Tag Archives: Parenting

The Use of ADHD Drugs in Schools

11 Jul

An article in the Wall Street Journal has re-started public discussion on why so many students are taking medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s a thorny issue with implications for the kind of schools we have, the kind of schools we want and how we view students and their learning.

New research, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research and published in June, studied how taking Ritalin, a medication commonly prescribed for ADHD, affected students in Quebec. According to the study, taking Ritalin caused “…increases in emotional problems among girls, and reductions in educational attainment among boys…”. This is disturbing news for students, parents and educators.

There has been an explosion in the use of medication to treat ADHD in children in recent years. In March, 2013 the Center for Disease Control reported “…a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent rise in the past decade…” in the number of US children diagnosed with ADHD. Currently nearly one in five high school boys and 11% of all school age children are diagnosed with ADHD. In the wake of these revelations some critics are suggesting that prescribing ADHD medication (and the resultant side effects) to children, without gains in learning constitutes “malpractice”.

I can’t find Canadian stats, but my own classroom experience suggests a similar pattern of use. My class last year, which was typical, had 16% of students taking ADHD medication. All of these students were boys. In fact, the majority of students diagnosed with ADHD are boys. Boys are five to nine times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, leading some to suggest that this is evidence of a ‘war on boys’ in our schools.

The high rates of ADHD, and the resultant medication use, says a lot about the culture in schools. Students who don’t progress are pathologized, and schools only accept or allow for deviation if it’s supported by a label. There used to be an understanding that schools can’t meet every student’s needs, but no longer. We devote extensive resources to finding out why a student isn’t learning and ensuring they have every chance to be successful. This process, along with the need for labels, leads to higher rates of diagnosis.

Learning is a complex process and it’s difficult to determine whether it occurred.  Standardized tests are unreliable indicators of the many ways learning happens. Further, just because a student can sit still and pay attention doesn’t mean they have the skills to learn. Students struggle with ADHD for years causing a skills deficit and layers of coping strategies that interfere with learning. Prescribing and using medication is merely the first of several steps in helping a student with ADHD to learn.

The presence of a student with ADHD often impacts on the learning of the whole class. Students with ADHD can be disruptive, making learning more difficult for other students. Teachers devote time to managing and supporting students with ADHD, meaning less time and support is available for other students. It’s likely that the learning of the class improves when a student with ADHD is successfully treated with medication, even though their individual learning may not.

The value of ADHD medication is not exclusively in improving academic learning. Students with ADHD  struggle daily to meet basic expectations leading to lower self-esteem. Medication helps students with ADHD to improve their quality of life, with more friendships and a more positive attitude about school and life. That may, in the long run, be more important than a gain in academic learning.

I prefer using methods other than medication to support students with ADHD whenever possible. A classroom environment where students work in collaborative small groups and have the freedom to move around if needed can be helpful. A well constructed and implemented IEP (Individual Education Plan) with useful accommodations and strategies is also recommended.

The decision of whether or not to use medication to treat ADHD is a difficult one for parents. There are multiple factors to consider and every case is different. It is especially complicated for parents without the resources to provide the extensive support a child with ADHD may need. Constantly taking time off work to deal with problems at school isn’t a viable option for most parents. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of choosing the best solution, but rather finding the right option given the many constraints. And sometimes, that’s medication.

Advertisements

In Praise of Boredom and Daydreaming

6 Jul
The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house on that cold, cold, wet day.
I sat there with Sally. We sat there we too. And I said “How I wish we had something to do”
Too wet to go out and too cold to play ball. So we sat in the house and did nothing at all.
So all we could do was to
Sit!
Sit!
Sit!
Sit!
And we did not like it, not one little bit.
 

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is one of my favourite children’s books. It is superficially simple but complex underneath with layers and many possible interpretations and meanings. What you take from it probably says a lot more about you than it does about the author.

One of the themes I see in The Cat in the Hat is the role of boredom in creativity. Sally and her brother are sitting at home, obviously very bored, and out of that boredom the story of an incredible cat springs forth. Like Sally’s brother (he’s never named) I spent many days of my childhood staring wistfully out of rain streaked windows (it rains a lot in Lancashire). I too became bored and from that boredom sprang daydreaming, creativity and a rich imaginative inner world. Science is now confirming what Theodor Geisel and many of us intuitively knew; boredom and daydreaming are a useful and necessary path to creative thinking.

Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler, psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara put daydreaming to the test in a 2012 study. Baird and Schooler’s research discovered that subjects were more creative if they daydreamed before tackling a creative thinking task than if they spent time thinking or did a physical task. Baird and Schooler believe that daydreaming (or “positive-constructive daydreaming” as they call it) allows us to engage in “…future planning, sorting out current concerns, cycling through different information streams, distributed learning (vs. cramming)…” as well as creativity.

Dr. Teresa Belton of the University of East Anglia researched the role of boredom in creativity by interviewing a variety of creative individuals. She concluded that boredom is “…required for the development of a capacity to generate and pursue ideas. To be creative we need time for thought, free of the bombardment of attention grabbing external stimuli to the eye and ear.” Belton encourages children who are bored to engage in creative activities rather than devices, that “tend to short-circuit the development of creative capacity”.

Over this summer vacation I hope that children have an opportunity to say “I’m bored!!” without an adult immediately trying to distract them. I hope they’re in an environment where they can’t just grab a device or turn on a screen. I hope they have the chance to sit with boredom and see what comes next, to find out what they can create on their own. The chance to be productive rather than consumptive.

This summer, and into the school year, I want kids to have the opportunity to develop their creative skills, to go through the creative process. They are growing into a world that increasingly needs and values their creativity and it’s critical that they understand the role of boredom and daydreaming in that process. As the Cat in the Hat said:

 It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how
 

Free Ways To Encourage Summer Learning

23 Jun

As parents and students anticipate and plan for summer vacation there’s a lot of buzz about Summer Learning Loss. Businesses selling academic camps, learning services, books, etc. are turning fear about Summer Learning Loss into profits. It’s a good strategy, because fear is a powerful motivator, and parents want to be sure that their children don’t lose hard-won learning and end up starting the next school year on the wrong foot. However a lot of what people believe about Summer Learning Loss isn’t true.

Summer Learning Loss is not a problem for most children. Research shows that some low-income students lose reading test scores over the summer but most other students actually gain in reading. There is some generalized loss in math, but that’s as measured by standardized tests which focus on rote fact retention rather than understanding concepts. A child may forget the answer to a multiplication question, but that doesn’t mean they can’t multiply. If learning is lost in 2 months, was it really “learning” in the first place?

These nuances in Summer Learning Loss are glossed over by those selling camps, study guides and learning services. They’re trying to scare middle-income families (the ones with the money) so they’ll buy what they’re selling.

Children never stop learning, whether in school or at home. Families can do a few easy things to tap into this and improve their child’s learning over the summer. The best news is they’re all free:.

  1. Talk To Your Kids– In his 2012 study “Summer Learning Inequality in Canada” McMaster University sociology professor Scott Davies discovered that middle-income children don’t gain in reading because they go to camp or take vacations, but because their parents talk to them. Dr. Davies said “It’s the daily conversations that are sophisticated and expand children’s vocabularies, and being read to regularly by seasoned readers, one-on-one,” that make a difference. Adults should engage with children, ask them questions, share opinions and expose them to advanced vocabulary.

  2. Let Them Get Bored– The first few days of summer vacation are fun, as children enjoy the freedom, but the novelty quickly wears off and parents start to hear “I’m bored”. The temptation is to step in with a programmed activity or turn on a screen, but research says parents should hold off. Dr. Teresa Belton found that boredom is an essential part of the creative process. She writes that “when children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them”.

  3. Visit The Library– In 2010 Dr. Richard Allington at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville reported the results of a three-year study where five self-selected books were given to low-income students. This simple practice, allowing children to choose 5 books over the summer, eliminated summer reading loss in those children. According to Dr. Allington, letting children choose books is “less expensive and less extensive than either providing summer school or engaging in comprehensive school reform, (but) the effect was equal to the effect of summer school”. The local library is a terrific place to let children take their time, browse and choose some summer books.

  4. Let Them Sleep In– Sleep deprivation in Canada has been called a “National Epidemic” and the effect of sleep deprivation on children and learning is well established. In 2013 Chad Minnich, of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Centre said that “…children who have more sleep achieve higher in maths, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show”. Making sure children get enough sleep and recharge themselves after a long school year is key to good learning. Help children establish good sleep habits over the summer so they can enter the new school year rested and refreshed.

  5. Take Them To The Park– One of the hottest trends in Canadian education is “Forest Schools” where students learn outdoors. These schools build on research which indicates that children learn better when they spend time in outdoor, natural spaces. “Nature can buffer children from stress and improve their cognitive ability. Outdoor spaces also give children the opportunity to have space away from adults, allowing them to develop friendships and social interactions”. Allowing children to play outside, in natural surroundings makes them smarter, happier and helps them develop independence and autonomy. There’s even a growing movement touting the benefits of leaving your kids at the park for a while.

