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Academics, Soc/Emotional, and how boys learn!

May 2014

We are seriously considering switching our son from a well regarded public school to a private school. First, our son has no developmental or learning issues. He's an energetic, very bright, and curious almost 3rd grader. He's above grade level in all areas with the exception of writing (at grade level). All that said, he's had two teachers tell us he's struggling with talking during class, staying on task, and not rushing through some of his work. The school agrees he's a normal boy, but admittedly doesn't know how to address his challenging behavior without punitive measures. In general, reward/punishment is the primary practice in the class room and it seems to only have short term gains for our son. We're really, really trying to assist the teacher, school, and our son with seeing his behavior as opportunities to teach him skills and alternative ways of behaving. But I feel like we're banging our head against a wall. Yes he needs to not talk and stay on task. I totally get that there is SO much being asked of the teacher, in general. However, I'm starting to see our son lose confidence and his enthusiasm for school. He's begun labeling himself as a ''trouble'' kid and I think the school has done the same. This makes us incredibly sad, as he's a very bright, curious, articulate and enthusiastic learner. We're now looking for private schools that TRULY, TRULY have a good balance between strong academics and social emotional learning; particularly for boys. We're looking at Redwood Day school, Aurora, Walden, and Pacific Boys Choir Academy. Can this wonderful community give us your advice about these schools, or similar experiences with your sons? Are boys getting a fair shake?


As a mother of two boys I have read research on how boys learn. Boys learn better when they are in an environment that does not hinder their want and need to be in motion. Take for example a young boy who is reading a book and swinging his feet back and forth. In some schools they might have to get his attention and ask to please ''sit still'' so he won't disrupt the other students. Some boys natually have to be in motion in order to learn. That is just part of their PREFERRED learning environment. My child goes to Prospect Sierra and althought it is not a school you mentioned I want to tell you what I see in his classroom because its something you might need for your son. At P.S. the teachers are totally awesome at paying attention to the children's emotions, social activity, and academics.Part of the curriculum they teach involves emotional development. They have a thing called the toolbox where the kids learn how to deal with their emotions and behvaiors by using certain ''tools'' from their toolbox. For instance, they have a garbage can in their tool box and they are taught to simply ''throw away'' any hurtful or unfriendly comments/actions they see, hear, etc. They learn these emotional development tools throughout the school years - not just in one year.

One more thing I want to share with you. As we know most kids of young age can't sit still for too long. I volunteered in my sons class for reading time and when I walked in the class there were kids reading everywhere in the classroom! I mean kids were reading under the tables, in the corners, under their chairs, on bean bags, on the rugs on their backs with the book in the air. It wasn't about keeping order in the class room (because as you can see the kids were literally everywhere!) rather it was about letting the kids be comfortable in whatever position/place they learned best in. And the kids were so quiet and well behaved!! I hope this information is useful. I love Prospect Sierra because it encorporates all the best learning practices for my son and I know he is being motivated in all aspects.

Good luck! Prospect Sierra Parent


I strongly recommend that you look at The Berkeley School. The TBS 4/5 program in particular is outstanding. The two classes (with combined 4/5 grades) both have male lead teachers. These passionate, creative teachers are incredible role models for all the students - in particular for the boys. They are adept at connecting with students in general – but especially with boys. TBS also teaches for understanding, not testing. The school has an integrated social/emotional curriculum that runs throughout all the grade levels. Teachers and staff will first try to uncover the underlying “belief behind the behavior” when children are acting out in some way rather than simply address the behavior alone. Creating a safe, respectful classroom community is a value instilled in all the students and broken down into meaningful and grade appropriate actions, from K through 8th grade. Group work entails learning to work cooperatively and respectfully with others as well as deepening understanding of a subject. Engaging, immersive projects are well integrated throughout the 4/5 curriculum. Mindfulness is also integrated into the classroom throughout the school (another method that can help a student learn to modulate behavior such as talking out and wandering "off task").

While I highly recommend that you consider TBS, I also think that very few schools are particularly adept at working with boys. Extremely bright boys (and girls) often push the envelope of acceptable classroom behaviour in even the most progressive schools. That said, I think TBS may be the best East Bay school for addressing exactly what you are seeking for your bright and curious son. I strongly encourage you to contact The Berkeley School Admissions Director, Paula Farmer, (510) 665-8800 ext:103 andpfarmer@theberkeleyschool.org to set up a visit before school is out so you and your son can see classrooms in action. Best of luck! Happy parent of TBS student


Hello! I am so sorry to hear about your son's experience. My son is also has the same challenges. I do believe it's more common in boys. They are just more active! We absolutely love our school, Berkeley Rose in North Berkeley. It's a Waldorf school that I feel really is wonderful helping children reach their full potential. The teachers are amazing and the class sizes are small. I feel this really helps my son stay focused and teachers are able to work with him more individually if needed. You can learn more athttp://berkeleyrose.org/ School ends June 5th so I would recommend calling the school soon so you can observe a class while school is in session. Good luck with your decision! Ha
Hi - Our son (2nd grade currently) is at Aurora School and has experienced the same issues in the last couple of years. He has exhibited a tendency to be silly in class, an inability to focus on task, etc. He also has no developmental or learning issues. The teaching staff at Aurora couldn't have been more proactive and helpful during these last two years. In fact, this year his teacher has commented on how much more engaged he is in writing (which historically has been especially challenging for him). The poem he wrote for the class poetry slam this year was absolutely incredible with a lot of detail and interspersed with many references to favorite activities. He also successfully participated in his class' research project where each child had to each identify an influential person, research that person and write a biography based on the research.

