« More Fun With Charts | Main | Weird »

September 27, 2010

Feminization? Or Bad Parenting and Low Expectations?

Whilst doing some reading for an article I'm writing, I ran across the following stunner in an article lamenting the supposed feminization of schools:

... it is boys’ aggressive and rationalist nature—redefined by educators as a behavioral disorder—that’s getting so many of them in trouble in the feminized schools. Their problem: they don’t want to be girls.

Take my tenth-grade student Brandon. I noted that he was on the no-pass list again, after three consecutive days in detention for being disruptive. “Who gave it to you this time?” I asked, passing him on my way out.

“Waverly,” he muttered into the long folding table.

“What for?”

“Just asking a question,” he replied.

“No,” I corrected him. “You said”—and here I mimicked his voice—“ ‘Why do we have to do this crap anyway?’ Right?”

Brandon recalls one of those sweet, ruby-cheeked boys you often see depicted on English porcelain.

He’s smart, precocious, and—according to his special-education profile—has been “behaviorally challenged” since fifth grade. The special-ed classification is the bane of the modern boy. To teachers, it’s a yellow flag that snaps out at you the moment you open a student’s folder. More than any other factor, it has determined Brandon’s and legions of other boys’ troubled tenures as students.

Brandon’s current problem began because Ms. Waverly, his social studies teacher, failed to answer one critical question: What was the point of the lesson she was teaching? One of the first observations I made as a teacher was that boys invariably ask this question, while girls seldom do. When a teacher assigns a paper or a project, girls will obediently flip their notebooks open and jot down the due date. Teachers love them. God loves them. Girls are calm and pleasant. They succeed through cooperation.

Boys will pin you to the wall like a moth. They want a rational explanation for everything. If unconvinced by your reasons—or if you don’t bother to offer any—they slouch contemptuously in their chairs, beat their pencils, or watch the squirrels outside the window. Two days before the paper is due, girls are handing in the finished product in neat vinyl folders with colorful clip-art title pages. It isn’t until the boys notice this that the alarm sounds. “Hey, you never told us ’bout a paper! What paper?! I want to see my f**king counselor!”

Wow. Where to start with this?

When did understanding one's place within a social hierarchy (hint: it is teachers and not students who run a classroom), learning to follow directions and comply with rules, not disrupting a group endeavor with constant demands for attention, meeting deadlines and not blaming others for one's own mistakes become "feminized"?

These are all skills that used to be taught in the first grade. That a 10th grader should be unable to demonstrate elementary skills that are essential for completing school, getting a job, joining the military (that feminized culture!) is not the fault of the schools.

It's not the schools that have failed this boy. It's his parents.

Self discipline and self control are not exclusively female traits. Responsibility and accountability are not exclusively female traits. A solid work ethic is not an exclusively female trait. Respect for legitimate authority is not an exclusively female trait. These characteristics used to define the traditional male.

At some point in his life, this young man is going to have to learn to take direction. When he goes out into the world and gets a job, his employers are going to ask him to do things he may well consider pointless. No employer is going to welcome an employee who can't meet deadlines, who sulks unless everyone in the office stops and pays attention to him, who is openly contemptuous and defiant, who doesn't listen to (or follow) directions, who blames everyone around him for his own lack of self discipline and self control.

I raised two sons and I can honestly say that I never considered it to be the job of any school - public or private - to teach my children how to behave. I never considered it to be the job of any school to make my child want to do his work. That was my job as the parent. And had either of my sons ever spoken to a teacher the way this boy did, he would have found himself in a world of hurt. The teacher would not have had to intervene because I would have taken care of the problem.

Teachers do not owe children explanations about why they have to complete assignments. The choice is simple: do what you're told or fail. If you choose to fail (and I had this discussion with my kids many a time) you have made a decision that will have repercussions when it comes time to get a job. And it will have repercussions here at home because if you're not mature enough or responsible enough to complete the very easy tasks asked of you at school, then clearly you're not responsible or mature enough to drive a car or go out on Saturday night with your friends.

The entire time I was reading this story I couldn't help thinking of Marine boot camp. No DI on the face of the earth would accept that kind of smart mouth from a recruit. No DI is going to stop and explain the purpose of an order before requiring that it be carried out. And quite frankly, no parent should either. One of the most rewarding things I saw in three years at Parris Island was the transformation Marine training works on young men. Parents routinely remark on it at graduation. Boys who were once sullen, disrespectful and inconsiderate suddenly carry themselves straight and tall. They treat those around them with respect because they expect the same of others, but more importantly, they do so because they are expected to. Men who genuinely respect themselves don't consider ordinary politeness to be "feminized", nor do they feel the need to challenge everyone around them to prove they're not girls. Such behavior is not feminine. It's adult.

This is one of those lessons that should be taught by parents by the time a child starts kindergarten. The real shocker here is that I would have said that the idea that a child has to understand and/or agree with everything he or she is told to do is a perfect example of the "feminization" this author pretends to lament.

