Is the Classroom Harming Boys and Society?

Need another reason to homeschool?

“…we’re not as concerned as we ought to be about the millions of young men who are floundering or lost.

But they’re there: The young men who are working in the lowest-level (and most dangerous) jobs instead of going to college. Who are sitting in prison instead of going to college. [My note: I would also add “instead of becoming entrepreneurs”, understanding the great opportunities that await and are not limited to those with college degrees.] Who are staying out of the long-term marriage pool because they have little to offer to young women. Who are remaining adolescents, wasting years of their lives playing video games for hours a day, until they’re in their thirties, by which time the world has passed many of them by.

Root Problem

Whether in the prison system, in my university classes or in the schools where I help train teachers, I have noticed a systemic problem with how we teach and mentor boys that I call “industrial schooling,” and that I believe is a primary root of our sons’ falling behind in school, and quite often in life.

Two hundred years ago, realizing the necessity of schooling millions of kids, we took them off the farms and out of the marketplace and put them in large industrial-size classrooms (one teacher, 25 to 30 kids). For many kids, this system worked — and still works. But from the beginning, there were some for whom it wasn’t working very well. Initially, it was girls. It took more than 150 years to get parity for them.

Problem With Industrialized Schooling

Now we’re seeing what’s wrong with the system for millions of boys…Beginning in very early grades, the sit-still, read-your-book, raise-your-hand-quietly, don’t-learn-by-doing-but-by-taking-notes classroom is a worse fit for more boys than it is for most girls. This was always the case, but we couldn’t see it 100 years ago. We didn’t have the comparative element of girls at par in classrooms. We taught a lot of our boys and girls separately. We educated children with greater emphasis on certain basic educational principles that kept a lot of boys “in line” — competitive learning was one. And our families were deeply involved in a child’s education.

Now, however, the boys who don’t fit the classrooms are glaringly clear. Many families are barely involved in their children’s education. Girls outperform boys in nearly every academic area. Many of the old principles of education are diminished. In a classroom of 30 kids, about five boys will begin to fail in the first few years of pre-school and elementary school. By fifth grade, they will be diagnosed as learning disabled, ADD/ADHD, behaviorally disordered or “unmotivated.” They will no longer do their homework (though they may say they are doing it), they will disrupt class or withdraw from it, they will find a few islands of competence (like video games or computers) and overemphasize those.

Boys and Girls are Different

Boys have a lot of Huck Finn in them — they don’t, on average, learn as well as girls by sitting still, concentrating, multitasking, listening to words. For 20 years, I have been taking brain research into homes and classrooms to show teachers, parents and others how differently boys and girls learn. Once a person sees a PET or SPECT scan of a boy’s brain and a girl’s brain, showing the different ways these brains learn, they understand. As one teacher put it to me, “Wow, no wonder we’re having so many problems with boys.”

By Michael Gurian Washington Post, Disappearing Act: Where Have the Men Gone

Think Outside the Classroom

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Are you a homeschooling mother who worries that you aren’t “doing enough”? Are you thinking of homeschooling but feel afraid that you aren’t qualified? If so, read more…

28 Responses to “Is the Classroom Harming Boys and Society?”

  1. Michelle B says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about since having my son. After working in several daycares before getting married I could see how the boys were expected to learn and behave as the little girls did. We definitely plan to homeschool. As for the difference between how boys and girls learn, I noticed it even when i was being homeschooled with my younger brothers. That’s one of the benefits of homeschooling, the ability to adjust the method of teaching for each child.

  2. Jami says:

    As a former high school English teacher at a public school I can say I’ve witnessed this firsthand. Though I am new to homeschooling, I love what it means for our family as well as the childrens’ individuality. I don’t believe industrial education is working anymore and pray that something changes soon. My girls learn easily by listening and reading, but I am definitely going to be challenged with how to teach my new son as I know he is just going to be different. Thanks for the article, Kelly!

