Thursday, 10 July 2014

Boy-Friendly Education

Way back near the beginning of our Home Education journey when I was blogging as Home Ed Novice, I write a post called "Educating Boys": a fairly light-hearted look at the qualities we have noticed that may not be exclusively male, but certainly appear more common among boys.  Almost as an aside at the time, I wondered if the reason for there being so many boys entering home education could be because the education system in our country is skewed in favour of girls.

Over two years later, I am more firmly convinced that this is the case.  Actually in our area there is a good number of HE girls as well as boys now - home education is becoming increasingly popular/ necessary regardless of gender.  Nevertheless, I think state education is harder for boys to deal with than girls: outdoor time is decreasing; time spent indoors sitting still and writing is increasing.  The age that children are expected to enter full-time education is getting younger and younger, which puts boys at a real disadvantage - it is widely known that they generally do not mature as quickly as girls when it comes to social skills, fine motor skills, listening skills etc.  And for a child to find himself behind when he starts school, the system is such that he is highly likely to spend the rest of his school life playing 'catch-up', which is bad for the self-esteem, which in turn makes it less likely that he will catch up - and so on.

When a friend posted the Youtube video, War on Boys, the other day, I knew I had to share it.  It may talk about the American school system, but it is really similar to ours here in the UK - and is really helpful for anyone responsible for the education of boys.   In my opinion, every educator needs to watch this video.  It is not long, but it is very clear and very helpful.  I can't recommend it enough.

I know that talking about male/female differences is a minefield of trying to find a path between absurd political correctness on one hand, and stereotypical generalisations on the other.  Speaking as a feminist, I have to acknowledge that one of the problems which seems to have risen from the feminist movement is that some people have taken the view that boys and girls or men and women are the same.  I completely disagree.  Men and women are equal, yes.  Men and women are neither better nor worse than each other.  Men and women have - or should have (yes, I said SHOULD) - the same rights, same opportunities, same pay for doing the same job.  Yet we are different.  If we fail to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, we are failing our children, in my opinion.  Every man is not the same, just as every woman is not the same.  To say that generally men are built for physical strength is not to deny how strong many women have proved themselves to be.  To say that women are generally more nurturing is not to deny the caring compassionate side of many men.  Generalisations are just that: general.  They are not absolute truth, but they still have a place, it does not mean we need to throw them out completely, otherwise how can we acknowledge that for many (not all, but many) boys the system is failing them?  And then how can we address the issue?

Anyway, I digress.  My boys are no longer part of the system, and their education is less about tailoring to their gender than it is about tailoring to them each as individuals - because we can.  For example, literacy: Eldest has always liked books, I was never really bothered on that count - but Middle took a while to come round to the idea of reading for pleasure (he associated it with "work", until he happened upon the Captain Underpants book series).  Eldest took longer to show any interest in writing, until suddenly (prompted by some diary-style novels that he had read) he decided to write his own journal, and kept it up for several months.  Middle still has not demonstrated any enthusiasm for writing, but I am confident it will come when he is ready.  Youngest is still in the 'learning to write' phase, but his confidence is increasing with reading.  I don't think it will be long before I find him tucked away in a corner with a chapter-book.  He has never experienced any kind of pressure to read or write, and he is showing the most signs of being ready earlier than his brothers - perhaps because it was not demanded of him before he was keen.

Something that I appreciated about the video linked above was its suggestion of encouraging boys to read by providing the right sort of books.  My boys actually all love fiction as well as information books, but it did prompt me to search out some more books for them. One visit to guysread.com, and a further visit to Amazon provided us with a very well received parcel today, containing books on adventurers, Pokemon, sharks, Star Wars etc.  In fact, until the parcel arrived, the boys had been asking to play on their computer games.  I had said they could do so after lunch, and they were hastily munching away when the Amazon delivery arrived.  Once the boys had seen the contents, the games were completely forgotten - and that love of books makes for one happy home educating Mum!

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