Men, in general, used to understand hierarchies, authority, and the need for rules because if they failed to understand, these lessons were quickly driven home.... by other men. These days, though, I see an awful lot of men using the cover of traditional masculinity to undermine the very qualities that have always made good men worthy of honor and respect: self discipline. Integrity. Responsibility. Accountability.

The real irony here is that, if anything, schools expect far less of boys and girls than they used to both academically and behaviorally. And boys in particular are not benefiting from these reduced expectations.

The author gets one thing right - boys are more prone to question or challenge authority. Boys are bigger risk takers - often to the point of foolhardiness when they're young and inexperienced. Most boys are less empathetic, more demanding, and more combative than girls. And these qualities can and do make boys into strong and successful men - but only when they are taught to channel them in constructive rather than destructive ways. Coupled with self discipline, these qualities become strength, assertiveness, initiative, resourcefulness. Children are not born with adult experience, adult self control, or adult discernment; these qualities take time and effort to develop.

Years ago, complaints about how girls weren't succeeding at school or in the workplace because both environments were too "masculine" were greeted by men with the derision such arguments deserve. The problem wasn't too much testosterone but expectations that were too low. This is one of the good things to come from feminism. When I was a girl, I was constantly told that I didn't have to take difficult science or math courses because I wouldn't need them. I was told many a time that girls are not as good at math and science as boys.

And there's no doubt that such statements have an effect on children. When girls are told, day in and day out, that they belong to a class of people who aren't good at something or who don't need to learn it, they won't tend to exert themselves in that direction. I'll never forget going back to my old high school to pick up transcripts for my husband and myself. The headmaster sat down to look over our records and couldn't understand why a student with such high SATs and IQ scores hadn't been encouraged to take more advanced math and science classes?

It's a good question. When I eventually returned to college as an adult, I ended up taking those classes and did so well in them that I was inevitably asked to tutor other students. The problem was neither lack of ability nor lack of inclination. It was low expectations coupled with entirely normal childish immaturity on my part.

There's a lesson here: if we want our children to achieve more we need to expect more from them, not less. Telling boys that responsibility, respect for others, and self discipline are "girlish" does nothing to prepare them for a world that will require all of these abilities. High expectations are particularly important in raising boys because boys thrive on overcoming challenges. Boys need high standards. They need to learn self discipline and self restraint. But then that's something any of these men could have told the author. If only he were inclined to listen:


"I truly believe that you'll never truly lead anybody, until you learn to serve. And you'll never truly serve anybody, until you learn there's something more important than yourself."

- Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch, US Army, Vietnam.

Posted by Cassandra at September 27, 2010 09:46 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.villainouscompany.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/3906

Comments

I tend to agree with you on this subject far more often than not. I have three girls and a boy, and the differences between them (even including the daughter who is somewhat less than feminine by nature) is remarkable.

I do think that there is a feminization in schools, but that the author of the quoted piece has chosen the WRONG example.

Good behavior, as you say, is not a feminized trait but a necessary part of being an adult.

However the expectations of boys to be less boisterous, less energetic, etc is a different issue than the author presented. And I think it is a real problem that has resulted in the over-medicating of several generations by this point. Rather than encourage sports participation, understand that the boys will tend to play more roughly, and channeling those tendencies to allow them to play out (so that the boys aren't so fidgety when they finally do get back to class), schools cut PE and ban dodgeball.

I do think that boys are done a disservice in that. And I do think, as a former teacher and parent, that girls are easier academically and in large groups (after one year carting my son to Cub Scout meetings while Air Force Guy was deployed I threw in the towel and passed that ball on to him. It was WAY more stimulation than I could handle!).

Articles like this drive me batty, because they take a real problem and then reach the wrong conclusion about it, which then weakens the argument.

Posted by: airforcewife at September 27, 2010 12:01 PM

Best response I've heard of to the "why do we have to do this?" question, from a math professor:

Student: "Hey, how do you use this stuff, anyhow?"

Prof: "You use it to make the atomic bomb!"

Student" "HOW do you use it to make the atomic bomb?"

Prof: "That's classified!"

Posted by: david foster at September 27, 2010 12:05 PM

I do think that there is a feminization in schools...

I agree, but I think the form it has taken is the abolishment of healthy competition and a de-emphasis on achievement (as in effort over results).

Ironically, as a student I resembled the way this author portrayed boys far more than the way he portrays girls. I was very inner directed - if I didn't see the point in an assignment, I simply didn't do it...and my grades suffered as a result.

The difference is that I didn't blame my teachers and I would never have dreamed of speaking so disrespectfully to any teacher no matter how little I thought of him or her. My parents didn't raise me to think I was the center of the universe.

I went to most of my boys' activities, and oddly enough I never saw boys misbehaving the way I see them do these days. They did act up, but when they were told to pipe down and knock it off, they did as they were told.

Both my boys were entirely normal - they tried to get away with as much as they possibly could and I never expected them to do otherwise (since that's how I was as a child). But I never gave in, either.

I am really mystified by all the parents and teachers who seem to lack the self confidence to be the adult. They just throw up their hands, or make excuses for kids who behave badly.

