Logically speaking, there should be no real differences between boys and girls in the classroom. In an ideal school setting, all students receive the same lessons and the same treatment from their teachers, and whether or not a child is male or female should have no bearing on his or her ability to learn. And yet, there is an undeniable gender gap in American schools, with girls being more academically successful than boys. Experts have noticed that girls have been getting better grades than boys for the last 100 years, and that this achievement gap is growing. It's even gone beyond elementary and high school. The rate of women who attend and complete college has tripled between 1970 and 2010, even as the graduation rate for male college students has slowed down.
Gender shouldn't determine how well a student performs academically, so why is this happening, and how is it affecting the rest of the world? More importantly, what can be done to close this gap?
Society and Gender
Many of the reasons for the gender gap that exists in our schools has to do with how gender is perceived in our society. The idea that girls are supposed to be proper and well-behaved while boys are wild and restless is an old one, but it still pops up in the classroom. Boys account for 71 percent of school suspensions, and even in kindergarten and the early years of elementary school they are more likely to disciplined for misbehaving. It's as if some teachers and school staff members expect boys to cause more trouble than girls. This kind of bias is demoralizing, and it can lead to male students simply not trying as hard as they can.
Boys and men are also less likely to ask for help if they don't understand a subject. Even if girls are being treated as the "gold standard" in terms of behavior and academic success, many people still expect boys to be able to handle a problem on their own without any outside help. Of course, nobody can get by in school without some kind of help once in a while, and those who don't ask for help will pay the price.
What Can Be Done
If boys really are falling behind girls in school, what can we do to change that? Some would say that the school system has been "feminized," and that teachers and schools themselves should be made more "masculine." Others argue that this is a flawed concept, and that students of all genders benefit from "feminine" activities such as music and art. Schools do need to emphasize the importance of an education for all of their students, and that society and our economy is more likely to reward academic success than unskilled labor.
Instead of making the classroom more "masculine," teachers and parents should focus on improving academic success for all of their children. Parents can encourage learning at home, set attainable academic goals for their children and work closely with their children's teachers. Meanwhile, teachers need to recognize that boys often do behave and learn differently from girls. They thrive on movement and competition, and when they are allowed to express themselves in their own ways they do better in their studies. Boys will be boys, and that should be allowed and encouraged as long as it's not disruptive or dangerous.