Sunday, February 08, 2009

Book Review: The Trouble With Boys

Recently I finished reading The Trouble With Boys, by Peg Tyre. This book is written expose style, with startling statistics and would make any parent sit up and take notice.

I had viewed this book with much interest, considering that I have worked as a special ed paraprofessional for close to 16 years, have foster parented teenage boys for 10 years, and advocated for my own son with an unwilling school system.

To be honest, I already know the trouble, and it's not the boys.

Written like a documentary, Ms. Tyre hits many points and documents them thoroughly. I found myself nodding while I read about parents who are pressured, like we were, to put their boys on Ritalin. How some of the kids were pegged as bad students, or lazy because they couldn't write. Or even how the system itself seems to favor girls by giving extra marks for things like neat handwriting, or coloring in the lines.

On the other hand, one must keep in mind that the book is written about the United States public school system, not Canadian. We don't have "No Child Left Behind", where schools have dispensed with meaningful subjects like art or music in order to spend more time on math or science, to achieve higher test scores.

However, from my experience, teachers here in Canada feel that we're not far behind. The Foundation Skills Assessment tests are a tool that the Fraser Institute uses to rank public schools, and have been highly controversial. Just recently teachers had voted to boycott the testing, but the Labour Relations Board ruled that they had to comply. This testing, in my opinion, is meaningless and only serves to make the schools in affluent areas appear to be better then those in our lower socio-economic communities. In my experience of working at over 100 schools in 3 different districts, I can tell readers that you cannot measure a school simply by test scores. Simple logic would dictate that in an affluent area where children are well fed, nurtured by highly educated, present parents, that their test scores would be higher then those from an area where the literacy rate is low, there are many transient families, and the children are victims of abuse or neglect. Teachers have to work with what they have; they cannot preform miracles.

I agree with the Trouble With Boys on many points; boys often view reading as "uncool", and therefore, don't pick up a book. In fact, this was disclosed to me just a few weeks ago in an English classroom. Boys who do read are seen as "nerds". There is little in the way of good children's books and early novels aimed at boys, and I found that as a Mom I had to put aside my own ideals of what made a good book and look for something that would appeal to Jake, who didn't even become highly interested in books until grade six. Instead of "Little House on the Prairie" or "Anne of Green Gables", we read books that I had never even considered as a child; those by Gary Paulsen and Roald Dahl.

What I found most interesting about The Trouble With Boys was the history given of the school system, and the former ideologies that were once popular. This gave me a much better perspective of the beliefs that are held by some in the school system. I've often described them as the staff who "have tunnel vision", because they can't or won't consider other research and ideas that have now come to the forefront. Instead they are restricted to their own narrow view of how things should be and resist anything otherwise.

The problem is, now that we know more about the brain, learning, and specific disabilities, we need to be able to think outside the box and adapt instruction so that all children can access curriculum and be successful. Is it really neccessary that a child with a fine motor disability be able to color within the lines? Or if a child with a math learning disability can rattle off the times tables? Even if a child with severe dyslexia can spell? It's proven that many of these children are average to above average intelligence, and one would think that in this day and age with the technology available at our finger tips, we'd be far more willing to provide these students with supports so that they can succeed. In some cases, this doesn't happen.

As a book chock full of interesting infomation, this book is great. As one that comes away with concrete, useful ideas to help your child succeed in school, not so much. I admit that towards the end I just got tired of reading about all the dire warnings and failings of the system, and couldn't make myself get through the last few chapters. Why?

Maybe it's because I've lived this book. I know the road of the doctors who are quick to write a prescription for Ritalin, the strangers and teachers who try to diagnose your child, and the other parents who play one-up-manship. If there is one lesson I have learned, and this book does drive that point home, it's this;

Parents really are the powerful ones, who need to take a stand and fight for their children, because only then will change come about. If you live in the USA, this book may be a useful tool to help educate yourself about the workings of the system-which is absolutely invaluable.

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