by Beth Hering

From their elementary education through their high school days, boys are struggling to succeed in the classroom. Boys receive as many as 70 percent of Ds and Fs given in schools, create up to 90 percent of classroom discipline problems, and constitute 80 percent of high school dropouts, according to author and educator Michael Gurian – one of the world’s leading authorities on the role of gender in education.

But perhaps the saddest statistic comes from a University of Michigan study that shows the number of boys who said they didn’t like school rose 71 percent between 1980 and 2001. Thousands of bright, energetic boys are spending the better part of each day unhappy and coming home to report to their parents that they feel “stupid” or that they “don’t fit in.”

Experts speculate that changes in elementary education over the past two decades have hurt boys. Increased classroom size has led some teachers to put a greater emphasis on quiet, non-disruptive behavior, which tends to be easier for young girls than for young boys. Also, the emphasis elementary education puts on achievement tests can put pressure on young boys to learn to read and write at a faster pace than their brains or their fine-motor skills are ready. Modern elementary education also tends to leave less time for recess and other physical activities that help boys burn off energy.

Studies are beginning to show that boys learn better from male teachers. Yet nationwide, only about 16 percent of elementary school teachers are male. Couple this with the fact that about 40 percent of marriages end in divorce, and it becomes common for many boys to go through all of their elementary education without ever even having heard a man read.

Elementary education plays a vital role in the development of children. What children learn and experience during their elementary education can shape their views of themselves and the world and can affect their later success or failure in school, work, and their personal lives.

Are we doomed to have our sons waste these precious years? Absolutely not. By taking the interests and needs of young boys into account to make classrooms more boy-friendly and by proving to them that education really is a “guy” thing as much as a “girl” thing, we can generate a love of learning that can last a lifetime.