When his attention issues started manifesting themselves in 1st grade, his teacher contacted us and together we jointly developed a plan to be implemented both at school and at home. In addition, his teacher, recognizing his difficulty staying on task, developed additional strategies in class to help him. For our son, this included having him work in a quiet place in the classroom facing away from the other students wearing headphones. In other schools, this plan might have been a potential cause for teasing, but at Aurora, social-emotional development is such a part of the curriculum, that this was never an issue.

This type of proactive relationship has continued during his 2nd grade year. He has matured such that we no longer have to implement a special plan at home or at school. At this point, gentle reminders seem to work to keep him on task.

I think one of the reasons that our son's issue was so quickly and effectively addressed was due to Aurora's multi-graded classrooms. Our son had the same teacher for both his K-1 years. Therefore when his issues started manifesting themselves in 1st grade, his teacher knew him so well that she was able to identify the problem and suggest effective strategies to us very quickly. I can't recommend Aurora more highly. Both my children (who are very different learners) have thrived in the environment. I hope you will give Aurora serious consideration. Thanks! bella


I have two sons at Aurora, in 2nd and Kindergarten. In short, we love the school. For many reasons. But, specific to social/emotional my boys are getting an amazing education in what it means to be compassionate and kind and supportive and accepting and tolerant and inclusive. I would like to think that these are values that are modeled at home, but, truly, I believe we owe most of our sons' attitudes to Aurora. Once my son complained of feeling left out at school (I'm not even sure this was actually happening) but I mentioned it to his teacher and it was immediately taken very seriously. The teacher gently explored what was going on with my son, talked to the class about the importance of including everyone and did some role-playing around it all. I was blown away recently at parent conferences how both my sons' teachers were eager and willing to support things we're working on at home; there is a palpable emotional investment by the staff in your kids and the individualized attention due to small class sizes and student/teacher ratio can't be beat. I have volunteered in the classroom many times and marveled at how the teachers are able to calm and redirect kids who are struggling, or getting off course, or getting restless, or whatever. The kids are able to recalibrate and the class rhythm is maintained. From our experience at Aurora, the staff is phenomenal and their approach to teaching — on all levels: academic, social and emotional — is truly a gift to their students. Maury
Hi, I read your post with interest. I have a boy in grade 2 (about to be in 3rd!) at Aurora. He's a talker. He talks to anyone who sits next to him. For example, at morning meeting, it doesn't matter where they move him, he turns to talk to the person sitting next to him. His teachers reconfigured the morning meeting, and now the kids are staggered and my son doesn't sit next to anyone - and doesn't talk any more. He didn't feel it was punitive and he says he is working on this - to me, this is a positive. The other thing I appreciate about Aurora is that if the child needs to fidget while doing their work, they are allowed to chew gum (at special request from the parents), squeeze a small ball... or if the child is too distracted, the teachers have the child put on noise canceling head phones to better concentrate. My son has worn these and once again does not find any of these methods punitive or abnormal. Aurora celebrates that children learn different - some by kinetic learning and others by needing quiet.

Lastly, I also feel that Aurora has a strong academic program. My son's favorite subject this year is writing. The class focused on poetry and now he will stop what he's doing at home and write out a poem! Additionally, the math and science are strong and daily. They are balanced by music, movement, wood shop and art.

Last thing I want to add is that the Aurora emphasizes Social-Emotional Development. I see the results every day in how kind the children are to one another in the school and in daily life. Recently, we went on a school camping trip and I was in awe at how the 5th grade boys were including my 3 year old son! It was incredibly sweet and I really attribute this to the message that Aurora gives these boys. I know there is some space in Aurora for next year. You should contact Lisa Piccione -lisa@auroraschool.org. She can give you the full scoop! Good luck! Keri


We are the parents of a rising 4th grader who has been at Aurora since Kindergarten, and we cannot be happier with the support that the entire school have given us and our son as he goes through various developmental phases. Our son is also ''normal'' but he's also a boy, with all of the wiggly, inattentive habits that boys can have. Aurora has been fantastic with supporting the kids with time to move between academic activities (or even during them). Aurora also in my opinion helps mold the kids into good people, with their attentiveness to the social and emotional growth of the children -- they have ''talk it out'' sessions for conflict resolution, they learn to listen to others, they even learn correct phrasing ie ''I feel'' sentences to open up communication during conflict. Stuff that is not typically taught in public school.

When our son has gone through phases where he has strong emotions keeping him from focusing on his school work, instead of punishing him the teachers and staff have been incredibly supportive to help him build the tools to manage his strong feelings so that he can get back to work, and he has grown incredibly in this area (of managing his emotions). The staff makes sure he eats the food we send in to keep his energy level good.

