Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Schools

David Brooks is the latest conservative to declare that there's a war against boys. In today's column, he imagines the typical boy as a rambunctious Prince Hal with the potential to become heroic Henry V -- if only the damn schools wouldn't crush his potential:

... suppose Henry went to an American school.

By about the third week of nursery school, Henry's teacher would be sending notes home saying that Henry "had another hard day today." He was disruptive during circle time. By midyear, there'd be sly little hints dropped that maybe Henry's parents should think about medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder....

By elementary school, Henry would be lucky to get 20-minute snatches of recess. During one, he'd jump off the top of the jungle gym, and, by the time he hit the ground, the supervising teachers would be all over him for breaking the safety rules. He'd get in a serious wrestling match with his buddy Falstaff, and, by the time he got him in a headlock, there'd be suspensions all around.

First, Henry would withdraw. He'd decide that the official school culture is for wimps and softies and he'd just disengage. In kindergarten, he'd wonder why he just couldn't be good. By junior high, he'd lose interest in trying and his grades would plummet.

Then he'd rebel....

This is roughly what's happening in schools across the Western world.

And now the assessment of blame:

The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don't fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.

And you know the result: Girls are doing better than boys in school! And in the workforce! It's all the education system's fault!

Except that, in between swipes at education practices in the West, Brooks says this in passing:

Some of the decline in male performance may be genetic. The information age rewards people who mature early, who are verbally and socially sophisticated, who can control their impulses. Girls may, on average, do better at these things.

Oh. Is that right? It isn't just the schools that discourage rambunctiousness, it's the age we live in? 

So maybe the schools, however flawed their approach, are merely making a good-faith effort to prepare students -- boys and girls alike -- for the world they'll actually live in, one that, yes, does reward "people who mature early, who are verbally and socially sophisticated, who can control their impulses." (We don't have much use for people who lack self-restraint and verbally sophistication because we've outsourced most jobs requiring physical labor.)

Do schools overmedicate? Maybe our profit-hungry drug industry bears some responsibility for that. Do schools provide too little recess? Maybe we're misallocating resources that might be devoted to playtime out of a desire to rein in budgets and keep our precious tax rates low.

But if we want kids to be well-behaved, or at least to limit their rebellion to ironic ripostes, well, that's the society we've created. That's theeconomy we've created. The schools didn't create this economy -- they're just trying to respond to it.

No More Mister Nice Blog / By Steve M

Posted at July 7, 2012, 9:29am

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