  3. Rebekah says:

    My sister and I were discussing how to teach her son. She’s homeschooled her daughters, but is just beginning in earnest with her son. Since I only have boys, our experience has been very different. My boys rarely use the flat surface of a table, move a lot, and need to manipulate with their hands. Their natural position is a book propped on their knees as they write or playing with Legos as they look at their vocabulary words or listen to audio books.
    I told her to sit back and let her son choose his setting and learning style and work within it. My boys are slowly learning to work at the table and sit for longer periods of time.

  4. Ginger says:

    The problem is clear to see. What’s the solution? How can homeschool mommies fix it and do it differently?

  5. Kate Scott says:

    It is so much more than just industrialized schooling. Default parenting is at fault, too. The common standard used to be “parenting until 18,” but now it seems to be “parenting until they can basically take care of themselves around puberty and then only step in when it become desperate.” Children are left on their own, and there’s a Bible verse warning about that!

    Boys have no motivation. Girls don’t either, but in the realm of feminism and a lack of men to care for them, they tend to jump right into the workforce out of necessity, especially if they get pregnant and choose to keep the baby. My own husband’s work ethic is praised and his reputation preceeds him whereever he goes because he HAS worked his whole life. Heavy labor, stinky, nasty jobs, too! He just went through a program to get into a new career and discovered how many young men fail to even get in, or once in leave because it’s “too much work.” (For what my husband used to do, he finds the work pretty easy!)

    Homeschooling is a much better option. I know with my own son I will have to tailor his learning to practical and hands-on. Empty facts and useless information will escape him, but apply it to something useful and real and he’ll devour it. This is opposite of the way I learned in public schools. I had many teachers actually say to us, “Just memorize it so you can pass the test.”

    I read many articles and comments on the failure of the public school system and I agree with them. However, the ultimate responsibility goes to the parents. A boy can successfully navigate through public school and not become a video gaming man-child with parents who keep a fire lit under him. Of course, I agree whole-heartedly that homeschooling is the better option.

  6. Lori says:

    Speaking of prolonged adolescence and video gaming, the Cub Scouts now has a video gaming related badge!

  7. Word Warrior says:


    Rebekah had some good points, as well as Kate Scott…

    “Empty facts and useless information will escape him, but apply it to something useful and real and he’ll devour it.”

    Though we do require a certain amount of “seat work”, when we can make it real, it is so much more effective. And that just takes paying attention more than anything. Yesterday in the grocery store there was a “5 for 19.99” sale. I just asked my son to tell me whether that was a good buy compared to the other prices. Of course the simple concept of “rounding up” is necessary, but it makes sense in context. Then simple division when otherwise “why does it matter if I can divide” becomes so much more clear used in life.

    Soon my son will be able to join my husband for one day a week on the job site (carpentry) where he will learn a number of more complicated math concepts, among other things.

    I’ve thrown this out before, but just leaving boys alone for lengths of time is important. They tend to explore, create, invent and solve problems just in playing–skills more important to education than we think.

    It’s a balance; I wouldn’t suggest that we don’t ever require them to discipline themselves to sit still (far from it). But inviting other opportunities and understanding their need for “hands on” makes a huge difference.

    Oh, and some boys simply need to verbalize concepts as they learn. It takes really being in tune, I think!

  8. Oh Kelly, this one really got to me! I’ve been saying this to friends and family since I was lucky enough to become mom to a young boy (my stepson) who was not the “sit still and be quiet” type – way back in the late 90s.

    It was happening then, it’s still happening now. There are those wonderful teachers in classrooms who understand that boys are – well – boys…but for so many, there just isn’t the understanding of what a young man needs (I think of physical activity, tactile learning, etc…)

    We homeschool now, and with three more young boys (my stepson is now an adult) to raise, it’s the best decision ever!

  9. Word Warrior says:


    I, too, not only witnessed this, but sadly, played a part in it.