The boys are great friends with each other and with the girls in the school, and the friendships and games extend across grade levels which is wonderful to see. Another great thing about Aurora is the mixed level classes -- 2 years with 2 teachers in one classroom. This gives your child room to stretch academically, and also allows the teachers to really know the child.

I hope that helps! Happy Aurora Parent


Which Schools Use A Best-for-Boys Approach?

Sept 2013

I'd like to know if anyone in the Network has a son attending a co-ed school that has adopted some teaching and classroom strategies that suit the ways we now know boys learn best? Perhaps your school, be it conventional public, charter or independent, is in the process of implementing such strategies? Or, perhaps you've had explicit conversations with administrators regarding making changes in this direction?

While we're very fortunate to have two great all-boys schools here in the East Bay and a few in San Francisco, the majority of our boys attend co-ed schools. Pacific Boy Choir is 4th-8th grade and EBSB is 6th-8th grade. I have met more than a few boys who started to lose self-confidence at school much earlier than the forth grade. In fact, I've seen it start to happen in preschool and develop into a serious “allergy” to school by the first or second grade.

And while I'm aware that many schools with particular philosophies such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf, etc. may lend themselves to a better environment for boys, they are not what I'm seeking unless they have explicitly addressed the 'boy issue' within the context of their overall educational approach.

A few words about my situation. I have a six-year old son who is high-energy, high curiosity, social and joyful. However, I've had to do damage control already in these very early years to ensure his self-confidence is not permanently hurt by schools that have misinterpreted his behavior. I've been lucky in that I've been able to find better preschool environments (Montessori and Reggio) and 'red-shirted' him so he is starting Kindergarten at age 6. However, I'm now bracing for the elementary school environment. I plan to stay close to the situation, volunteer in class, etc. But beyond these basic measures I want to know if there are schools out there making progress in this area backed by the administration and not just a bunch of us desperate parents trying to patch things together to keep our sons intact.

Is your school an exception or trying to be? Please share your experiences. If you're willing to share the name of your school I would appreciate it. Many, many thanks. T.


I am looking forward to seeing the responses you get on this one. As the parent of a high energy boy in a Berkeley Public School I can say I am deeply disappointed at our school (LeConte). While the teachers have been willing to work with my to accommodate my son I am shocked at how much I have had to intervene to get them to accommodate him - I just can't believe he's the first high energy boy they've ever come across but that's what it felt like. Until I intervened the approach to dealing with his behavior was very punishment based. While I see his high energy and lack of impulse control as just another problem in a young child that should be dealt with just like kids with reading or learning challenges the school does not view it that way. We are back to school less than one week and he has already had recess taken away for bad behavior (yes, in Berkeley in the 21st century that is what they do to high energy boys!!). So no real advice but pepper your kid with questions re what is going on and intervene early and often if you have to. dis-illusioned BUSD parent
Based on my son's experience I would not recommend the Pacific Boychoir Academy. Although we thought they'd be boy-friendly because of the ads we saw, there has been nothing about the school to suggest to us that they understand boys' issues. The biggest problem for us has been that everything revolves around singing. The rehearsal, performance, and touring demands do not leave time for things like sports, musical instruments, theatre, or outdoor activities. There are plenty of music instructors, but the school does not have a counselor or a learning specialist so boys with learning differences or attention problems do not get the type of learning assistance they need. Academics have been consistently secondary to the singing. Parent
Apologies, I didn't see the original post but since you didn't get a lot of suggestions - and no recommendations for schools that are best for boys - I want to put a word in for Walden school in Berkeley. My two kids go there - boy and girl - and one of the things I love about the school is the amount of outdoor time and movement that the kids get. I can't imagine that a student would ever be denied recess as a punishment, since obviously getting a bit of 'running around time' is probably exactly what they need in order to improve their behavior. (besides, Walden's approach to discipline is much more thoughtful and not about punishment).

I have seen times when teachers pause class to send kids out for a quick run, just to get their ya-yas out. I don't know that they do this for individual kids but I bet they would, if need be. Often a child might be sent on an errand, like bringing something to the office (which involves walking outside), and I suspect this is done therapeutically as well. Very small class sizes mean that teachers aren't exhausted by discipline issues and can take the time to individualize, which benefits children of all genders. Expectations for how long a child can sit still are developmentally appropriate.

Walden isn't perfect and there are some frustrating things about it from a parental perspective (I find the calendar difficult for a working family) but in terms of the childrens' experience, I am completely thrilled and grateful to be at Walden. There are many rambunctious kids there (boys and girls alike) who are thriving in an environment that celebrates them for who they are. - Walden parent


Elementary School that works well with little boys

May 2013

I know it's kind of an inappropriate question to ask in the sense that school should be about everyone. But the reality is that in general, little boys do seem to struggle a bit more at these younger ages than girls. Socially, developmentally, academically, boys tend to struggle more in the early years.

I'm really wanting to hear from parents of boys and their best elementary school experiences for their sons in the K-3rd grades and why.

Did you end up choosing a school because it worked better than another? Why was that? What type of environment did you feel was more appropriate for your boy? Or if you had a rough first few years in elementary, what do you think you would do differently if you could do it again in terms of working with your son's needs at that time?

Private or public, which school knew how to handle your boy or work with little boys' issues in those early years the best? Why do you suppose that it was?

