Boys Will Be Boys?

(cross posted on YU HSCHINUCH online CoP)

In a recent blog post, Josh Stumpenhorst, a middle school teacher and recent Illinois Teacher of the Year awardee, wrote about his concern that schools are failing boys.

He listed three concerns, which in his opinion are contributing to a situation where “schools are setting up boys for failure from the moment they walk in until they either comply or get through to graduation.”

1) The lack of male teachers, especially in elementary schools settings, which result in a dearth of male role models for young boys in schools.

2) The lack of acceptance of the fact that boys are inherently rambunctious, loud, and while they can work hard, they also like to play hard.

3) He cites a “post-Columbine obsession with zero tolerance policies in schools,” where even words about fighting said in jest and horseplay are considered serious offenses.

I think most of us would agree that in many ways, the culture of the typical American public school is quite different than in one of our Jewish Yeshiva day schools. As such, I think that the first issue raised is less relevant for our boys, as the presence of the Rebbe can play the role of the male role model (although one could make the point that in elementary school and middle school this may be an issue). And while unfortunately we can no longer claim, as a community, to be immune from issues pertaining to the demise of the family unit, I think that we are better off as a demographic than the average in this category, and the presence of the father is therefore a significant factor here as well.

Likewise, I think that the 3rd issue cited is not as relevant in our community. Thank G-d, we have never had a Columbine style violent event in our schools, and our schools are generally not areas where violent criminal activity is committed by students. I do think that we have rightfully become more sensitive to bullying and the severe damage it can cause, and have crafted policies to more forcefully fight back against it, but I still think that this is a somewhat separate category.

It is the second issue, the lack of appreciation that ‘boys will be boys,’ which I think bears most relevance for our communities. Josh writes in his post:

“Another place in which I see us falling short with boys is the overall structure of our schools. Boys are inherently rambunctious, active and often loud. Yet, we ask them to sit in nice rows, be quiet, keep their hands to themselves and stay out of the dirt. If they fail to do this, we discipline them and if that doesn’t work we label and medicate them…all for just being boys. How can we create more boy friendly learning environments that support and encourage those naturally boy-like characteristics?”

One of the hats that I wear in my (all boys) school is that of dealing with discipline. I will admit that sometimes I walk through the halls of our sister school, or talk to their administrators, and find myself wishing that we could trade, if only for a day, the disciplinary issues that come across our respective desks. I realize that all girls schools have their own challenges, but still, sometimes I think: Can’t our guys just behave??

But then, the question becomes, are we setting them up in a system where they will inevitably not behave? Are we providing them with enough hands on activities, enough opportunities to get excited and loud, enough ‘disorder’ for them to succeed? And I remind myself, even amidst the discipline consultation, that boys will be boys.

So I ask: Are we doing enough to educate our boys in a learning environment that celebrates who they are? What do you think? Looking at the landscape of yeshiva high schools, are there differences between co-ed and all boys schools in how this issue is addressed? Can we learn from one another? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would sure like to learn from all of you.


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