    I can’t tell you how many times I took some 17 year-old boy out of class (embarrassing him) and then “pouring my heart out” telling him how if he didn’t change (i.e. embrace Shakespeare ;-)), he was going to struggle in life, yadda, yadda. I would badger him to tears; I can still see the faces as they couldn’t find the words to express what they so badly wanted to say, knowing they couldn’t conform to this model we were forcing them into but wanting so badly to do the right thing.

  10. Margaret says:

    Great article.

    You know, my middle son got ‘kicked out’ of VBS because he just couldn’t see the use of sitting around a table putting stickers on things. He wanted them to get to the fun stuff, already. He was 4. Now, after a day off, he decided it was worthwhile to suffer through the sitting if it meant doing the fun active stuff they had planned (and getting ice cream at the end), so he pulled himself together for the last 3 days.

    So, I have this understanding that it is not their natural inclination to learn by sitting, but on occasion, they will self-motivate to do so with a larger goal in mind, but ultimately they don’t learn as well when they do that.

    Per my husband, all our children are going to college, lol. They will need to learn why and how to sit through a lecture and bend to institutional rule in order to reach their goal. But especially in the elementary years, I have found that there is *no need* for them to do so. The vast majority of their days are spent on things other than bookwork, but they are advanced academically. I’m just a mere mother with no degree, but to my thinking that tells me that my boy’s minds thrive best when they are active and largely unfettered by arbitrary rules and manners of learning. 🙂

  11. gabby says:

    homeschooling is great however we can’t blame this on just public school,a lot of it has to do with how a child is raised and what they do at home for entertainment,also the type of nutrition they are getting.If you think about it ,just like there are succesful homeschooled kids,there are successful public school kids,it’s like that movie “the village”,it doesn’t matter how much we “protect” from the real world ,sin abides in us.My husband is a very good man,he went to public school,and now he has a great job,BTW he did not go to college,and he makes about 90,ooo a yr. his parents raised him to be a hard worker,so I think it matters most ,the kind of marriage your parents have and if there is peace at home,because me on ,the other hand,was raised in a home where my parents were aggresive and violen t and due to that I was a very rebellious teenager(being sexually,mentally and physically abused),although I did good in school….so we really can not blame this issue with boys on the public school system,it is what goes on at home and in our hearts.JMO. I’m sure not every homeschooled child is “good” and not every public school child is “bad”

  12. SavedbyGrace says:

    I read Dr. Dobson’s “Bringing up Boys” that really helped open my eyes to the plight of boys today. I highly recommend it.

    I know so many men who are inept with motors, house hold repairs, tires, budgeting – you name it. I grew up with a “Jack-of-all-trades” daddy and he brought up his boys the same way. The Lord steered me to the same kind of man. Yes, they are obstinate, agressive and bossy 🙂 but they are also full of love and life and ALWAYS busy with plans and projects.

    Most little boys are the same way: agressive, obstinate and bossy ( I had a week long argument with my 18 mo., several years ago, over who was in charge: me or him :)). Public eduacation destroys all that energy. I believe that’s why we don’t find too many Einsteins, Lincolns, or Washington type men anymore. Their whole method of exploring and doing have been stifled to the point of ineffectiveness.

    I, too, despair of finding a good match for my daughter who is 9. Fortunately, I do know some home schooled young men and their parents who apply Biblical principles. Of course, I also worry about a young lady for my son – who is getting as opionated as his Mother:) So, I’m praying now because these publically educated teens and young 20’s (for the most part – I’m sure there have to be some good ones out there) are NOT the kind of spouse I want for my children.

    That’s my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

  13. SavedbyGrace says:

    For the record, we most certainly can blame the public schools. They have taken God out of everything! They teach children that they are animals and then act surprised that they act like animals They teach s** ed. and then act surprised when we have rampant s**ual misbehavior.

    I’ve said many times that you cannot rely on a church to counter act the culture of today. 3 church services a week will not balance out or correct the rest of the weeks misguided teaching. I also do not believe you can really counter act public schooled teachings in the little bit of time left over after the children are at home. Parents must step up – take the hearts of their children back and give them to God instead to a culture that hates the mere mention of Jesus Christ.