No one should hate a child for behaving childishly, but you can refuse to tolerate bad behavior without beating a kid's ego into the ground. About the time my boys got into jr. high, my husband noticed that kids were becoming increasingly snotty and disrespectful. And boys - being generally more assertive - were the worst.

I get teenaged rebellion because I was a very rebellious teen. I'm surprised my parents didn't kill me. But they loved me enough not to put up with crap from me and that's something I will forever be grateful for.

I returned the favor by demanding that my sons treat others with respect.

To me, the worst thing you can do to a child is send him or her out into the world expecting unconditional acceptance.

The second worst thing you can do to a child is to fail to teach him to take responsibility for his own actions.

*sigh*

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 12:15 PM

When I was a girl, I was constantly told that I didn't have to take difficult science or math courses because I wouldn't need them. I was told many a time that girls are not as good at math and science as boys.

My mother was told that as well. Her guidance counselor in high school told her in so many words that because she was a girl, she would not need math or science classes, especially since girls didn't do well in them anyway, so she skipped them. When it came time to apply to college, she almost didn't get in because she didn't have enough math or science courses on her transcripts. Because of that, she was insistent that my sister and I take all the math and science classes we could. I'm very grateful to her for doing so.

Posted by: colagirl at September 27, 2010 12:19 PM

Rather than encourage sports participation, understand that the boys will tend to play more roughly, and channeling those tendencies to allow them to play out (so that the boys aren't so fidgety when they finally do get back to class), schools cut PE and ban dodgeball.

OK, I'll buy that. But then these kids go home and play video games for hours on end instead of running and playing baseball and throwing rocks into ponds.

So again, I really don't think it's all schools.

Another thing I don't get is not making kids go to bed on time. Even when my boys were small, I noticed that they were just about the only kids on the block who had a regular bedtime that was regularly enforced. Kids can't stay up until 11 pm and then get up and go to school at 8 am - they need a full night's sleep.

Sorry for the rant. This article just grated on my last nerve :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 12:20 PM

My mother is very intelligent and extremely well read. She was a national honor student. My Dad has always almost bragged about how smart she is (something I love him dearly for).

I got my love of books and ideas from her. When I was a girl, I vividly remember my mother discussing philosophy, religion, all sorts of topics.

And she was told "not to bother" to apply for college. Incredible.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 12:23 PM

I suspect that in answer to your title question - Feminization or bad parenting and low expectations - the author of the article you cite would answer, "Yes". It's pretty clear he believes Feminization = Bad Parenting + Low Expectations. Because, you know, back in the days when Mom mostly raised the kids because Dad was working or fighting or whatever - you know, the good old days when pretty much *all* teachers below high school level were women - boys turned out so rotten.

I was struck by the author recounting how he and another male teacher attended a required teaching seminar and were refusing to do the assigned work, instead letting the three women in their group do it. His friend says this is all baloney because:

“We wouldn’t have this problem if we grouped kids by ability, like we used to.”

The women, all dedicated teachers, understood this, too. But that wasn’t the point. Treating people as equals was a social goal well worth pursuing. And we contentious boys were just too dumb to get it.

Notice the assumption about why the women teachers were actually doing the work they were assigned: it must be because they were so brainless they would go along with anything packaged as "equality", however little sense it made. It appears never to have occurred to the keenly observant author that the women in his group were not only aware this was baloney but also understood that this was one of those stupid assignments your boss gives you and you do to keep your job.

I do have to chastise the author's female partners in one regard. It does appear they've bought into the value of cooperation so thoroughly that they weren't willing to do what they should have done: ask that the men be removed from their work group. Then the author and his good buddy could refuse to do the assigned work *and* suffer the consequences.

Posted by: Elise at September 27, 2010 12:24 PM

When it came time to apply to college, she almost didn't get in because she didn't have enough math or science courses on her transcripts.

When I went back to school, I spent a solid 3 months going back over Algebra 1 and 2 and geometry on my own. Doing that after a 10 year break when you never really paid much attention to those subjects was a real bear :p

To this day I've never taken a chemistry or physics class. I wanted to in college, but I was working 40 hours a week in addition to taking a full course load (and most of the time I was overloaded on my classes so I could finish before we moved). So I concentrated on the classes I needed for my major: math and computer science.

It still bothers me that I never took those classes.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 12:29 PM

It does appear they've bought into the value of cooperation so thoroughly that they weren't willing to do what they should have done: ask that the men be removed from their work group.

You know, I actually tried that my senior year in HS.

You know what I was told? "We put you in this group to help the 'weaker' students".

Help them? Fine. Do their work for them? I don't think so.

I'm a great lover of boys (having raised two myself and having had a house full of them for about 20 years) but one thing I noticed about boys is that they're very willing to let girls do things for them and very good at stonewalling until they do :p

Girls can be incredibly manipulative at times but boys aren't exactly free from that particular human foible! They just do it differently, that's all.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 12:33 PM

Back up for a moment.

