Last year, I attended the senior awards ceremony at my daughter’s high school to see her be honored for serving as class president. It was one of the first awards of the evening — she and the three other girls who had served as officers were called to the stage to receive certificates.
For the next two hours, I watched a similar scene play out as girl after girl left her seat to claim a certificate, scholarship or some other honor. Yes, there were boys who received awards that night, but not nearly at the same rate as girls.
In the world of education, girls and young women are achieving at great rates. Consider one important indicator: Since 1991, young women have been more likely to enroll in and graduate from college than young men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, women earn about 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded each year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics; that number moves up to 64 percent if we consider only black women.
Recently New York magazine published a series of essays about raising a boy post-Parkland, mid #MeToo and smack dab in the Trump years, the assumption being that boys face many challenges now. Since last year’s awards ceremony — which my son attended with me — I have often considered one aspect of this: How do we help boys today achieve?
I sought the advice of a former colleague, James Fiore, the graduate support director at Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy in Federal Hill. SILA is a college preparatory middle school for boys from the city’s under-served neighborhoods. For Fiore, that means visiting alumni who are now students at Gilman, Loyola Blakefield, Mount St. Joseph, Archbishop Curley, Poly, City and other high schools across the region to make sure these students stay on track for success.
In others words, the man knows high school and he knows how high school boys can be successful.
In the ’90s, the push for girls to pursue STEM classes and careers began. “It was needed, but boys got lost,” Fiore says. “How do we equally support both sexes?”
More men in the teaching profession, particularly at the elementary level, would be a great start, he says. Many boys have different learning styles and validating them for what they are rather than valuing them as bad or good could help. Younger boys also could use more education and training about emotional needs. Otherwise by the time they reach middle school, “they hate talking. They hate sharing,” Fiore says.
Fiore also brought up the rate at which young boys are diagnosed with ADHD. “We’re in the age of medicating young men and not changing lesson plans.”
That’s a shame, because here’s something that teachers know: When you change your lessons plans to accommodate students who need more movement or more breaks, it generally benefits the rest of the class. Likewise, even college classrooms are moving away from a lecture-exclusive format, in part because of technology. But students don’t seem to be complaining.
For high school boys, Fiore recommends male affinity groups which can provide a lot of support and camaraderie. “Not everybody is going to be an athlete,” he says. “Not everybody is going to find their niche with the arts.”
But all kids want to belong. Maybe that’s what we need to focus on right now. As we continue to assist and applaud the success of young women, maybe we need to tell our sons that achievement belongs to them as well. Their journey may be different, but one path is not more valuable than the other.