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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Boy Crisis: In the Classroom and on the Streets (#MASCconf2015)

William Pollack, Director of the Center for Young Men and Boys at McLean Hospital and Assoc. Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School spoke to “Addressing and Shifting our Academic Climates: Creating Boy-Friendly / Girl-Affirmative Schools.”

 One of the best child practitioners of child philosophy was Mr. (Fred) Rogers. He spoke in the cadence and speed of his audience – children trying to learn. He showed love and understanding simultaneously and both boys and girls related simultaneously.

Data shows this: boys struggle with not being able to emote. Boys trail in academics. (At ages 9, 13, 17 they trail girls in reading scores and this has been true since 1971). Girls have caught up in STEM areas. Girls perform 20 points better on writing tests. Boys are two times more likely to be diagnosed as learning disabled. Boys are much more likely disciplined and are diagnosed up to five times as often for ADHD and ADD than girls. Boys need 5-6 recesses per day and Dr. Pollack believes that schools over-diagnose ADHD up to 50% of the time. Boys are less likely to graduate from high school and college. 150,000 more masters’ degrees were conferred on females vs. males in 2013 (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_301.10.asp). Young men are falling behind. Freshman college stats would reveal a 60/40 demographic split favoring girls if just academic acceptance standards were used. Boys are expected to fail at school/life and have lower self-esteem as learners. Boys expect adults to distrust and fear them. 80%+ of homicides involve males (engaging in and victims). Society believes that young males have to be “controlled” because otherwise they’ll hurt people. Boys/young males are much more likely to complete a suicide and are more likely to die because they really want to be dead compared with girls. The US DOE has said we have too many suspensions/expulsions and too many are young males – especially males of color.

Boys of color are even less likely to do well in school or succeed in life and are more likely to commit a crime. Young black males are incarcerated at an alarming rate. On average, a 12th grade black male with one parent who was a college graduate still fell below basic achievement while 12th grade black women were more successful.

How we socialize boys is the problem. In the US, we push boys away from their caring parents and mentors by telling them early myths like “be a big boy, be a little man.” “Cut mom’s apron strings.” “You’re a momma’s boy.” Boys loved by mothers and fathers live seven years longer than others and are more successful. No biological study indicates boys are more aggressive even though we apply other myths like “boys will be boys.” Boys are only aggressive when they are hurt in their home or are trained to be hurtful to others. “That not what boys should do” and “boys are toxic” are other myths. Media provides messages that boys are aggressive and the girls’ job is to socialize them. When we treat boys this way, they get depressed and suffer.

Boys are disconnected from their feelings and curricula is not set up for boys. Boys read/write 12-15 months later than girls. Don’t keep them back – they just need more recess. Follow what boys need in reading - otherwise they become disconnected and don’t learn as well.

Robert Pianta, Dean of the School of Education at UVA, conducted a study asking, “What do teachers think of kids?” Kindergarten teachers said it’s hard to work with boys. It’s been shown that the relationship between teacher and student in kindergarten is the best predictor of academic outcomes. Boys in general have a negative memory (their teachers hated them). Social-emotional construct being the heart of academic learning is no longer true – they are equally connected. What makes adolescents survive?  Families and schools exhibiting warmth, love, and understanding. Boys need a mentor in school who had that, and when they did, they succeeded more often in school and life and were respectful to women.

Boys look like they want independence, but they really want people around. (“Don’t just do something, stand there.”) Just be there. Emphasize the importance of listening, especially when boys are the angriest. Anger = hurt with boys. Provide opportunities for families to do social emotional learning. Create trust so they come to an adult before an issue occurs. Educators and their supporters need to fight for dollars. Each student must have a special caring relationship with at least one adult. School leaders must identify who’s having problems, who’s doing well, and students for whom they have no idea whether he/she is having a problem or is doing well – it’s those students who most need connection. For more information: www.williampollack.com.


Ron Walker, Executive Director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) spoke to the unique challenges of boys of color.

All the people with whom boys can have a relationship in schools are important (cafeteria workers, crossing guards, etc.). According to a Boston Globe article, 23-year-old Akim Callendar (http://tinyurl.com/qck58b7) stated that police officers see young black men as as “a menace to society.” This philosophy is not an unusual presumption. COSBOC is holding a regional event to share promising practices around this issue. Practitioners want to SEE practice. As a teacher, Walker lost two black boys, the first, a 7th grade student killed by gang violence. The second was a young man accused of murder and incarcerated for life who ultimately found prison GED programs “liberating.” Walker’s mission: change the narrative and surround boys of color with a positive narrative. Let them be seen as an asset. This work needs concentrated effort and focus. When we address that, there will be change throughout districts. Cultural competence is merely the base. Boys of color have been marginalized. This program helps schools and educators help students negotiate what it means to be a man. For more information: http://www.coseboc.org/.