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Boys Education & the Failings of Conventional Teaching Systems

teaching boys

Challenges to boys education are prevalent across America. Although standardized tests consistently show that boys and girls are equally capable of learning the material taught in school, boys make up an overwhelming portion of failing grades, disciplinary referrals, expulsions, drop outs, and learning disability diagnoses. Clearly, there is a disconnect between boys’ capabilities and how they are treated in the classroom.

How Traditional Schools Fail in Teaching Boys

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know a boy who has had trouble in school. It’s common to hear men say they didn’t get along with their teachers or that they thought what they learned was a waste of their time. These attitudes are not so universal on accident.

Boys in the school system are often penalized for being boys, starting at a young age. When teachers begin to expect all students to be quiet and still for long periods of time, boys almost inevitably become restless and distracted before girls, and they’re reprimanded for it. After years of similar scenarios, these individuals develop low educational expectations and create a narrative for themselves that school just isn’t interesting or useful. An all-boys school with an alternative approach to teaching boys is essential.

Learning by Doing

By the time boys enter their teenage years as they start high school, they have gained more mastery over impulse control, but they still have a strong need for interaction. Lessons for boys (and girls) should incorporate activities that allow them to move and use their bodies to learn. This includes lab classes, physical education courses, utilizing models to enhance lectures, and so on. These mixed experiences help male students stay focused and better understand course content.

Freedom of Choice

Just as students aren’t all the same, their individual projects shouldn’t all be the same, either. Teachers should allow students the freedom to represent their learning in a way that merges with their interests. Allowing students to use their particular skills to better explore the subjects that interest them most is a great way to engage them more in the coursework.

Open Discussion

Boys in general are more resistant to authority, which renders lectures particularly ineffective. Teenagers especially, who are trying to develop their own sense of authority, need to feel that their point of view is being heard and respected. This is why discussion needs to be an integral part of teaching boys. It is more useful and constructive to have open discussion about topics including new course material or even disciplinary action than it is to dictate information.

Role Models

One of the first social distinctions children make is the difference between boys and girls. Boys look to the adults in their life to help define what it means to be masculine. This can result in a rigid idea of what masculinity is, which may involve intentionally doing poorly in school. It can also be very challenging for boys who do not fit in neatly with the established male image. Role models are critical in helping young men challenge the “tough guy” code and develop their own interests. At an all-boys boarding school, students have ample role models to help guide them.

Structured Support

Often boys sense that they are supposed to be stoic when they’re in a challenging situation and that they should work problems out for themselves. In academics, this can lead to not asking for help when a boy doesn’t understand a lesson. Institutions for all-boys education need to have an organized way of delivering help to students even before they ask for it. This includes teacher awareness, readily available assistance, and an environment that facilitates questions about course material. At a boarding school for boys, it’s simply not adequate to assume that silence means understanding.

Grand River’s Approach to Boys Education

Grand River takes every opportunity to engage boys and inspire them to be an active part of their education. From class discussions to regular study sessions, we make sure that every student is learning the material he needs to and that he is thriving in the environment we provide. By creating an interactive, open environment, we give students the opportunity to take more control over their education and become excited about learning like they’ve never been before.

Many parents come to us looking for a solution because they know their son embodies endless potential, but he is not receiving the right support or mentorship in school to realize or achieve that potential. As a boarding school for boys, it is our mission to help young men connect with their education on a deeper level and empower them to reach beyond the standard, achieve goals, and chart a plan of lifelong success. 

Take a look inside GRA and learn more about our approach to boys' education in our viewbook.