Whilst doing some reading for an article I'm writing,
"Whilst" ?! How long has it been since I've seen that word used correctly? And reading before writing? What a concept!

And this was not the post she was researching!

Excellent, as usual. I knew if I goofed off in school, I'd get it from the teacher, from the principal, from my mom, and from my dad. And if not in school, the stranger, neighbor, mom, and dad. Maybe friend's mom and dad, too. It was war, we were the kids, they were the adults, ganged up against us! Taught us to be careful, and wary of being caught. ;) Kids today ... we would have never filmed ourselves doing the things we did, that would provide evidence!

Many years later:

Physics Prof: Good, the three of you in study group six are here. (A stranger leaves the office, returns with a half-dozen more strangers.) Your extra credit project is excellent. You each have A's for both the project and the quarter, and you can skip the final. Really, very good work, gentlemen, I am very pleased. Now, I'm sorry, but these gentlemen from the FBI need to collect all of your notes about it. All of your notes. ...

Posted by: htom at September 27, 2010 01:01 PM

"No employer is going to welcome an employee who can't meet deadlines, who sulks unless everyone in the office stops and pays attention to him, who is openly contemptuous and defiant, who doesn't listen to (or follow) directions, who blames everyone around him for his own lack of self discipline and self control."

But you can become President or a member of Congress.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 27, 2010 01:10 PM

Boys...

*snort*

I still have fond memories of my HS biology class. Who knew frog parts could fly?

*ducking*

And yeah - we got in trouble for being disrespectful to a dead frog... :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 01:11 PM

Crap, messed up the html on the quote. At least I remembered the quotations marks!
0>:~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 27, 2010 01:11 PM

"And yeah - we got in trouble for being disrespectful to a dead frog... :p"

Really? Wow, my biology teacher was the one who showed us that a shark's eyeball will bounce.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 27, 2010 01:14 PM

"No DI is going to stop and explain the purpose of an order before requiring that it be carried out. And quite frankly, no parent should either."

Boot camp is unlike the regular Marine Corps. It has a different purpose. In the regular Corps, leaders are taught that WHEN THERE IS TIME, explaining the reasons behind an order is vastly preferred. That way you get willing cooperation instead of grudging acceptance. Morale is higher, and frankly, you often get a better result on the job itself.

The same works in parenting, too. When there is no time, you want willing obedience, but whenever possible, you should explain WHY you want something done.

Posted by: Rex at September 27, 2010 01:24 PM

I had to laugh at this response to the City Journal article:

As a teacher in an all-girls school, I see all the behaviors you imply are only found in boys. I once had a student stand up in the middle of a test and loudly ask why all the true and false answers were false--behavior similar to what Brandon did. There are also students diagnosed with learning disabilities, which you claim is not seen in girl students. And I wish all my students would eagerly take out the writing utensils when I tell them to! Feminists often like girls' schools because all the leaders will be women--the editors, club presidents, etc. There's a downside though, too, apparently. All the troublemakers and failures are female as well!

It's funny - I raised two boys and most of their friends were boys. I did home day care for over 3 years and the vast majority of kids I watched were girls.

There are definitely differences (in general) between boys and girls but they are nowhere near as great as people make out. They're more often differences in style or degree than fundamental differences.

I, too, saw girls do all the the things my boys did and some my boys didn't do.

The idea that girls aren't assertive with grownups borders on the delusional. Girls argue with grownups all the time, especially if they're being asked to do something they don't feel like doing.

In general, girls rebel by talking back, rolling their eyes, or demanding endless explanations. Boys are more likely to rebel by stonewalling, acting, or acting out. Neither set of behaviors should be tolerated by their parents or teachers.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 01:26 PM

When I was a 7th grader back in the late 60s, a male teacher called all the boys together off the playground during recess, gathered us into a circle, and in hushed tones told us through clenched teeth that if anybody ever hit a girl then the rest of us should kick the crap out of him. He looked dead-straight at each of us and asked whether we understood. We did. It was common sense to us, but the nod from authority was nice.


That used to be acceptable. Violence or the threat thereof had its uses. Teachers, male and female, used to look the other way when boys clashed in locker rooms or hallways, especially so when one of them "had it coming."


After high school I spent 3 years in the Army. Similarly, aggressive tendencies were nutured and directed. Violent responses (or threats thereof) are not necessarily a sign of lack of discipline.


After Army, college and lawschool, I entered a work force in which a man could still settle a workplace dispute by suggesting that business is business -- but do you really want to "F" with me? Most men when so confronted are (or at least were) introspective enough to review their behavior and nod back if deserved or come to a truce with a muttered "Likewise."


