“What About Boys?”

Some educators see equity concerns
By Margaret Combs
The Boston Sunday Globe – July 26, 1998

This year, the Mark Lee Burbank Elementary in Belmont – a school that promotes gender equity awareness among its staff and students – offered its fourth graders a chance to participate in a special play promoting reading. Both girls and boys were invited to participate, but there was a catch: The children had to give up recess once a week for rehearsal. The result was, out of 15 children who committed to the project, only two were boys.

Principal Rose Feinberg was disappointed by the imbalance, but she says she has been enlightened. “We’re going to have to work real hard next year to recruit and encourage boys,” says Feinberg, “and this may mean adjusting for the recess issue.”

Expecting boys to give up recess is just one of several school practices a number of child developmentalists are now labeling as discriminatory against boys’ learning needs. As pressure has mounted through education reform to emphasize academics and test scores, recess in many elementary schools has been shaved down to as little as one 15-minute break per day, and sometimes even this little break is used for special academic activities like the play at Mark Lee Burbank. For many girls – who tend to enjoy and excel in language activities and fine motor skills – this may not be as much of a problem. But for boys, whose brains are better wired for spatial tasks and larger motor skills, it can be torture, according to clinical psychologist and school consultant Michael Thompson.

“On average, boys are physically more restless and more impulsive,” says Thompson, who is co-author, with Harvard public health professor Dan Kindlon, of the forthcoming book “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.” “We need to acknowledge boys’ physical needs, and meet them.”

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