I really want to find a school that has teachers and staff equipped to deal with little boy issues. Firm with clear consequences, but nurturing. Able to deal with disagreements, social issues, helping all feel part of the group, deal with problems and continue on the day as needed.

Let me know your thoughts. Starting to think about Kindergarten


Our son - who's very bright and very energetic - has been really happy at Aurora. We chose the school because of its focus on both strong academics and social/emotional learning. While lots of schools say that, we found that Aurora really walked the talk - kids learn skills for resolving conflicts, getting along in groups or on-on-one, problem-solving in the classroom, understanding themselves and their learning styles, ''flex their mistake muscles'' and analyze how they could improve in the future. Classrooms are multiage, with older kids setting examples for the younger. Teachers spend a lot of time out of school learning about child development, different ways kids learn, and positive discipline - and I can see the effects. Teachers at Aurora understand that kids - especially many K-1 boys - are wiggly and excited. There's time to work alone with pen and paper, but it's supported by and interspersed with time together on the rug, moving around, learning using all the senses. Kids are taught nondisruptive ways to show support, excitement, and disagreement - for example, a hand signal that means ''me, too!. They play math games that involve lots of building and moving around - for example, kindergarteners measuring each other and graphing the results. They paint sets and make costumes for amazing school plays. Easily distracted kids (my son included) can use headphones and set up ''offices'' around the classroom to help them focus during writers' workshop. Teachers are loving, silly, and supportive. Kids who are struggling in a particular area - for example, handwriting - can work with a learning specialist or teacher to build specific skills. Kids who excel in areas get opportunities to take their ideas as far as they want. Rather than being one-size-fits-all (''all children must be reading x sight words by y date, or they'll be Behind!''), the curriculum is designed to meet each kid where he or she is and work with individual learning styles. I think Aurora works well for a range of kids, especially those who are curious and self motivated. If your kid does best with a lot of repetition - same thing at the same time every day - and responds best to a highly structured authority system, it won't be a good fit. But if you want a smart, progressive, thoughtful, loving community where people love kids and help them develop into happy, confident whole people, it's ideal. We love it. Lisa

Seeking Advice on Teaching Boys of Color

Jan 2013

I am a new educator who is in my early 50s, white, with a young teen daughter (of color) about the same age as my sixth grade students. My strengths are differentiating the curriculum for my students working at higher levels (although I need to move this level even higher); providing scaffold and support for my English Language Learners and providing after school intervention support for math students.

I really need help in reaching boys of color; I am at a loss; I have read several books, observed some classrooms, talked to the boys themselves, talked to the principal. I have made sure to cut my ''lecture'' time to under 22 minutes and give students a chance to work together or independently if they choose two minutes to ten minutes of teaching, allowed students to stand up if they need to work off energy. Provide hands-on learning several times per day and have been looking for ways to integrate culturally relevant literature into teaching reading.

I am at a loss. About one third of my class is boys of color and about half of the boys in this group have a difficult time with impulse control. They blurt out, smash food in the faces of their friends right outside the classroom door, break pencils they have been given because they are their pencils to do with as they please, yet ask for replacements because they cannot write with half a pencil, will not complete homework assignments even with parents at home who support education and so on. In an average day the group of boys of which I am speaking work an average of about 1 hour a day. They drag out assignments that should take 4-6 minutes to over half an hour. I have verified that this is work they know how to do. What should I try? I really am open to suggestions. This is a sixth grade self-contained class with the exception of English Language Arts.

This is not the entire set of boys of color, I am speaking of five or six boys who are taking more than 60% of the day away from other students, yet produce about 20% of the learning they need to accomplish to be at grade level. New Teacher Needing Help


First of all, thank you for even asking this question. So many (teachers and others) simply go along following their own unconscious biases without any mindfulness about how to make change and treat boys of color more fairly and teach them more effectively. How about approaching POCIS for help and resources? Here you go: http://www.nocapocis.org/ Lauren
Hello New Teacher, After talking to other teachers at your site, asking for support from your principal, talking to the boy's parents (who certainly don't want them acting up in class), you might try this:

The UCLA Extension FIPSE Scholarship Program to train K-12 teachers on how to implement culturally-inclusive positive behavior supports in the classroom is now accepting applications for their final cohort beginning in February 2013. We have offered this program to over 200 teachers throughout the state of California with great success and enthusiastic feedback. This valuable and beneficial curriculum is offered at no cost to teachers or schools as this is a federally-funded grant program. However, our grant ends in 2013 and the February 2013 cohort will be our final free of cost cohort.

