Back to School Book Review: “Helping Boys Succeed In School”

It’s funny that I’m posting this piece today, because it’s my son’s 12th birthday. TWELVE. Going into seventh grade, he is now past the halfway mark of his schooling years. I remember starting him out in kindergarten and how clueless I was about boys and education. For many years, “back to school” wasn’t something to be excited about; it was a time of dread and worry for both of us because it meant starting over with a new teacher, educating a teacher about ADHD, and getting the inevitable phone calls that he wasn’t behaving well. I recently had the opportunity to read a wonderful book designed to help you create a positive experience in school for your son. I wish I had read it when my son started out many years ago. “Helping Boys Succeed in School” (2007, Prufrock Press) by Terry W. Neu, Ph.D., and Rich Weinfeld, is a wealth of resources for parents wanting to change the way their boys experience education.
The book starts out detailing research that shows how boys are trailing behind in academic performance at school, particularly in reading and writing. The authors studied results from education assessments, college admission statistics, and participation in honors classes. They also did a very nice job highlighting many of the factors that impact boys on an environmental level, as well as how boys’ brains are wired differently from girls’. One example from the book stated that girls develop faster in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain. This region specializes in mood regulation and impulsivity, which could explain why girls are typically more skilled at responding to situations, rather than acting impulsively. Lightbulb Moment!! I hear all the time that “boys are just wired differently,” or “girls are more compliant, so they do better in school.” When you see the brain comparison information provided in this book, it’s undeniable that we need to be using the information we have about the neurological differences between boys and girls to educate our teachers and ourselves in order to create an environment that will embrace those differences and not allow negative sentiment about boys to grow. I cringe at all the times I have heard parents talk about the teacher who “just didn’t like boys.” I would be thrilled if just one teacher starts to view boys and their brains in a different light because of this book!
“Helping Boys Succeed in School” also does an excellent job highlighting how our school systems are missing male role models at the elementary level. According to the authors, fewer than 20% of teachers are men, and most of those are at the secondary level. My heart hurt when I read one 6 year old boy’s description of school: “School is where you sit at a desk all day and listen to women talk.” Sadly, I don’t think his description is that far off. I don’t know that we can do a lot to change the fact that there are fewer males at the elementary level, but being aware of these important contextual issues can be instrumental in understanding exactly what school is like for our sons. It’s important to ask the questions of our boys and really get a clear picture of what their experience looks and feels like to them. The book includes questions to ask yourself about your child’s school environment, which I found to be very clear and helpful.
The book goes in depth on several topics relevant to improving school for boys:
  • How psychosocial issues such as masculinity and emotion processing can impact a boy’s experience of school
  • How to encourage boys’ interest in reading and writing
  • Ways to accommodate assignments and projects so boys will feel excited about learning
  • Alternative education programs for when the current system isn’t working for your son
  • Bullying
  • The role of athletics and movement in a boys’ educational experience
  • Developing boys’ interests and talents
  • Addressing male stereotypes and violence
At the end of each chapter, there were worksheets, checklists and charts that helped augment what I had just learned. I found several concrete ways to apply what I had read to my own child’s school experience, and ways I could incorporate the ideas into my work with parents at my private practice. I was also impressed by the balance of case studies and research in the book. The case studies were particularly helpful, because they outlined the problem and then provided specific interventions that were done to address the issue.
The authors are very clear in their stance that the “one size fits all” model of school is no longer working for lots of students, particularly boys. I agree wholeheartedly, and yet often feel helpless to create change when I see governments slashing education budgets, forcing school districts to increase class sizes and cut programs that are essential to kids. I have no doubt that there are lots of educators out there who would bend over backwards to create a better experience for boys who are not thriving in the system, but I don’t know if there are the resources and time available for them to do so. It’s a scary time out there for education, and yet, “Helping Boys Succeed in School”gave me some hope that there are things we can do to turn the tides for our boys.You can read more about the authors of the book here. You can also purchase this book or many other titles related to education and special needs from Prufrock Press.

I wish you all the best in the upcoming school year!

Kara Thompson is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Lenexa, Kansas and a homeschooling mom of a teenage son with ADHD. You can find Kara on her website at www.karathompson.com.

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About the author

Kara Thompson is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Lenexa, Kansas and a homeschooling mom of a teenage son with ADHD. You can find Kara on her website at www.karathompson.com.

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