Turban Bans, Soccer & Letting Kids Play

16 Jun

“They can play in their backyard.” Quebec Soccer Federation executive director Brigitte Frot, explaining the options available to 5-year-old boys in turbans who wants to play soccer.

On June 2, 2013 the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) defied the Canadian Soccer Association’s guidelines and banned turban wearing kids from playing organized soccer in the province. They said it was due to “safety concerns”, but were unable to cite specific incidents where injuries were caused by turbans.

The QSF’s ban on turban wearing soccer players is, at best, ludicrous, and at worst, racist. Critics claimed the QSF was making a political, anti-immigration statement. They may be right, but the collective reaction to the QSF’s ban makes a clear statement about how little we value children’s “free play”.

Bridgette Frot was correct when she said “They can play in the backyard”. She’s responding to the rhetoric that the QSF ruling prevented kids who wear turbans from playing soccer; it doesn’t. The ruling simply meant that kids who wear turbans couldn’t participate in organized soccer controlled by the QSF. Unfortunately, for many parents, organized activities are the only form of children’s play that matter.

Growing up in the north of England I didn’t play organized sports of any form until ten years old when I was chosen for my school soccer team. Despite this, I don’t remember an age when my life didn’t revolve around soccer. I played two or three hours a day in various pick-up games, on the street, at the park with friends or during recess.

This is how most kids around the world play, then and now. Most nights I left our house after supper and my parents had no idea where I was going, nor did they ask. Their only expectation was that I was home before dark and didn’t get into trouble. And they trusted me to do that. I roamed the streets, had adventures, got into scrapes, and along the way learned I could handle myself in the world without a supervising adult.

When I came to Canada things were different. Soccer wasn’t played in the streets or at the local park. It was highly organized with registrations and teams and coaches and practices and schedules and referees and try-outs and on and on. My parents drove me to games and stood on the sidelines with other parents. Playing soccer was no longer something I did on my own, it was something my family and I did together.

Many people are questioning why we don’t give children more independence. In April 2008 Lenore Skenazy armed her nine-year old with a subway map, a Metro card and some money, left him in downtown New York City and trusted him to find his way home. He did, and the subsequent public reaction to her attempt to build independence in her child, lead Skenazy to create the Free Range Kids “movement”. She encourages parents to treat their child as “…a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help…”.

There’s been lots of discussion about the importance of failure in children’s learning lately. What’s missing from this discussion is an acknowledgement that only when children are independent can they really experience failure. The presence of in-charge adults lowers the stakes for children. Adults won’t, or can’t, let kids fail, but it’s the risk of real unprotected failure that brings forth new skills and understanding.

Surrounding kids in layers of protection is ultimately disrespectful and prevents them from developing independence and self-confidence. Parenting guru Barbara Coloroso wrote in her terrific book Kids Are Worth It:

“It is usually best to allow kids to experience the consequences of their mistakes and poor choices, which are theirs to own. So long as the consequences aren’t physically, mentally, or morally threatening.”

We need to start trusting kids and valuing child-organized and controlled activities. When we organize activities for kids we rob them of the opportunity to develop autonomy. Kids all over the world operate autonomously, often because they have to. Our own kids, and those we teach, are capable of doing the same and in doing so will be better for it.

Thankfully, the QSF’s ban on turban playing soccer players has been lifted. I hope that, because of it, a few more people understand that the presence of adults in children’s play isn’t an entirely good thing. Kids don’t need a league, a coach, a referee or a provincial soccer federation to have a game of soccer. All they need is a couple of friends, a space and a ball or suitable substitute. In return they develop independence, self-confidence and, hopefully, an understanding that the joy of play isn’t something controlled by self-important adults. It’s something inside them.

Opting Out of EQAO: One Parent’s Story

26 Mar

On February 26th I published “Opting Out of EQAO“, where I shared stories from parents who chose, for a variety of reasons, to ensure that their children did not write the annual EQAO tests. One of the stories contained more, so I offerred my blog to share the full story. This is the unedited story, written by Danielle Turpin, about her two children Ethan and Olivia and how and why they are opting out of EQAO testing.

As spring draws close again, and the hope of warmer weather fills us all, it is the time in the educational cycle where students, teachers, parents, administrators and elected trustees all realize that the EQAO tests are right around the corner.