Participants complete four online courses plus a portfolio from February-June 2013. Scholarships are limited. Presently, we have space available for 50 participants. Candidates who complete the program will receive a UCLA Extension Certificate. Participants working in Title I schools are strongly encouraged to apply. Please feel free to forward this email and application to teachers throughout California. We are proud to present this final free-of-cost opportunity to our fellow educators! All best, Kate Edwards, PhD, Program Director UCLA Extension Education Department


OK, I have to just say I find your post a little disturbing. As the parent of an adopted African American boy, I moved out of Berkeley because so many people said he would be stereo-typed there. We moved to Albany where thankfully the system seems pretty color blind. Yes, he has ADD probably like some of your other kids. For similar reasons? Hard to say. My son was born drug addicted and had a very tough first couple of years. How much is genetic, how much is culture? Regardless, if you let the color lens go and look at them as boys with too much energy exploring boundaries - well, that's what you are looking at. Will they maybe need to be taught differently? Yes. I suggest you speak with the counselor at your school. They have been super-helpful and are generally good at letting go of that color lens. They've been trained to. It's great you see you need help and are striving to be the best teacher you can. Don't forget your daughter sees this lens - I sometimes have it too and my son who is a bit older doesn't hesitate to remind me when I have it. Good luck. Oh - Dr. Lane Tanner at CHO may be a great help too if he is available. He is a behavioral psychologist who I have sent others too. hoping you get the help you are asking for

My 4th grader son gets into 'trouble' for being a normal little boy

April 2010

My 4th grader son does not have any disability. He tests above the average on standard school tests. Doesn't have any issues with any academic subjects.

He's just an antsy boy. He asks a lot of questions. He's very curious. He can't sit still and immediately start his work. All of which seem to bring out the worst in every teacher he has had (he's in fourth grade).

He comes home from school and says that he had a horrible day because he couldn't be 'perfect'. That is his word. He gets into 'trouble' for being a normal little boy - his teachers always say that he doesn't apply himself, he doesn't stay on task, he's not a self-starter, he asks too many questions etc.

He used to love school but not any more, he hates it.

I'll move anywhere - please, please just tell me which schools are the best for normal little boys. Desperate Mom of a boy


You may want to check out Pacific Boychoir Academy (4-8th grades) or East Bay School for Boys (6th-8th only, unfortunately). anon
Consider Beacon Day School. Your boy sounds like a normal boy. It's unfortunately that many traditional programs don't have room (physically and otherwise!) to let boys be boys. been there done that
You should check out Archway School, a k-8 independent school located on two campuses: Oakland (grades k-4) and Berkely (grades 5-8) for your son. My son and daughter LOVE to go to school because of their Archway experience! I attribute so much of my kids'(particularly my son's) self-esteem, confidence and academic success to the great teachers at Archway who seem to have a gift of bringing out the best in every child - academically, socially and emotionally. Their numbers are 510-547-4747 Oakland; or 510-849-4747 Berkeley. Good luck! parent at Archway School
Hello,

As Head of the first all-boys school in the East Bay, I hear versions of your dismayed post often from parents exploring a possible ''fit'' between Pacific Boychoir Academy (PBA) and their sons. While I cannot promise to be unbiased, I hope my reply encourages you to seek out more information about single gender education, and about PBA in particular. (www.pacificboychoiracademy.org)

PBA is an all-boys school offering a comprehensive and stimulating 4th to 8th grade academic program that is enriched by an intensive, professional choral program. We are a choir school but more than that, we provide an academic, musical, and personal development experience that develops confident, engaged and creative boys. With the highest standards of excellence in mind, we keep our class sizes to 15 boys or fewer. This commitment reflects our "best-for-boys" teaching approach that honors how boys learn and ensures more individual attention and a more personalized education that maximizes each student's potential. Faculty works together to get to know each student and to focus the boys' energy using stepped levels of achievement, hands-on discovery, movement, practical applications and cultural and environmental relevance. Consequently, our graduates are admitted to the East Bay's most demanding high schools.

Our choral program takes full advantage of the benefits of music to enhance children's minds. Through their musical training, international touring and professional appearances, boys learn confidence, teamwork, presentation skills and excellence for all aspects of their lives. PBA is meeting the challenges of boy education with innovative approaches, a talented and committed faculty, and real- world experiences that prepare boys for high school and for life.

I encourage you to come and visit the school and see all of this in action for yourself. (510) 849-8181. Best of luck, Jim Jim Gaines jimg@pacificboychoiracademy.org


If you are serious about moving anywhere, check out these two schools on the peninsula: Helios New School in Palo Alto and The Nueva School in Hillsborough. Both are amazing. anon
My child goes to Walden School in Berkeley (not to be confused with Waldorf). The boys there seem to be allowed to be boys. In fact, one of the many things I love about Walden is that everyone is accepted for who they are. The school's philosophy is child-centered and progressive, with great arts classes (art, music, and drama each twice a week). Check out the website: www.walden-school.net. happy parent & child
Hi, I feel your pain. I have three sons. My experience with K-12, both public and private, has been that the classroom is just not set up for boys. Classrooms and curricula are mainly determined by women, and directed to girls. The highly motivated and talented boys do just fine, but the average boys are on the whole treated as underperformers, and they respond accordingly. I would say that if you can afford private school, and if you manage to pick the right private school, you might find a place where your boy is not treated as a ''defective girl.'' But otherwise you'll be swimming against the tide. There is a new middle school for boys just starting up this year that sounds great - East Bay School for Boys.

If you are staying in public school, then my advice is to be a strong advocate for your boy. Read up on the current thinking about school and boys - there is quite a lot on the topic - and be prepared to stand up to the school administration as necessary. Best wishes Mom of 3 boys


Public School does not teach boys the way boys learn best

April 2005

My son, a junior at Berkeley High, has chosen to drop out, take the high school proficiency exam and go to junior college. He really disliked high school. He is bright, creative and bored. Sounds like a lot of adolescent boys.

