Why Boys Fail By Richard Whitmire
Category : BOOK REVIEWS
Author : Shayma S

However, the biggest learning take away was how Whitmire does not settle for easy excuses for the problem he set out to solve – WHY were boys falling behind in American schools at the foundational level. He found lazy answers from teachers and administrators – like ‘boys will be boys’, non-solutions that did nothing to fix the glaring problem. Some other quick solutions, like ADHD and autism prevalence, lack of male teachers, dominance of video games and other distractions, or toxic masculine culture are further interrogated by Whitmire to not be the actual root of the problem, by heading into intensive field work in experimental schools in the US and Australia that have employed actual methods to ensure boys are not left behind – including, focussed mentorship and most interestingly, the same sex classroom.

Sometimes, you set out to read a book with skepticism. When I saw the cover – referring to an educational system that leaves boys behind, I wondered how much it would make sense to me, in an Indian educational context that still, in many ways, leaves girls behind. Is the data even going to be relevant, I asked myself. The book threw up some surprises, despite the fact that it was based mostly in the US and some parts in Australia and it was published in 2010, 12 years ago. The book led me to make connections far beyond the ‘gender gap’ in classrooms. I also set out with a disclaimer that I am an amateur reader to the field of educational debates and know little to nothing about pedagogical methods, gender differences in classrooms and similar debates. But nevertheless, like all good books, it challenges my presumptions and stereotypes! For one, it was because it addressed some foundational debates, even going beyond its primary subject of the reality of gender differences in American schools, where it has become evident that boys are increasingly behind ‘left behind’ in foundational literacy stages. It addressed questions of what literacy means – and how reading is a vital skill for children, but must be done in an age appropriate way, not shoved down throats such that they treat it like a task or become rebellious. Secondly, the importance of ‘no child left behind’ and the idea of mentoring with kindness and empathy, something so lacking in our own country and its schooling system! I managed to connect the book to our contexts in some aspects, which Whitmire touches upon as well, like how girls easily outstrip boys in many exams, for example, board exams in India, but later fall behind and are poorly represented in offices and even competitive exams. Other things were more difficult to connect with, like Whitmire’s dismissal of the pay gap as a thing of the past, particularly coming from an Indian context, where we know that this is patently not true. However, the biggest learning take away was how Whitmire does not settle for easy excuses for the problem he set out to solve – WHY were boys falling behind in American schools at the foundational level. He found lazy answers from teachers and administrators – like ‘boys will be boys’, non-solutions that did nothing to fix the glaring problem. Some other quick solutions, like ADHD and autism prevalence, lack of male teachers, dominance of video games and other distractions, or toxic masculine culture are further interrogated by Whitmire to not be the actual root of the problem, by heading into intensive field work in experimental schools in the US and Australia that have employed actual methods to ensure boys are not left behind – including, focussed mentorship and most interestingly, the same sex classroom. We are aware of the same sex education debate in India, or the debates over co-education. Whitmire, although critiquing those who offer it as the only solution as well as the poor implementation of the model in the US, does see glimmers of opportunities in classrooms that are tailored to the different needs of girls and boys – biological, mental, psychological and educational. Connections to emotions, different skill learning stages, and even specific examples like girls’ hearing being more sensitive (reporting getting disturbed by the hyperactive or boisterous behaviour of male classmates, for instance) all are important aspects in considering whether separate classrooms may be useful. Another experimental school is highlighted for their unique strategies that do not hyperfocus on ‘boy-specific’ strategy (tailored to their unique biological needs) but instead believes that “When you refuse to let even a single student slide by, you end up helping boys the most because the boys are the big sliders.” In short, creating healthy spaces where there were unique teaching plans tailored for individual kids, keeping their needs in mind (depending on race, background, gender, personality, family, specific skills), with each teacher being assigned extra one-on-one time with the student. All of these methodologies can be useful for Indian educators as well, as well as for anyone interested in engaging with kids, whether their own or in any pedagogical capacity. One comes away from the book with a hope that similar experiments and theories will be analysed by Indian authors and educationists so there can be further light shed on the unique challenges of both boys and girls in our contexts.

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