Students worry that they won’t do well, teachers worry that the EQAO tests will somehow expose them as ineffective, parents worry that little Jimmy or Suzie won’t make them proud, and administrators worry that their data set will be invalid and those higher up the food chain will call them to task.  The data will be largely unused to increase the quality of education, but politicians and real estate agents will find the information indispensable.  All of this will cost the taxpayer, according to some sources, the low figure of $33 million a year.  Money well spent?  Hardly.

I had decided to pull our son from the EQAO testing back when he was in Grade 3 in __________.  He had been identified through Toronto Western, as having Tourette Syndrome, ADHD and a communications-based learning disability.  He also has executive functioning and working memory issues.  Needless to say, the Principal of his elementary school was very easy to convince.  Looking back, she was almost EAGER to have him not write the test – in her head, having him write the test would risk lowering the average in his small Grade 3 class, skewing the numbers and probably making her look bad.  Ethan hung out with Grandma and Grandpa that week, and enjoyed himself immensely.

This year, things are slightly different.

Our son is in Grade 10, and should be writing the OSSLT this spring.

Our daughter, who has exhibited no signs of Tourette Syndrome or any learning disability and is consistently getting Level 4s, is in Grade 3 and should be writing the Grade 3 EQAO test this spring.

Neither one of them will actually be writing these tests this spring.

Our Son’s OSSLT Story

Ethan has had his difficulties at school sometimes, but he had never failed a high school course, and he has found a niche.  However, his schooling has always been difficult on all of us.  We have had numerous meetings with Principals and teacher, and we often leave these feeling frustrated and patronized.  Don’t get me wrong, some of his teachers have been wonderful.  His teacher through a lot of his elementary school years was phenomenal.  He obviously cared for his students and worked very hard to support our son.  But others have not accommodated his needs, connected to him in any way, and have blamed him for the consequences of his condition.  He is told that he should be better organized, that he should remember things, and that he needs to try harder.  To tell an ADHD student with Tourette Syndrome and learning disabilities to simply “Try Harder” is akin to telling a blind student just to “See Better”.  It is impractical, unhelpful, and insulting.  After receiving a 90% in Applied Grade 9 English, he was told on numerous occasions last semester by a teacher that he would probably fail the OSSLT – however, no extra help was offered in any way.

This year, we contacted the Special Education Head, his SERT and the Principal to let them know that Ethan will be deferring his EQAO test this year, as per the EQAO website.  After waiting a few days, the Principal returned my email, and set a date to discuss this.  We understand that the EQAO is a necessity to graduate, but there is also the OSSLC which may fit his needs better.   He is a hard worker, but does not test well, and he shouldn’t be compelled to fail the OSSLT publicly before he can take the course.   Ethan has said that if he is forced to write the test, he will simply skip, or he will sit there, and write nothing.  I don’t condone the skipping, but passively resisting is certainly well within his moral and legal rights.

I will update this when more information becomes available, but it will be interesting to see.

Our daughter’s Grade 3 EQAO Story

Olivia has never shown any sign of Ethan’s neurological issues.  She performs well in school, and is a quiet, self-motivated student.  Currently in the French Immersion program at her school, by all accounts, she is a dream student.  Typically, her lowest mark on any given report card would be a B, or a B+.  If she were to take her EQAO test, she would pass with flying colours.  She will still not write this test.

Initially, we had planned to pull Olivia from the EQAO and have her go stay with Grandma and Grandpa, as Ethan had done in years past.  But we had a quiet sense of unease about it.  If we disagree with this testing, and if it is wasteful and wrong, why should we be the ones that pull our child?  What lesson is actually being learned by NOT protesting, and simply running away?   The decision was also made clearer, when we learned that the school would not be telling us the actual test date.  In order to avoid students leaving on the day of the EQAO, they would inform parents of the two week period during which the test would be given.  To avoid the test, Olivia would then be forced to miss a full two weeks of education, and if she returned at any point during this ‘testing window’ they would make her write the test.

So, we contacted her Principal and her Teacher with the request that Olivia not write the EQAO test nor take part in the ‘pre-test’ activities  – our official request.

To our surprise, the Principal actually called our home quickly thereafter.  I explained that I did not want Olivia to write the test, and I didn’t want to pull her out for the two week period of the entire testing time frame.  The Principal asked if Olivia had any anxiety issues that would allow for an exemption from the test, which she does not.   She said that she would review the situation, and contact us again soon.  I thanked her for the quick response, and it was a friendly exchange, all told.