I recently read a book, ''Why Gender Matters'' by Dr. Leonard Sax. In this book, Dr. Sax lays out the new cognitive science research on how males and females think, behave and perceive differently. School is not designed for boys. Public School does not teach boys the way boys learn best. Dr. Sax is an advocate for same sex schooling.

Recent news articles state that the high school drop out rate for California is 50%. I bet that the vast majority of them are males.

As a female who came of age in the late '60's, I am well aware of the issues of sexism facing women raised by the feminist movement. However, that does not erase other forms of sexism, including how school and society demonize our sons and do not meet their needs.

I highly recommend this book to every parent, and every teacher. And if your son is smart, creative, but a ''low achiever'' in school, maybe the problem is not your son, maybe it's school.


I want to thank and agree with the person who posted this topic in the last newsletter. A question that we see again and again on this newsletter is ''Why has my bright son lost interest in school?''

I want to add my experience to the mix. My story is: two bright boys, now 19 and 22, who really started faltering in Berkeley public schools around the 4th and 5th grade. My oldest graduated from Berkeley High, and is now a senior at an out-of-state university. His grades and attendance were very poor throughout middle and high school. He told me recently that he now regrets ''not working harder'' to get into a more academic, stimulating college. His classes are boring and his classmates are .. well ... not that sharp. He would not have graduated from BHS at all had he not been involved in a sport and therefore motivated to keep at least a passing GPA. We felt very lucky when he was accepted to a university.

My second son dropped out of BHS / Independent Studies two years ago as a junior. He took the Ca. equivalency exam but he did not pass. He was enrolled for one semester at Laney, but has not picked it back up. I don't know what's going to happen to him - it really is scary and heartbreaking. He's smart, and interested, and he's a great kid, but truthfully he does not have the academic background to survive college level classes, so I am worried he is doomed to work at low-skilled, boring jobs and never be able to afford to live here, where he grew up.

These kids were both in the GATE program in elementary school - up till 4th or 5th grade they were tops in math and spelling and were eager learners. They have parents with advanced degrees in engineering, and liberal arts. So what the heck happened? They both have friends who did very well in the BUSD. Obviously public school can work for many kids who have the motivation. But they also have friends (all boys) who faltered, lost interest, detached, dropped out.

So how much of this is my fault, and how much can I blame the way they were taught? I'll take 50% of the blame - I didn't get the right tutors, didn't push hard enough to get them into the right classes, wasn't strict enough with homework and studying. But I've heard this story so many times now from so many other boys' parents that the problem really seems systemic to me. It still boils my blood when I think of how literature was ruined for my avid readers around middle school after they were assigned chick-book after chick-book (I'm a chick English major so I know whereof I speak), and how they had to sit through years of deadening math classes where no teacher taught, rather they ''learned from each other, using real-world examples'' instead of being taught real math like the fast-track kids. I pleaded with the BHS math teacher and she explained that ''some kids just don't get math'' and this teaching style is best for those kids. So that's how my boys were shut out of the sciences for a career at the age of 14. (My son who "didn't get math" got a B+ in a very traditional math class at another school that compressed a year of geometry into 8 weeks. It was the experimental group-teach math class at BHS that he didn't get.)

I loved being part of the BUSD school system and I still admire many things about it - don't get me wrong. And my boys loved it too. They had some great experiences and made some great friends. But something is seriously wrong with boys and public school. I've got a third son coming up and he's smart too. I am asking myself whether I want to take the chance that after 12 years of schooling he too might end up with a bunch of great friends and not a whole lot else.


In addition to what has already been said, I wanted to add that school is ESPECIALLY not designed for adolescent boys. I've come to the conclusion that there are alot of adolescent boy developmental issues that are not taken into account by schools. Boys lag behind girls in terms of emotional maturity. I've heard MANY secondary educators say that most boys don't get academic self-discipline, motivation, organizational skills till they are 16 or 17 (some till they're in their mid-20's!) So, even boys that were getting A's start getting D's and worse in secondary school- usually because of missing assignments (either because they didn't have a clue it was assigned, didn't know when it was due, or my personal favorite - did it but never turned it in...!) I think they are in a hormone haze.

Yes, boredom plays a role - but girls more than boys are just generally more compliant in terms of following the rules (turning in work) or realize that you just can't be an ''A student in your mind'' its got to be on the transcript. If teachers really worked on student organization and accountability, and HELPED parents keep on top of what's going on in school (class syllabi, weekly homework assignment handouts/emails, regular feedback about missing assignments, etc.) alot of secondary school boys (well, many girls too!) would have at least 3.0 GPA's (of course some boys do need academic support - not just organizational skills).

Of course, some adolescent boys are VERY academically motivated and disciplined, but I just see and hear about SO many that don't have a clue and its NOT academic ability and not because of lack of family wanting to be involved - the kids aren't even rebellious or really that resistent to school - just unmotivated and undisciplined. I know that our bright but undisciplined son has stayed on the honor roll ONLY because my husband and I have spent alot of time from 6th grade on tracking his academic progress (including taking time off work to buttonhole teachers that won't return phone calls/email) and keeping a foot up his b-tt (carrot and stick approach) for him to be organized and accountable.We just refuse to let him limit his college options because of immaturity (we're assuming the light will flash on by his junior year as so many friends of ours in education have told us will happen... after all we can't go to college with him...)