Slowly women took over in human resource departments. Now I do not intend to slam woman --afterall, woman have done very well in business and the professions (doesn't require heavy lifting), and now they are standing tall and proud in the front lines of political combat. Still, there is way too much emphasis on consensus nowadays. During interviews I used to dread being asked the typical "Tell me of a time when you had a conflict with a fellow employee and how you resolved it?" The "correct" answer is all about discussing differences and arriving at a new understanding, blah, blah, blah. Sometimes that's OK, but often consensus ends up being just plain stupid, half-hearted or both. Men used to routinely understand that and, for example, be prepared to buck some new concensus and close the boss's door to tell him just how stupid he was being. Only rarely would the boss get his shorts in a knot, especially if after the decision was made, right or wrong (and nobody goes to jail), everybody was on board (that was the place for consensus -- once the decision is made). Men used to take pride in saying we were paid to disagree.


Now everybody has to be so nice -- which honestly would not be so bad, if there was just a little room left for old fashioned men.

Posted by: Ron Weiss at September 27, 2010 01:30 PM

When there is no time, you want willing obedience, but whenever possible, you should explain WHY you want something done.

And that was my rule with my sons - I was happy to explain, but their obedience was not 'subject to' an immediate explanation.

I think there's a difference between questions asked in good faith and questions asked when a child already knows the answer or questions asked to vex, annoy, or challenge.

Do you think, "Why do we have to do this crap?" is a question asked in good faith? Most 10th graders know why schoolwork is assigned. If they haven't figured that one out, there's a problem and I'm guessing it's not with the school :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 01:32 PM

One thing I think I disagree with is the idea that these boys' problems are a combination of 'bad parenting' and 'low expectations.' The school model does in fact have a serious flaw in it, that makes it work badly for boys.

That flaw is not feminization, though. People get confused about that simply because they see that the model works well for girls and badly for boys.

The problem is lack of discipline. Boys need constant discipline, not occasional discipline. It's not enough to discipline them at home for bad behavior at school. They have to be disciplined constantly through the day, and they need a large part of their education to be focused on learning to discipline themselves.

A boy who is well disciplined at home, and held to very high expectations, will still slack off at school if he can get away with it. This is for the same reason that a good teacher whose students are therefore orderly and disciplined will still find that her substitute teacher will report behavior problems from the class.

Discipline is an indispensable part of the educational process, but it is one largely abandoned in favor of special ed and drugs. These are preferred by the schools because they allow them to avoid the difficulties of having constantly to discipline an unruly classroom, but they really are no substitute. As boys need an education focused on discipline and the cultivation of self-discipline more than girls do, the model does hurt them more than it does girls.

The parts of the article I found very disturbing were the ones pertaining to the 'special ed' solution for boys. The author's right when he talks about the quivering faces of boys told they are mentally deformed. He's also right when he talks about the 'exquisite crystal' of the excuse they are given, and how it damages them for the rest of their lives.

We have to recognize that boys need to be educated in a wholly different way. They need a teacher who will focus on discipline in the classroom, and on training them to discipline themselves. This takes time, and it is hard. Giving the boys an excuse that lets them avoid it is the worst thing you can do to them.

A model that reliably does this is broken where boys are concerned. We are, in fact, hurting them by subjecting them to it.

Posted by: Grim at September 27, 2010 02:04 PM

There's beginning to be solid research showing that a good half-hour of exercise before the school day, and in the lunch period, helps -all- students, not just those with ADHD (although they're helped the most.)


"The only control is self-control."

Posted by: htom at September 27, 2010 02:08 PM

Why? Heh, I asked that question incessantly to every algebra teacher I ever had. Not why did I have to do the work, but why did the work have to be done that way.
My parents, OTOH, got the typical teenage "Why?!" Which *may* explain why my Mom's hair became prematurely grey.....nnnnaaahhhhh.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 27, 2010 02:11 PM

Grim, I agree with you completely and wholeheartedly. I agree that this boy should not have been in special ed unless he also had some disability of which we're not aware. But again, where the heck were his parents?

I am convinced my oldest boy had/has ADD. I think I probably had it to some degree as well. To me, this was something we both just had to work harder to overcome. I never had my son tested because in the end I decided it was better to teach him coping skills and self discipline. Luckily it wasn't so bad that he couldn't overcome it with hard work.

Loved Ron's comment as well.

I think that as a society we have become very resistant to authority because it is so rarely enforced, and I think that this hurts men far more than it does women.

That's why I'm so bemused when I see men excusing bad behavior or embracing the whole gender grievance thing. As you know, I've written several posts expressing concern over the way boys are starting to lag behind in education. I still think this is a HUGE problem. I just don't agree that lowering expectations is the right response.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 02:27 PM

You know, Sly, I wish the teachers I had for algebra had known how to explain why it was important. I didn't realize why it mattered for many years.

Today I find that, although I almost never do an actual math problem, I use the skills developed in algebra and geometry on a very regular basis. The core thing I needed to learn from it was that things that look like math problems can be described instead as shapes; and shapes can, therefore, be described in math.

It's sort of shocking to realize that, but it opens some interesting roads. There are a lot of practical problems we understand by using analogies to shapes, or lines: but you can then test those analogies by applying the mathematical rules for those shapes to the practical problems. If you can't manipulate the practical reality the same way that you can the math, the model is bad and needs to be discarded or modified so that it works.