She responded very quickly after reviewing some EQAO material from the official webpage.  We were told that there were no pre-test activities and that the EQAO is a curriculum-based test without ANY classroom pre-teaching to the test – the official story, of course, which most people realize, is abjectly not the case.  She “cut and pasted” some information from the web, that essentially said that ALL grade 3 students are expected to participate.

We responded by thanking her for looking into this, and that we understand that the Board and Government of Ontario would like all students to write these tests, but unfortunately we are still in the same position.  Olivia will not be writing this test, nor will she be missing two weeks of school.

Then we asked what would happen if Olivia simply showed up during the Grade 3 Testing, and simply didn’t write anything.  Could they provide her with alternate learning materials, or should we?  Would she be made to write?  Would there be any punitive results from not writing?

The response we received was surprising.  The Principal explained that nothing would happen at all to Olivia, and that the only result would be a zero on this test, which doesn’t count towards anything anyways.  She can sit at her desk and not even open the booklet unless she gets a little curious.  She could read quietly, or doodle, or work on other materials.  There would be nothing punitive in any way.

We responded by thanking her again for her time, and telling her a small story about a positive experience that Olivia had with her English teacher recently, and the issue ended on a very pleasant note.

Final Thoughts

As the testing will not take place for a while, we obviously are unsure as to how this will all pan out in the future.   However, both our son and daughter are excited about the possibility of this minor rebellious act, and we are confident in that we have expressed our dissatisfaction with the current standardized testing paradigm, and not had to sacrifice our moral standards to do it.

Are we doing the right thing in our actions?  I am not completely certain, but I am certain that if we were to acquiesce then we would have been guilty of perpetuating these wasteful, purposeless tests.  At this point, the only way that these tests can be removed will be when the data that they provide will serve no useful function to the politicians, school boards, and commercial interests.  The only way that this can happen is if more and more parents chose to support their children in NOT writing these flawed evaluations.  Personally, I would love to see the day when an entire class of Grade 3s, Grade 6s, Grade 9s or Grade 10s simply refuse to write the test.

If Facebook is Out For Teens…What’s In??

23 Mar

We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook’’ from a Facebook regulatory filing with the SEC, February 2013.

Teens and pre-teens use social media a lot. Recent figures from The Pew Institute’s Survey of Social Media Use suggest that more than 80% of teenagers and young adults are using social media, well above the internet average (67%). A 2010 study suggested that the average teen spend 110 minutes a day on social networks. Increasingly teens are using social media on mobile devices, that’s phones or iPod touches with a wi-fi connection, not sitting at the family’s computer, which makes parental supervision tougher.

But if teens and pre-teens are using social media a lot while deserting Facebook, where are they going?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that most teens continue to use Facebook, just not as much and for specific uses. Facebook is now full of adults. Can a teen really refuse a friend request from their grandparents or their aunts and uncles? In addition Facebook’s privacy record is questionable, which make teens leery. So while teens keep a Facebook account to post safe pictures and Instant Message with their families, they’re using other social media platforms to connect with friends.

Where are they going? Here are 5 of the most popular alternatives:

  1. Instagram: Yup, not just for hipsters to post pictures of their food, the popular photo sharing service is also a popular teen connection social media network. It allows teens a forum to share pictures taken with mobile devices and they can chat with their friends. Proper use of the privacy setting can make it feel private. Instagram is becoming the preferred platform for tweens, those under 13 year olds who are ‘officially’ excluded from most social networks.
  2. Snapchat: Launched in September 2011 and developed by 4 students from Stanford, Snapchat is a photo messaging app that allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a list of friends. Senders determine how long messages can be viewed, up to 10 seconds, after which they are deleted from the recipient’s device and the company’s servers. The recipient list and the time limit make teens feel safer when posting pictures, but Snapchat insist that this is no guarantee of privacy, as many teens have discovered.
  3. Kik Messenger: Kik Messenger is a free mobile app that allows user to send and receive unlimited messages over wi-fi and cellular, bypassing a phone’s traditional text service. Being able to send and receive unlimited messages without charges is a boon for chatty teens. It also means that parents are less likely to know how much messaging is actually happening. Since a Kik account isn’t attached to a physical phone number, it’s more anonymous. It could be a fictitious username or a string of numbers and can be easily changed if needed. Users can also hold multiple accounts. All of this adds to a greater feeling of privacy for teens.
  4. Twitter: Over the past two years the number of 12-17 years olds on Twitter has doubled from 8% to 16%. Teens like twitter because they can be more anonymous. They don’t need to show their real name, can hold multiple accounts with various identities and can change their handle or account easily. They can also use simple privacy settings to protect tweets and send what amounts to a ‘group text’. Add to that being able to follow The Biebs and you can see the appeal 🙂
  5. Pheed: Pheed is a platform for sharing user-created content such as text, pictures, sound, video, and live broadcasts. Users subscribe to other’s channels and view uploaded content in real-time. They can ‘love’ or ‘heartache’ content, hashtag it and provide ‘pheedback,’ as well as share content from others. Pheed is popularized by endorsements from celebrities (Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, et al) who use it as a way to promote their content (MySpace anyone?). A huge advantage for Pheed users is they retain control of their uploaded content, unlike Facebook, and no one is allowed to use it or edit it without permission. Users also have the option to charge for their content, which Pheed hopes means the content is of higher quality.