Interested to hear more on this topic and what we can do about it.


I am so impressed that someone would respond on this topic and sign her name. I am just not ready to do that though my situation is just the same. This is such a difficult topic for me to share with others. You have my greatest admiration.

I have two sons ages 23 and 19. Our older son fits the profile some of you give - bright, bored, but I'm not sure that isn't just a little too flattering. Where does the immaturity part come in, the refusal to do what most other students understand they need to do - like homework? Sigh. He left BHS at 16, did manage to pass the proficiency exam and get into college; he graduated after 5 1/2 years, and he is now astonishingly a dedicated student in an MA program. I realize this is a success story in the context of some of your stories, but there was a great toll on us to keep him going.

And then there is our second son, barely made it out of BHS, is struggling in his second college in two years, and we're in search of yet another option. It's fine with us if he chooses a vocational route, but we're academics so we're no help as models of other kinds of jobs, and he seems so lost.

So who is to blame- parents, kids, schools, media, videogames, internet, Berkeley kid culture. Everyone and everything is to blame, but what are we going to do? I want my sons and your sons to make it in whatever way is best for them. We have our problems to address, and what about prevention to prevent more of these sad stories. What can we do? Should we meet? I am happy to offer my house if people would like to meet and discuss strategies for helping our kids and future kids. Of course there are many struggling girls as well, but it may be easier to focus by gender.


I don't have any special solutions, but your message triggered a lot of thinking about the issue which I think we should all do.

I think in a way your message could read that ''school is not for kids''. I've had many similar issues with my daughter, who arrived in middle school in Berkeley. She's ambitious and clear about what she wants to do with her life, but got herself overcommitted and burned out by the middle of sophomore year at BHS. Math went from one of her favorite subjects in eighth grade, with a terrific teacher, to something to be avoided. I've been in no way impressed with the math teaching at Berkeley High.

I think it's an even bigger problem that kids soon realize that they can slither backwards into the general swamp of faces and no one will notice what they're doing. The number of times when an actual teacher has called home from BHS to find out what's going on is precisely - one. When the attendance office calls, it's all about not losing their ADA. When the teacher calls or even emails it's, potentially, because they care about whether their student is falling apart.

On the other hand I totally agree with you about the ''chick books'' in the English literature program. It's also a shame that the syllabus in California is so heavily weighted toward writing five paragraph essays that creative writing gets practically ignored. As a writing coach I've seen the most surprising kids, especially boys, get fired up when they get the opportunity to write a story. How often as adults are we required to write five paragraph literary analyses anyway?

As the parent of a middle school boy, we mainly have to contend with his desire to spend the least amount of effort on school that he can. He's currently motivated to get good grades only because he has to keep straight As to keep cable tv in the house. His sixth grade teacher was very straightforward in telling him that he was too smart to be getting Bs and should be doing extra credit whenever it was available. He paid attention because it was, sort of, a compliment. He laughed at his friends who took the test for honors algebra at the end of sixth grade, but after a stultifying year in regular seventh grade math, he's changed his mind about next year.

One thing is, that his middle school teachers have tended to get in contact as soon as they see something strange going on, making sure he doesn't get behind. Maybe BHS will do better next year with smaller class sizes.


It's heartbreaking to read these stories of boys not served by our system. I'm certain this is a growing and widespread problem. I'm the father of daughters, and I don't have direct experience about this, but I have two close friends who each had a son with these shared experiences: horrible high school grades, drug use, finally dropped out. Drug use got worse (police and/or hospital experiences). Unable to hold jobs; in one case, homelessness. THEN, each kid, somewhere between 22 and 24, had something click. Each came home, started junior college, and after two years, transferred to a UC (San Diego and UCLA!). Parents stunned but, sobbingly, grateful.

I don't think anyone can count on this sequence, but the fact that I know two families this happened to (Berkeley USD and Mill Valley USD) makes me think that something developmental is going on. Either schools have changed in a way that doesn't serve boys or, even, male adolescent development stages have shifted somehow. Maybe the high school years need to be spent doing something else, rather than sitting in chairs staring at math problems. I don't know what; surfing, climbing mountains, riding horses? Anyway, something healthy and fun, while they wait for sufficient maturity to handle our twisted educational system.

There's no question that drug use played a huge role in the case of these two kids. It seems misleading, though, to think of drugs as the cause of the problem. Lots of kids have this kind of troubled adolescence without heavy drug use making it worse.

My very best wishes to everyone going through this.


School certainly isn't for my son. He's a junior and has basically given up on school. He's ready to take (and hopefully pass) the California Proficiency Exam in June and move on to something else. At this point, I will be happy if he finds a job and works for awhile before trying school again. All the joy and life in him has been sucked out by his dysfunctional high school. I'm hoping growing up a bit and not being forced to continue doing something he hates and dreads will help him discover a love of learning again.