This happens to be Taleb's "Fourth Quadrant" insight -- on the poverty of our models in certain areas, and the importance therefore of hedging our bets when we are operating in areas where we can't build good models. The economy broke in 2008 precisely because people weren't doing this kind of thing: they had smart cookies building models of the economy that weren't reliable, but were convincing enough that people leveraged themselves wildly based on their promises.

Posted by: Grim at September 27, 2010 02:27 PM

There's beginning to be solid research showing that a good half-hour of exercise before the school day, and in the lunch period, helps -all- students, not just those with ADHD (although they're helped the most.)

Heh :)

When I was a little girl, our family doctor told my Mom to put me in gymnastics to get rid of my excess "energy" :p And that was after being outside all day playing as hard as I could!

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 02:30 PM

A boy who is well disciplined at home, and held to very high expectations, will still slack off at school if he can get away with it. This is for the same reason that a good teacher whose students are therefore orderly and disciplined will still find that her substitute teacher will report behavior problems from the class.

I think it's important to mention something here, though.

My DIL was a 1st and 2nd grade teacher for several years before she and my son decided to have children and she become a full time Mom.

Though she was a new teacher fresh out of school, her classes were the best behaved at her school. Veteran teachers used to ask her for tips on how she got her kids to behave so well. And yet she regularly had to deal with behavior that I never ONCE saw in all my years growing up.

Kids screaming at the top of their lungs in class, who wouldn't stop screaming and wouldn't listen.

Kids hitting and biting each other in class.

We all grew up with playground fights and occasional fights in the hallways. But kids did not try that stuff in class.

Part of the problem (as Ron mentioned) is that teachers aren't allowed to grab a kid who is misbehaving and physically remove them from the classroom.

I read something interesting this weekend on a forum for mothers of boys. The moms were discussing how to handle a young child who bites, kicks, scratches or hits his mother.

I know how I handled that, but I would probably be arrested these days. And it worked. Instantly.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 02:37 PM

Grim, I used to tell my students that algebra teaches a kind of structured thinking that doesn't come naturally to most people, but which allows us to organize what we know and reason from that to what we want to know.

There's a reason it's called "solving problems" - that's just what math teaches us to do more efficiently and effectively.

Every time you drive across a bridge, use a computer, or see a road that drains properly after a hard rain, you are seeing applied math.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 02:49 PM

Part of the problem with the public school, I suspect, is that the extreme bureaucratization, the policy of raises/promotions only by seniority, AND the requirement to take a whole raft of mindless "education" courses all combine to have a real impact of what sort of people choose to become teachers in these schools. I'm sure there are many noble exceptions, but in general the people who seek out jobs with the above characteristics are going to be people who value security and consensus very highly and who often have fragile egos and are likely to project this characteristic onto others.

Posted by: david foster at September 27, 2010 03:03 PM

I think the changing expectations of parents are also playing a role in that many policies seem designed to minimize the likelihood of parental complaints and lawsuits.

I was shocked, when I first went back to school, to see this going on at the university level. Parents of students would no kidding contact their child's professor to complain (or threaten legal action) when the child earned a poor grade!

That's a big reason for the mention of "bad parenting" in the title of this post.

When my boys were in school, I often got into arguments with other parents who complained that their child shouldn't have to do homework, or that school was "too hard" or that their child was an "A student" (and here I thought that A's were the result of A work) and how dare the teacher give him a B or a C!

I really do think parents are often a big part of the problem, but that's just my experience.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 03:13 PM

"I was shocked, when I first went back to school, to see this going on at the university level"...even worse, some of this is even now going on in *work* situations! An article a few years had several examples, including these:

"A 22-year-old pharmaceutical employee learned that he was not getting the promotion he had been eyeing. His boss told him he needed to work on his weaknesses first. The Harvard grad has excelled at everything he had ever done, so he was crushed by the news. He told his parents about the performance review, and they were convinced there was some misunderstanding, and some way they could fix it, as they'd been able to fix everything before. His mother called the human-resources department the next day. Seventeen times. She left increasingly frustrated messages...She demanded a mediation session with her, her son, his boss, and HR--and got it. At one point, the 22-year-old reprimanded the HR rep for being "rude to my mom.""

and

"Cindy Pruitt, a professional development and recruiting manager with the national law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, shares with disbelief a recent incident in which one of the firm's summer associates broke down in her office after being told his structure on a recent memo was "a little too loose." "They're simply stunned when they get any kind of negative feedback," Pruitt says. "I practically had to walk him off the ledge.""

I even read about one ***sales manager*** whose parents called to complain about him not getting a bonus...which was, of course, automatically determnined by his sales results.

Posted by: david foster at September 27, 2010 03:18 PM

Wow.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 03:22 PM

I really do think parents are often...

No problem with that idea. The existence of bad parents is not in dispute (notice, also, that bad parents are of two types here: the uninvolved-never-discipline-their-kids type, and the super-controlling-won't-let-their-kids-fail-on-their-own type).

