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October 29, 2008

Why Boys Will Be Boys

Peg Tyre saw a 6 year old boy crying and was inspired. The boy was having trouble at school, not because he couldn't learn, but because he couldn't behave the way teachers wanted him to. "Mommy" he said, "I just can't be good!" He had brought home a laundry list of "misdeeds" that he had done at school, none of which included aggressive or malicious behavior. Mostly they concerned fine motor skills, attention, and activity. Based on research begun at Newsweek, in The Trouble With Boys, Peg Tyre has written the most comprehensive and useful book on teaching and raising boys I have ever read. She has actually inspired me to look into studying boys as a focus of my future research.

I couldn't begin to count how many boys I have seen achieve academic and social success in pre-k only to "fail" on both counts by the time they reach 3rd grade. I have seen success too, but often those boys have been from homes with one or two involved parents. Boys whose parents work two or three jobs, have lower educations, or who did not do well in school themselves, see their possibilities decrease with each grade level.

Here is the real story for you about why I love Peg Tyre's new book. I had a student in the 2003-2004 school year named Darion. He wasn't the easiest student to teach. His mother was physical and distant. He had a hard time grasping concepts the first time but, he was excited about learning. I actually have video footage of him asking for the class to conduct a repeated trial in a science experiment by saying, "Let's do it again, let's do it again!" He was engaged and he was on track academically when he left my class. Then he went to Kindergarten. He didn't progress so he had to repeat. At 7 years old he was "placed" in 1st grade. He progressed a little bit but not enough. So, he repeated 1st grade. Now he is in 2nd grade and he is 9 years old. Having seen more success socially out of school than in, he has begun to be pulled by the streets. And, he has begun to slip even farther behind. Currently he has a first year teacher. She is trying hard to give him what he needs but I'm not sure at this early stage in her career that she knows exactly what that is.
I asked him as he passed me in the hallway the other day, "Darion, you did so well in my class, how come you have so much trouble now?" He said, "Because, your class was fun."

It sounds sort of simple but, I think he made an excellent point. In my class we were dancing the alphabet, singing our numbers, jumping to count, making up silly songs, playing with language, and catching snow flakes on our tongues just because it snowed. We were loud and we were active. We also connected emotionally, through the teaching of communication skills and consistently caring interactions. I know Darion has a lot more going on than not getting to be loud and jump around in class, but what if that was all it took to get him engaged again? Wouldn't it be worth it?

I think Peg Tyre wrote this book for Darion. In it, she looks at our society from 10,000 meters up and close enough to see a boy's tear drop. She looks at the "trouble with boys" in our society from every angle one could possibly consider. She looks at their biology and their sociology. She looks at our educational system, our social systems, and our parenting. She even looks at the effects of No Child Left Behind on boys' achievement. Finally, she looks at how boys become men, how that has changed over time, and how it affects our society.

I think what I like most about Ms. Tyre's is book is her obvious passion for the subject. She is a mother of two boys and I can't help but think she wrote this for moms like her, who see their boys struggling and need this book to help them understand why.


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