The movement of teens and tweens away from Facebook is fueled by privacy concerns. They are gravitating towards services that will allow them develop a separate identity and connect with others on their own terms. Some of the social media platforms outlines above address some of those concerns, but don’t change the basic fact of social media. Teen users need to understand that the internet is always public all the time. There might be the appearance of privacy but that is an illusion and users must always assume that anything they post can be shared. Parents and educators need to help helps teens understand that the internet is public and never forgets .

Boyz II Men: Hiring Male Teachers Won’t Improve Boys’ Learning

23 Feb

It’s a common mistake. We understand that schools and education can be used to change society and try to solve a social problem through education. We ask educators to change the near future and blame them when they don’t.

What we forget is that schools don’t just remake society, they also reflect it. Schools aren’t islands, they’re microcosms, connected to their communities. We ask schools to solve childhood obesity, forgetting that families control most of a student’s diet and activity. We keep schools safe with bullet proof glass and armed guards but forget about the violent perpetrators sitting in the classrooms.

The Toronto District School Board has fallen into this fractured thinking. Their recently released memo indicated that the board will give preference to certain groups when recruiting new teachers, and among those preferred groups are males. This precipitated cries of outrage from women and led others to ponder whether the education system is too ‘feminized’.

The logic seems to be that since schools are dominated by women, male teachers are needed to ‘connect’ with the many struggling boys and raise achievement. Male teachers are familiar with this thinking. I wish I was paid for every struggling boy assigned to my class because they needed a ‘strong male role model’. I’d be a rich man. Why don’t the struggling boys ever need more mothering? Why don’t any of the kind, well-adjusted boys or girls need male role models? But I digress…

That the education system is dominated by women is beyond dispute. Over 80 % of elementary teachers and over 50% of secondary teachers are female. I don’t know why this disparity exists and it confuses and amazes me that it’s never been addressed. Male dominated professions are targeted and women recruited into them but teaching remains female dominated and has for decades (centuries?). My local federation (and I assume most others) have committees with budgets dedicated to supporting and elevating women in the profession but no similar program for men. Huh? The current situation is clearly inequitable, and if the goal of the TDSB hiring practice was merely to redress this inequity, I’d understand it.

The suggestion, however, that hiring male teachers will improve the achievement of boys or address the feminization of the educations system is clearly misguided.

Teachers provide opportunities for students to learn, and foster and support that process. Their ability to do that has very little to do with gender. Boys can and do learn very successfully from female teachers and girls from male teachers. The gender of a teacher is irrelevant for the vast majority of students. What most students need are good teachers of any gender.

The feminization of the education system is also, I think, beyond dispute, but this shift isn’t isolated to education. Traditionally “male” behavior is no longer socially acceptable, an increasing number of boys are raised without fathers (a third of all children now) and more women are taking leadership roles. This represents a significant shift in values and attitudes over the last few decades.

In many ways young boys are getting squeezed by the shift. They get in trouble for ‘rough play’ despite the fact that active play is normal for boys. Many boys have few or no male role models to guide them as many traditional avenues for boys to connect with non-parental male role models are declining or disappearing altogether (extended family, community, organized activities, etc.). There are fewer and fewer ways for boys to learn how to be male.

The feminization of the education system is simply a reflection of a wider societal shift. If we’re interested in improving the achievement of boys it will take a broader effort than just hiring more male teachers. We need greater understanding and acceptance of what it means to be male and a greater appreciation of the value of male role models in all areas of boys’ lives. Unless we restore some balance to our current attitudes towards gender the problems of boys will only get worse.