The author is still right to say that there is a systemic problem with the way we approach boys in school, though. He has just misidentified what it is. The problem isn't that boys don't want to be girls. It's that the school discipline system has collapsed; and that happens to have a greater effect on boys than on girls, so we think it's a 'boy problem.'

Posted by: Grim at September 27, 2010 03:58 PM

One of our (Spice & I) friends is a HR Director; half of the stories she tells are just unbelievable. Junior shows up for job interview, with Mother, and she wants (and he expects her) to participate; they leave in disgust, threatening lawsuits, when this opportunity is declined. We look at her and she just shakes her head, "Really happened, my office. Mom called to complain." Interns, loaned company cars for six-week on-the-road experience with customers, expect to keep them at the end of the assignment, or sell them.

Posted by: htom at September 27, 2010 04:07 PM

As a young management trainee of 21, I was asked to train a young man (he was probably 8 or 9 years older than I was) for a job one level above mine. This was a bit strange but I proceeded to do as I was told because, being female, I'm all submissive like that.

He turned out to be one of the most stunningly incompetent employees I've ever seen. It was so bad that eventually they gave up on giving him his own store and asked me to train him for MY job description (a job, by the way, that I had stepped into with zero training).

He wasn't any good at that, either.

After several weeks of this I happened to catch wind of what they were paying this genius. Needless to say it was far more than they were paying me. I asked my district mgr. about that he and replied, "Well, he's a man. Someday he will have a wife and kids to support."

To which I replied, "He's still living with his mother.... and meanwhile, I already have a husband and a child and I learned to do the job I'm training for all by myself"

To which he replied, "The world is still a very unfair place. I wish it weren't so, but it is."

At the time my husband was about 1 month away from graduating from college and entering the Marine Corps and I was planning to quit my job, so it wasn't worth getting all worked up over. I am so glad that kind of nonsense isn't still going on these days.

Eventually his incompetence proved too much for even HR and he was fired. Not a moment too soon.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2010 04:19 PM

Possibly-- I haven't read any comments, I'm half asleep-- the feminization the author speaks of is on behalf of the staff?

Which parent would be expected to deal with a boy who asked "Why do we have to do this crap" when given chores? Generically, the father; generically, I say again, the mother comforts and scolds, the father beams and thumps. (A third time: generically. Part of what is impressive about deploying military spouses or any other single parent is that they must be both.)

We've taken all "father" power away from schools, and now it's all "problems" and "issues" and "Bobbie, don't do that, you make mommie unhappy."

Posted by: Foxfier at September 28, 2010 02:50 AM

"It's that the school discipline system has collapsed; and that happens to have a greater effect on boys than on girls..."

I completely agree, Grim, and I can't help but wonder how much farther down the rabbit hole we will slide if this were to come to fruition.

Posted by: DL Sly at September 28, 2010 07:40 AM

:facepalm: Not understanding that it's what is not being taught (and thus not learned) that is the problem. More days of teaching junk will not help.

Posted by: htom at September 28, 2010 10:53 AM

Strange, I would never ever contemplate bringing one of my parents to my job interview. In fact, my father wanted to come to my PhD defense, probably in order to inflict bodily harm on Dear Advisor, and I politely suggested that it wasn't really necessary, he'd be bored, the drive was not that long . . . But then I was raised so that I do not tremble with fear at the prospect of learning how to operate an ice cube tray, nor do I give up when faced with having to use a can-opener. My folks were rather hands-off when it came to brother and I learning to fend in the cold, cruel world.

And I agree with the discipline and time/place points above. I wish I had a dollar for every time I see or hear a parent trying to bargain with their awfulspring, or saying "well, I don't want to restrict his/her creativity and development."

Posted by: LittleRed1 at September 28, 2010 02:41 PM

"Do you think, 'Why do we have to do this crap?' is a question asked in good faith? "

If it's coming from a tenth-grader, I think we know the answer to that. Nonetheless, at that age, it demands more than a because-I-said-so audience. Cass, you've often written about how kids often want to "test" the adult world and the adult rules as to their consistency and relevance. This is another one of those times. The explanation need not be long, and the parent or teacher does not have to agree to be drawn into a debate regarding the explanation. But refusing to answer the question puts into the child's mind that rules are arbitrary and that there is no logic to the real world. We've got far more than enough of that already.

And besides, a smart teacher can riff on the "what is this actually good for" question to teach something that students will actually remember. I recall once in my tenth-grade years, where we had spent the last several weeks in math class grinding through concepts in advanced trig. Our heads were completely stuffed with laws and theorems, the logic of which was not yet apparent to us, and the firehose just kept it coming. One day, during a lecture on hyperbolic functions, someone muttered, just out of frustration, "What is any of this good for?" The teacher started to react but then caught himself. He thought for a moment, and then he erased most of the board and started drawing. He drew a high-tension power line, on poles. He explained how the hyperbolic functions goverened the shape and the properties of the wire hanging between the poles. And he started to talk about how to use the functions to determine how far apart the poles could be given wire of a certain strength, how high off the ground the wire would hang, and how much it would cost to string the wire at a certain price per foot. How heavy it would be and how much loading would be placed on the poles. How much it would stretch and droop on a hot day, or contract and tense up on a cold day.

