In "Why Boys Fail," Richard Whitmire examines the gap between the education of boys versus that of girls, and why boys fall behind in school.
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B E V M C C L E N D O N C L E A R L Y remembers the day she discovered the difficulties boys were having in her elementary school. She and the other parents with children at Pearl Creek Elementary in Fairbanks, Alaska, had gathered for the spring awards ceremony. Nestled into a wooded hillside and surrounded by homes that overlook the Alaska Range to the south, Pearl Creek is a school with a dream location and a student body to match. With the University of Alaska as a neighbor, the school draws the children of professors as well as the sons and daughters of Fairbanks's doctors and lawyers. Parents here have ambitious plans for their children, which makes the spring awards day a big event. This day had a beautiful start. The birch trees had greened up the week before and temperatures rose enough to hold the picnic for the sixth graders outside. Following the picnic about 150 parents filed into the school to sit on folding chairs facing a tiny elevated stage. Sitting to the side on bleachers were the sixth graders about to be honored. As the principal called out the awards, often given in clusters, the honored students climbed the stage to receive their awards.
''It was very visual,'' said McClendon. ''You would see one, two, three, four girls climb up to the stage and then walk off. And then another three or four girls would be called up. Here were all these little girls getting the awards.'' Of the roughly twenty awards given out, it was pretty much a clean sweep of academic awards for the girls that day. Wait, two boys won a ''most improved'' and a third boy got a good sense of humor/positive attitude award. Ouch. McClendon remembers saying to herself, ''Oh, that's horrible.'' It's not as if the school didn't see this coming. In the days prior to the awards ceremony, school counselor Annie Caulfield realized she had a problem. Awards that normally went to one boy and girl, such as the American Legion prize, were instead going to two girls. The prospect of a potentially embarrassing girl weep caused Caulfield to check on past awards. ''Over the last eight years we've seen gradual changes, with more girls winning, and then 'bam.' This year was so blatant, so one-sided. I encouraged the teachers to go back and look again, but they felt this is what it needed to be.'' What keeps boys off awards stages is a combination of academics and behavior; they don't earn perfect grades and they are more prone to playground tussles. While those boy/girl differences have held for decades, something has happened in recent years to accelerate the problem.
McClendon has few regrets her son didn't get an award that day. He gets plenty of accolades. But what about the other smart boys at Pearl Creek? Other parents of boys, especially those with younger boys in the school, appeared worried that day. ''I'm a staunch feminist, but my God look at what they're doing. You can't tell me there were no boys in that school who deserved an award.''