  14. Word Warrior says:


    “I’m sure not every homeschooled child is “good” and not every public school child is “bad” ”

    Certainly-absolutely. No one suggests that, even the author who was careful to say, “on average”.

    I think the only question we (as Christian parents) must answer is:

    Am I obeying Scripture in the upbringing of my children?

    Am I making sure that they are “walking with the wise”? That they are not “walking in the counsel of the ungodly?” That they are being instructed about the Lord “when they rise up, lie down, walk by the way and sit in the house”? That I am “making disciples” of them?

    Interestingly, the Bible speaks hardly at all about our responsibility to raise “academically sound” children; but speaks volumes about their character and their hearts. Do I want academically sound children? Absolutely! Will I strive for that at the expense of my directives from Scripture? Not a chance.

  15. Kelly L says:

    Wonderful post and excellent comments!

  16. Kim M says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for sharing!

  17. Catherine R. says:

    What this article is saying makes sense to me, especially looking at the state of men today. We are planning to homeschool our son and info like this assures me even further that it’s the right thing to do, despite that family members will be convinced that we are cult members who are harming our children and call child protective services on us.

  18. Ceuson says:

    I’ve read some of Mr. Gurian’s books and loved them. Thank you for reminding me of what I forget as I focus on spelling and sentence structure.

    I’m especially grateful you printed this as the weather is warming up and I can be more thoughtful and intentional in using our time outside. We have the space and materials to get our hands into things.

  19. Katie says:

    One good (and pretty easy-to-implement) suggestion I’ve heard for homeschooling boys is to let them do as much standing up as possible. A chalkboard, white board, or clipboard with paper and pencil could allow a boy to stand to write anything (once he knows how to write.)
    In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve yet to try this as my first boy (only one so far) is only 4 months old!

  20. Kristen says:

    One thing I’ve discovered homeschooling my 5 & 6 year old boys is to allow them to be wiggly. My 6 year old often reads upside down on the couch. My 5 year old sits on my lap most of the time we’re doing school. We do school in small chunks, not much “seat work”, lots and lots of oral, interactive stuff for them. They seem to respond well. I’m not sure if there’s a definite methodology that would be “boy” methodology, as much as I have the freedom to work with them and tweak things to suit their particular learning styles and not force them to sit still and be quiet.

  21. As a recent college grad, I have seen this trend even in higher education. An honors program of which I was a part recently had a dinner and 10 of us were presented with plaques for 4.0 GPAs. Even though the program is divided fairly evenly between guys and girls, 8 girls and only 2 boys received the “perfect GPA” plaques. It was also interesting counting who among the graduating class graduated “with honors” or above: as expected, the majority of them were girls.

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  23. Tracy says:

    I read a book about a month ago called Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. It discusses this very issue and lists five reasons for it, one of them being the factory style school setting and that leading to medications for ADD which in turn leads to more problems down the road. Other factors included video games, and endocrine disruptors (plastics).
    Excellent book. I personally think all parents and teachers should read it.
    He also encourages young men to go into a trade or to at least consider it rather than college.

  24. Renee says:

    Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing!!!!

  25. Homeschooling can be wonderful for boys…. and moms too.

  26. AprilMay says:

    I taught at and raised my oldest two boys in a Christian school. I am the mom of 3 boys, (I am home with my toddler now) so I knew just what boys needed in the classroom. The principal could not understand why so many parents wanted their sons in my classroom! Hello! It was because I let them be boys..move around, work on the floor, use a lot of manipulatives, etc. And I let the girls do it too of course. I just wish more teachers would let boys learn in the ways that suit them best. 🙁 Also? Teach them how to sit still because it is a necessary life skill, but not all the time! The boys in my class would happily sit still through a lesson if they knew there was movement coming at the end.

    • Word Warrior says:

      You were a smart teacher! I agree too, that children can and need to be taught how to sit still for periods of time. I just don’t think it should be the “standard position” for the majority of “school”.

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