I'm also dismayed at the chick-book literature pressed on the boys. My son must have been assigned ''The Diary of Anne Frank'' once a year for four years. Other reading selections focused on teenage girls from other cultures or of varying ethnic backgrounds. He finally was assigned ''Of Mice and Men'' and ''All Quiet on the Western Front'' this year and enjoyed literature for the first time since grammar school.

I am reading ''Why Gender Matters'' by Leonard Sax recommended last week. It is revolutionary! Thanks to the parent who recommended it.

mother of a boy who hates school


In Wednesday's Chronicle was this article - demonstrating that even in a program called ''Center for Gender Equity'', boys are discriminated against. Boy behavior is deemed a ''discipline'' problem and undesirable. What this shows is that schools need to understand boys' cognitive and developmental processes, and tailor teaching accordingly. Now Lawrence Sax, author of ''Why Gender Matters'' is an advocate for same sex education. It may be that lumping boys and girls together is a disservice to boys and to girls. Here's the article:
UCSF's Center for Gender Equity hosts its annual ''Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day'' on Thursday -- but judging from the list of activities being offered, the gender equity program is anything but equal.

For example, the 9- and 10-year-old daughters are being invited to participate in 17 hands-on activities such as working with microscopes, slicing brains, doing skull comparisons, seeing what goes on in the operating room, playing surgeon, dentist or nurse for a day, and visiting the intensive care unit nursery, where they can set up blood pressure cuffs and operate the monitors.

They can learn about earthquake and disaster preparedness, how to use a fire extinguisher, how to operate several types of equipment -- even fire a laser.

And what do the boys get to do?

Learn about ''gender equity in fun, creative ways using media, role playing and group games'' -- after which, the boys can get a bit of time in with a microscope or learn how the heart works.

''It's ridiculous,'' says one UCSF doc, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation from the university. ''I have no problem with the Center for Gender Equity, but just make it equitable.''

Longtime center director Amy Levine, however, tells us the program isn't intended to give boys and girls the same learning opportunities -- nor, she says, is it a career day.

''It's about dealing with effects of sexism on both boys and girls and how it can damage them,'' she said.

Hence, while the boys undergo gender sensitivity training, the girls focus on their capabilities -- be it handling a scalpel or microscope.

UCSF tried mixing the boys with the girls a few years back, but Levine says it just didn't work out.

''It mirrored the same sexism that occurs in the classroom daily,'' she said, ''where boys raise their hands more often, demand more attention and have discipline problems.''

So now the boys have their own gender sensitivity program, where ''they learn about violence prevention and how to be allies to the girls and women in their lives,'' Levine said.


Here's another parent of a 16 year old boy who in his junior year went from a B student to one who gradually stopped homework, increased cutting and eventually stopped going to school. Now hopefully he's headed to passing the proficiency exam in June and Community College in the fall. I wonder what other parents with this going on do about issues like deciding what is o.k. for your son to do during the day when he's not going to school and waiting to take the exam. Does he work? Have planned activities? If you can't get your kid to go to school or do homework, how do you get him to do something else productive while waiting for whatever comes next? I'd be happy to meet or talk further, but I too want to remain anonymous. Seems we could only have further contact if someone is willing to put their name and email or phone number.
Although I made it through high school just fine, I did something afterwards that showed me what many males did who were having the kinds of problems with school discussed in this list. That is, I joined the US Navy. I know that these days there are all kinds of reasons why people might not want to do this, but at the time (1971) things were different.

While in the Navy I met all kinds of kids who had all kinds of problems at home. For them joining the Navy was their way out, or at least their way to try something else other than school, which clearly wasn't working for them. I wasn't in long enough to see how they turned out but the kind of terror that we experienced in Boot Camp seemed to wake up many of them. Maybe it was simply that they couldn't get away with behaving the way they used to back home.

I also met people I never would have met if I had stayed in my middle class suburb. For example, I never would have met the ghetto kids and hillbillies, or the people who had never worn shoes, or couldn't read and write.

I'm not saying it was completely a positive experience, and I never would have admited it at the time, but looking back 30 years later I can see how it helped me avoid making many of the mistakes that some of my friends suffered from.


I'm the parent of two sons and one daughter-19,15,14. My boys had much more trouble with homework than my daughter, but it seems to me that all three of them felt (and feel) bored by school. My oldest graduated from BHS in 03-he had some great teachers and some bad ones-same as I'm sure all of us have had, but what seemed the most concerning is that he said most of the kids there didn't want to learn and sat in class with headphones, disrespecting the teachers and other classmates. My middle son is now in Independent Studies-we hoped that this would give him a chance to work in smaller groups and get more involved in his studies. Rather it has given him a lot more time to simply hang out and get into trouble. Many of his friends cut school all the time. We're also concerned about all the drug and alcohol use that goes on. Is this a widespread problem? Is it mostly boys? They don't seem to be able to imagine themselves in the future and so see no point in trying to do well in school. Is this a consequence of indulgent parenting? Media? Underfunded schools? Is it their response to all the talk about global warming, deforestation, poverty, AIDs, war? I don't understand why this generation seems so hopeless about making changes in the world. It couldn't have been that much less bleak in the sixties, and yet there was a lot of optimism that things could be changed for the better and actually things were improved. I suspect that boarding school will be our answer for our son, but like all the other parents I wonder why don't these boys (and girls) see the value in their education?
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