Reposted from the Washington Post:
My 8-year-old son has been struggling in school. Again. The lack of movement and rigid restrictions associated with modern schooling are killing his soul. The stress of school, of trying to fit into an environment that asks him to suppress the best parts of himself, recently had my son in tears. Again. And it hit me this morning: He would have done great in Little House on the Prairie time. We’re reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, one of the books in the Little House series, aloud right now. Back then, boys (and girls) primarily learned by doing. Kids between the ages of 5 and 18 weren’t corralled into schools and kept apart from real life; out of necessity, boys worked on the farms and girls helped in the house. Entire families worked together to survive, and along the way, boys and girls learned how to function in the real world. That’s the kind of learning my son craves.
Kids haven’t changed much over the past 150 years; our society has. So while my son still needs movement, still craves real-world learning, physical labor and ways to contribute to his family and his world, he’s expected to spend most of his time in a desk, in a classroom, with 20-some other kids his age. He’s not allowed to go outside at school when it’s too cold or wet; he’s expected to sit quietly in the library or auditorium during recess time. He’s allowed few opportunities for “real” work; today, when you hand an 8-year-old a saw or allow him to start a fire, people look at you askance. One hundred and fifty years ago, my son would have been considered a model boy. Today, more often than not, he’s considered a troublemaker due to his failure (or inability?) to conform to the expectations of the modern educational system.
Statistically speaking, boys now lag behind girls on every single academic measure; they also get in trouble and drop out of school much more frequently than girls. There are fewer boys in college than girls, and far more lost 20-something boys than 20-something girls. Our boys are not the ones who are failing; we are the ones failing our boys. My son’s struggles break my heart. I worry that they’ll break his spirit next. For now, I wipe his tears, e-mail his teacher, allow him outside every chance I get and share his story, because I want other parents of boys to know they are not alone. I want them to know that the problem is not their son, but rather a system that is failing far too many boys.