Being a normal boy is a serious liability in today’s classroom. Boys tend to be disorganized and restless. Some have even been known to be noisy and hard to manage. Sound like any boy you know?
But increasingly, our schools have little patience for what only a couple of decades ago would have been described as “boyishness.” As psychologist Michael Thompson has aptly observed: “Girls behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.”
As a result, these “defective girls” are not faring well academically. Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors they’re are far less likely to go to college. Boys are languishing academically, while girls are prospering. In an ever more knowledge-based economy, this is not a recipe for a successful society.
We need to start thinking about how we can make our grade school classrooms more boy-friendly. Well, here are four reforms that would make a very good start.
1. Turn boys into readers.
In all age groups, across all ethnic lines, boys score lower than girls on national reading tests. Good reading skills -- need I say? -- are critical to academic and workplace success. A major study in the UK discovered, not surprisingly, that girls prefer fiction, magazines, and poetry while boys prefer comics and non-fiction. Boys whose eyes glaze over if forced to read Little House on the Prairie may be riveted by the Guinness Book of Records. Boys will read if given materials that interest them. If you’re looking for suggestions for books that have proved irresistible to boys go to guysread.com.
2. Inspire the male imagination.
Celebrated writing instructor Ralph Fletcher contends that too many teachers take what is called “the confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotions and self-disclosure -- these are stories girls commonly write -- and these are prized; whereas action stories describing, say, a skateboard competition or a monster devouring a city, these are not. I recently read about a third-grader in Southern California named Justin who loved science-fiction, pirates, and battles.
An alarmed teacher summoned his parents to school to discuss the picture the 8-year-old had drawn of a sword fight -- which included several decapitated heads. The teacher expressed grave “concern” about Justin’s “values.” The boy’s father was astonished, not by his son’s drawing which to him was typical boy stuff, but by the teacher’s overwrought -- and female-centered -- reaction.
If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind. Our schools need to work with, not against, the kinetic imaginations of boys.
3. Zero out zero-tolerance.
Boys are nearly five times more likely to be expelled from preschool than girls. And in grades K-12, boys account for nearly 70% of suspensions, now this is often for minor acts of insubordination and sometimes for entirely innocent behavior. Hardly a week goes by without a news story about a young boy running afoul of a school’s zero-tolerance policy.
Josh Welch, age 7, was recently sent home from his Maryland school for nibbling off the corners of a strawberry Pop-Tart into shape it into a gun. Josh -- like many other boys punished for violating zero-tolerance policies -- was guilty of nothing more than being a typical 7-year old boy.
4. Bring back recess.
Believe it or not, recess may soon be a thing of the past. According to research summarized by Science Daily, since the 1970s, schoolchildren have lost close to 50% of their unstructured outdoor playtime. And much-loved games have vanished from school yards. In schools throughout the country, games like dodge ball, red rover, even tag have all but disappeared; too damaging to self-esteem or too “violent” being the usual excuse. One popular classroom guide suggests tug-of-war be replaced with “tug of peace.” Boys need to work off their energy. They need to be free to play games they enjoy. And keeping them cooped up inside all day will not help them learn.
As our schools become more feelings centered, more competition-free, more sedentary, they move further away from the needs of boys. We need to reverse the boy-averse trends. Male underachievement is everyone’s concern. These are our sons. These are the young men with whom our daughters will build a future. If boys are in trouble, so are we all.
Why didn't the Founders just make it easy, and let the Presidential candidate with the most votes claim victory? Why did they create, and why do we continue to need, this Electoral College?
The answer is critical to understanding not only the Electoral College, but also America.
The Founders had no intention of creating a pure majority-rule democracy. They knew from careful study of history what most have forgotten today, or never learned: pure democracies do not work.
Democracy has been colorfully described as two wolves and a lamb voting on what's for dinner. In a pure democracy, bare majorities can easily tyrannize the rest of a country. The Founders wanted to avoid this at all costs.
This is why we have three branches of government -- Executive, Legislative and Judicial. It's why each state has two Senators no matter what its population, but also different numbers of Representatives based entirely on population. It's why it takes a supermajority in Congress and three-quarters of the states to change the Constitution.
And, it's why we have the Electoral College.
Here's how the Electoral College works.
The Presidential election happens in two phases. The first phase is purely democratic. We hold 51 popular elections every presidential election year: one in each state and one in D.C.
On Election Day in 2012, you may have thought you were voting for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, but you were really voting for a slate of presidential electors. In Rhode Island, for example, if you voted for Barack Obama, you voted for the state's four Democratic electors; if you voted for Mitt Romney you were really voting for the state's four Republican electors.
Part Two of the election is held in December. And it is this December election among the states' 538 electors, not the November election, which officially determines the identity of the next President. At least 270 votes are needed to win.
Why is this so important?
Because the system encourages coalition-building and national campaigning. In order to win, a candidate must have the support of many different types of voters, from various parts of the country.
Winning only the South or the Midwest is not good enough. You cannot win 270 electoral votes if only one part of the country is supporting you.
But if winning were only about getting the most votes, a candidate might concentrate all of his efforts in the biggest cities or the biggest states. Why would that candidate care about what people in West Virginia or Iowa or Montana think?
But, you might ask, isn't the election really only about the so-called swing states?
Actually, no. If nothing else, safe and swing states are constantly changing.
California voted safely Republican as recently as 1988. Texas used to vote Democrat. Neither New Hampshire nor Virginia used to be swing states.
Most people think that George W. Bush won the 2000 election because of Florida. Well, sort of. But he really won the election because he managed to flip one state which the Democrats thought was safe: West Virginia. Its 4 electoral votes turned out to be decisive.
No political party can ignore any state for too long without suffering the consequences. Every state, and therefore every voter in every state, is important.
The Electoral College also makes it harder to steal elections. Votes must be stolen in the right state in order to change the outcome of the Electoral College. With so many swing states, this is hard to predict and hard to do.
But without the Electoral College, any vote stolen in any precinct in the country could affect the national outcome -- even if that vote was easily stolen in the bluest California precinct or the reddest Texas one.
The Electoral College is an ingenious method of selecting a President for a great, diverse republic such as our own -- it protects against the tyranny of the majority, encourages coalition building and discourages voter fraud. Our Founders were proud of it! We can be too.