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We used a fishing game to help children learn to recognize letters!
The quote above makes me wonder if another one of da Vinci's talents was seeing into the future. In his time, learning was seen as a passion-driven quest for knowledge. The students were invested in expanding their horizons and had an insatiable amount of curiosity. How else can we explain the numerous discoveries made in that time? Sadly, today's classrooms are not setup with this same thirst of knowledge in mind; in contrast, teachers are teaching the test and following the mandated curriculum composed by well-intentioned politicians with little awareness of how children truly learn. Young children are experiencing a cookie-cutter, feminine style of teaching and because of the amount of pressure teachers are feeling at this time, they may not be prepared for larger classrooms full of boys who are no longer allowed to “get their wiggles out” and are being forced
to sit behind desks for hours at a time. These boys “act out” in response to limited physical activity and are being over-medicated and punished for simply being boys. Sadly, this is all happening in the elementary years, not the high school years, setting these boys up for a hatred of school. We need a positive change for the sake of these children!
In the 1990's, the growing literacy gap between boys and girls demanded attention. Researchers noted that in kindergarten, girls begin outperforming boys and that trend doubles by the end of the year. The gap continues to grow throughout the elementary years, as well as middle and high school. By 12th grade, boys score 16 points lower in reading and 24 points lower in writing than girls (Sprung, Froschl, Gropper, p.6). Obviously, that is alarming news. As a result of these findings, policymakers have made literacy and writing the focus in the early years of schooling, at the expense of recess and the arts. Even the more “masculine” subjects, such as math and science, are suffering from this focus-partially because today's teachers are not being trained to think scientifically or mathematically. From the many elementary teachers I know, it
seems they are not being trained to think at all! “Follow the manuals you've been given” and “Do not deviate from the curriculum” are the common phrases I keep hearing from these teachers. 
Another disadvantage for these teachers is that many of them majored in liberal studies instead of early childhood education, so they are not aware of developmentally appropriate curriculum for their students. If they did receive a child development education, they may know that boys and girls' differences go beyond the typical
“sugar and spice”and “frogs and snails”. Girls are more likely to do their homework even if the assignment does not interest them, because they want their teachers to think well of them. Boys, on the other hand, will be less motivated to study unless they find the materialintrinsically interesting to them (Sax, p.81). 
The next factor in the disservice to boys' education is the expectation of boys (by their parents, media that is being forced into the boys' lives at such an early age, etc.) to
fulfill a “tough guy” role, instead of a nurturing role. We are also not allowing these boys to simply be boys. If becoming a boy means being tough, then these same boys learn early on to hide their true feelings for fear of being called “gay” or other derogatory terms. Instead, they harbor these very appropriate feelings and carry on the facade that they're “normal”and “fine”. This constraint of boys' emotional development has also been referred to as “emotional illiteracy” (Kindlon and Thompson, p.5). There is also a scientific explanation for why young males engage in play-fighting, which is seen as “too violent” and inappropriate, when in fact, it is just another normal function of young boys. Primatologists say that wrestling and fighting with other males teaches them the rules of the game. If young male primates are deprived of the opportunity to fight with other males, those males grow up to be more violent as adults, not less. They've never learned to get along with other males in a playful, aggressive way (Sax, p.62). Now I'm not advocating fighting at school, but there are bans on physical activities such as dodgeball because they are seen as too violent and aggressive. If our boys are anything like the primates described above, these bans may not decrease the likelihood of violent acts. 
You might be wondering how not learning to express and handle emotions, as well as not allowing a physical outlet in school, may affect a boys' education, and I will now tell you. These boys are simply fulfilling this “tough-guy prophesy” and in turn, are being punished by teachers how do not have the proper training or time to handle this problem. Again, they have the curriculum that must be covered in the prescribed way and time and cannot pause to help these young boys properly develop. Instead, these boys are over-medicated, suspended or receive other negative consequences, and receive social disapproval from teachers and peers alike. This stigma follows these boys from a young age and throughout their education, unless we allow a change in the current education system. 
The last main factor in the negative education experience our boys are receiving is a lack of positive male role models in their lives. Most early childhood educators are female and may not understand young boys or even feel intimidated by their behavior. There is also a stigma around male teachers, and the early childhood education community needs to be more welcoming of males-they bring something fresh and new that women cannot always fulfill for young boys. In today's society, especially in urban areas and minority groups, young boys are growing up without positive male role models in the home. We need men in this field to fill that important and extremely influential void in young boys' lives.  
During my time at Columbia College, I have learned many different principles and curricula for early childhood education. One approach that I have particularly enjoyed has been the Project Approach, developed by Dr. Sylvia Chard. The main point of the Project Approach is to help students participate in a contribute to a democratic society. This goal is achieved by allowing child-led, teacher-guided explorations of real world situations and enhances a sense of social fairness and responsibility. From this experience, the students obtain a sense of purpose and self-esteem while recognizing their role as an active participant in their own learning (Helm and Katz). There are three main phases in this style of learning, again with the focus being on the childrens' interests all while covering the main areas of curriculum such as math, science, language, literacy, music, art, etc. Children brainstorm ideas with their teachers, conduct an in-depth study of the topic with field-site visits and expert visitors to the classroom, and end the project with a culminating event (such as making a book, presenting their study to another class or parents, etc.) for the children to see themselves as learners and gain confidence in their problem solving skills by reviewing the beginning, middle, and end of their investigation. Wouldn't that be an amazing environment for our children to develop and flourish in? 
The problems with today's learning environment extend beyond our feminine classrooms and lack of positive male role models for our young boys. It is my hope that by discussing this in class, my fellow students will become more aware of the problem and feel inclined to become advocates for our youth. There are so many different and beneficial approaches to educating our children and it is up to us to be their voice. Boys are not innately “bad” and disinterested in learning-in fact, they are just the opposite! We just need to make the environment more conducive to boys' natural learning style and when we allow that to happen, we will be able to achieve Mr. da Vinci's ideal way of learning. 



Works Cited


Helm, Judy Harris., and Lilian G. Katz.
Young Investigators: The
Project Approach in the

Early Years. 
New York: Teachers College, 2011.
Print.


Kindlon, Daniel J., and Michael Thompson.
Raising Cain: Protecting the
Emotional Life

of Boys. 
New York: Ballantine, 1999.
Print.


Sax, Leonard.
Why Gender Matters: What
Parents and Teachers Need to Know about

the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. 
New York: Broadway, 2006.
Print.

Sprung, Barbara, Merle Froschl, and Nancy Gropper. 
Supporting Boys'
Learning:
Strategies for Teacher Practice, Pre-K-grade 3. 
New York: Teachers
College, 2010. Print.


 




 


 


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