preaching this for years and years doesn’t make him wrong.

The opinions expressed in Why Boys Fail are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.