You could sense the energy level in the room pick up. Pretty soon we have a lively session going, with students spontaneously going to the board to work out formulas. The teacher stepped out of the room for a moment and came back with a length of string. We had one person on each side of the room hold one end, and we took measurements of the length and droop of the string to verify our calculations. When the bell rang, no one wanted to leave. The teacher finally had to shoo us all out to make room for the next class.

As strange as it may sound, I still have fond memories associated with the hyperbolic sine function!

Posted by: Cousin Dave at September 28, 2010 02:48 PM

Dave, I agree with all that but I think the context matters here. As in:

I noted that he was on the no-pass list again, after three consecutive in detention for being disruptive.

How many times a day - or how many days in a row - should a teacher have to answer such questions? Is it ever OK for a teacher to say, "You know Brandon, I'd be happy to talk with you after class about that but right now there are 30 other kids in this classroom and we have a limited amount of time to cover the material"?

For several years I watched my daughter in law's frustration mount as one or two kids repeatedly hijacked her entire classroom.

She wasn't allowed to stop them.

She wasn't allowed to discipline them.

It was impossible to ignore them.

I get it - everyone is special. I guess I just think that by 10th grade a child ought to have learned that the world doesn't revolve around him. I also think other people matter, too.

I think it's wonderful that your teacher was able to turn a frustrating situation into a great learning experience. But I've also seen too many instances where one or two kids are allowed to completely derail an entire class, and I don't get that at all.

My sons challenged me all the time, and most of the time I handled it pretty well. Sometimes, though, I had had enough and said so. I don't think that's a bad response either - both are necessary.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 28, 2010 03:24 PM

In today's environment, you can't touch a child. If a child gets violent in your classroom, you're to get everyone else out of the room and call for someone who is authorized to restrain a child.

We've come a long way from the days when I was in elementary school in San Antonio (K-2) and the principal (or vice?) would pace the stage in the auditorium during lunch with a wiffle paddle in his hand for those who might misbehave...

As a sub, I've had good (and some great) classrooms and horrendous classrooms. And yeah, I got the "they're fine with me" bit with one class I made the mistake of going into multiple times/days. Turns out, that class had a reputation with the "Specials" teachers, and they were only second graders. The class was a little better when I took a chance to go back, after I knew Lexus (yes, a little girl was named the same as the car) had been moved to another classroom. Wasn't AS bad, but still was difficult.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 28, 2010 10:41 PM

I think it would help a lot if math classes would feature more information about the *applications* of what is being learned. Too often, it is merely disconnected symbol manipulation, and to the extent there are "word problems" in the book, they are obviously contrived.

Visual/geometric interpretations could also help, as could some *creative* uses of technology. When Vannevar Bush of MIT built a mechanical differential analyzer in the 1930s, he observed that a draftsman with not much mathematical training was able to gain an intuitive grasp of calculus simply by seeing how the machine operated. A couple of professors at Marshall University (WV) are trying to modernize this insight by constructing a small differential analyzer in the old style; they hope to get this approach adopted in high schools as well as in other colleges.

Posted by: david foster at September 29, 2010 09:24 AM

As I've commented a few times before, I work with a lot of kids as a Scout leader. Teachers, think you have problems controlling a kid with ADD? You give him a pencil. I give him knives, axes and the occasional .22 rifle.

With regards to kids and their expectations and all: I tell the kids that the seventh Scout Law is that "A Scout is Obedient". Kids often will ask numerous questions about why they are to do what they've been told to do. It's my observation that the number of questions are a direct function of whether or not they want to do the task, and that asking numerous questions is a delaying tactic or an attempt to get me to give up and go on to some other more compliant kid.

Yes, it's a good idea to explain to someone why you've told them to do "x". IF it's a good faith question and IF there's time, great. Often the question is not in good faith, and often there's not time. Once kids get 14 or older we take selected groups out to a Canadian canoe trip. I do mean selected - there are various criteria but one of them is "have the approval of the adult leader". I have told a couple of kids "No, you can't go. You always question why you're asked to do something and will never do it until you've decided the answers are acceptable. If I tell you 'turn left' we can't risk that you'll refuse to do so until someone tells you why and end up hitting a rock or getting swept over a falls and spoiling the trip for everyone. When you learn to do what you're told and get an explanation later then you can go with us up North."

Posted by: RonF at October 1, 2010 12:00 AM

Hooah, Ron.

Posted by: Grim at October 1, 2010 12:52 AM

Hooah, indeed, Ron. Jump when told, ask "Why?" on the way up.

Posted by: htom at October 1, 2010 09:32 AM

Couldn't agree more, Ron.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 1, 2010 10:50 AM

Post a comment

To reduce comment spam, comments on older posts are put into moderation 5 days after the last activity. Comments with more than one link also go into moderation. If you don't see your comment after posting it, try refreshing the screen. If you still don't see it, your comment is probably in the moderation queue.




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)