Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is There a "war" Against Boys

Anytime I come across research that shows a positive correlation between physical activity and academic performance I like to highlight it.  Here are two of the most recent that demonstrate that exercise has a positive effect on school performance:

Nationwide, government and academic officials are working together in an attempt to improve the health and fitness of our children.  While at the same time teachers are attempting to prepare their students for increasingly demanding academic standards.  This is a great challenge to undertake and the demands often seem to conflict.  Because of a global job market the competition is fierce and it makes sense to cut back on  “non essential” pursuits such as gym class and recess and replace them with “essential” courses like math and science.   However, could this seemingly logical approach be doing more harm than good?

Consider that according to the centers for disease control and prevention 5.2 million school-aged children are diagnosed with ADHD.  11.2% of school-aged boys and 5.5% of school-aged girls are diagnosed with ADHD.

Those numbers seem awfully high.  And based upon my studies this diagnosis in children, particularly boys, may be very premature.  In the book the War Against Boys, the author states that society is attempting cut off the masculine essence of boys at an early age.  They are taught that their aggressive nature is bad and the primary tool for this operation is the public school system.  The average teacher faces an incredible challenge to create order in a classroom full of boys and girls while also attempting to promote a learning environment.  The main obstacle to this goal is to get the boys to sit down be quiet and pay attention for an entire day!  This is not how boys are wired; the attempt to tame them seemingly violates the rules of nature.  That task is nearly impossible but is it being accomplished?   And if it’s being accomplished how is it being done, with drugs like Ritalin…  If so, is that the right approach?

I think we all understand that drugs are not the right approach especially when you consider that children are essentially being told they are sick because they are doing what comes natural to them.  So should we just let the boys tear apart the classroom and drive every nanny and schoolteacher into early retirement?

Boys learn in a very different way than girls do and rather than attempting to change the nature of boys, doesn’t it make more sense to change the way we do male education?  In the book The Decline of Males the author writes that boys are 3-4 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.  But the author doubts that they are sick rather that they are being asked to sit still and be quiet when they are wired for action and movement and the only disease they suffer from is that of being a male.

I tend to agree with the author as I just finished by first year of teaching a class in a public school for 3rd and 4th graders.  Just getting the boys to slow down long enough to take attendance was a task let alone rallying them for instruction and teaching.  Just ask any mother who has a raised a house full of boys (My mom raised three of us).  If the house is still standing and the chandelier isn’t broken that’s a good day, right mom?  The idea of prescribing a tranquilizing drug to a boy for obeying his very nature is well stated by the author, scandalous!

In spite of this many schools and teachers manage to get the job done in a way that can best be described as heroic.  A talented teacher that can educate their children while at the same time not betray that child’s very nature is a prized commodity.

A new book about the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander provides an excellent example of this.  Verlander’s parents were in Troy recently for the signing of their new book about their son’s development.

Richard and Kathy Verlander watched Justin grow from an energetic, talkative little kid who worried some teachers with his lack of focus into one of the most focused, talented players in baseball.

They thank people who became involved in Justin's life, going as far back as his second-grade teacher, Mrs. Kramer, who told them that she liked his energy and he just needed a little focus, not medication as others suggested. One of these days, they remember her telling them, that energy will turn into something special.

"These people don't get celebrated enough, that have such a big impact on a person's life," Richard Verlander said. "And we all had them."

Said Kathy Verlander: "She helped us parent him better. She helped us learn to focus that energy, all the way through school -- strict discipline. He's a creature of habit. He likes order, structure. And so that's the way we parented him."

No drugs necessary just parents, teachers and coaches that understand the nature of a boy and rather than deny it they harness and direct it in a positive way.  Education and coaching should not utilize one-size fits all approach.  The true power of a teacher is bringing out the best in each student and directing their unique talents in a direction that allows them to thrive.  “Sit down and be quiet,” is not a useful method.

The link to the research that shows a positive correlation between activity and academic performance should be clear, particularly in the case of boys.  Boys need a physical outlet and if we want them to achieve higher standards in the classroom we should not deny their natural inclination to be, as depicted on my favorite t-shirt as a kid, a Master of Disaster.


After I heard the reason behind Richard And Kathy’s Verlander’s desire to write the book it brought a smile to my face.  They wrote it in hopes of helping parents to help their kids find their talent and foster it without suffocating it. 

This also reminded me of a note I received from a parent after he let me know his girls had just finished school and would be attending a few after school parties rather than coming to training.  Many coaches may take offense to taking one on the chin in favor of a few kiddy parties but not me!  They are kids first and athletes second, fun always comes first.  I told this dad that I appreciated the fact that he was allowing some “down time” for his girls just to be kids.  His reply should be the norm rather than the exception:

“I know the importance of down time.  I figure the only way they will reach their athletic and soccer potential is with sustained passion for it and I’m not about to kill that.”

Parents, teachers and coaches can’t live in fear of upsetting the status quo.  Year round sports and training instead of “kid time,” just because everyone else is doing it is a race to the bottom.  This dad understands that and so do Justin Verlander’s parents.  If it worked for Justin it can work for your kids.


While I understand that most children won’t grow up to be 6’5 and throw a baseball 100 miles per hour, they do have a skill that is unique to them.  With a touch of patience and a sincere understanding of a child’s true nature we can direct their energy toward the realization of their own special talent.

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