Face it: Boys learn differently than girls, and that's OK

International studies have long shown that the achievement of girls outpaces boys in English, reading and language performance. The achievement of girls also now surpasses boys in science and math, according to a University of Missouri study.

Boys do outpace their female counterparts in some areas, however. For instance, boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. They’re also far more likely to be disciplined, to serve detentions or suspensions, and to be expelled from schools.

Why is this the case?

Traditionally, schools fail to recognize the conditions that account for and exacerbate the achievement gap between girls and boys, thus impeding the full development of boys’ intellectual and emotional potential. Consequently, we are producing a whole generation of disengaged boys — boys who lack a robust interior life — who are unwilling or unable to grapple with the full dimension of emotional connectedness.

Through Wednesday, more than 600 educators from all over the world will assemble here in Baltimore for the annual conference of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition to understand what’s best for boys — how we can create environments in which boys can flourish, pushing beyond innovation and inspiring creativity, discovery and engagement.

One of the most eagerly-anticipated speakers will be former Baltimore Colts lineman Joe Ehrmann, who after his Pro Bowl career went on to be a pastor, motivational speaker, coach at Gilman School and powerful advocate for improving the way boys are raised.

Mr. Ehrmann likes to say that the three most dangerous words to say to a boy are: “Be a man.”

Throughout our culture — and across time — masculinity’s highest accolades have been celebrations of violent strength. Too often, masculinity is associated with an absence of emotional connectedness. Too often, masculinity applauds the wearing of a mask — a social facade — instead of cherishing the formation of deep personal relationships.

In short, society has come to encourage, if not expect, that boys will grow to be men devoid of emotional depth, men who are merely hollow shells of themselves. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As headmaster of one of our nation’s oldest all-boys schools, I’ve seen firsthand how we as educators can do this better. I’ve seen how we can promote better academic performance among boys while supporting their whole growth as persons.

Doing so starts with acknowledging a simple fact: Boys learn differently than girls. They just do. It’s something we should embrace, not shy away from.

At schools like mine, we embrace boys and their unique strengths by:

  • Creating a sense of agency in their lives. Boys must come to see learning and the acquisition of knowledge as the ultimate path to personal empowerment and the best way to ensure they can control and shape their futures.
  • Emphasizing context and practical applications. Boys appreciate seeing application of information to their lives. Boys want to know the “whys” behind lessons, not just the “hows.”
  • Recognizing competition as a source of strength. Boys are innately competitive, and there’s no better way to teach about the values of humility, respect and teamwork. Teaching these valuable life lessons, we can ensure that our boys are ready for the collaboration and connectedness of the 21st century.
  • Seeking out opportunities to connect action to empathy and altruism. By helping boys adopt a broader view of manhood, expanding the definition of masculinity to one that ennobles duty and service to others, we can help boys to lead more fulfilling personal and professional lives.

Based on my 25 years of experience as an educator, I firmly believe these are pillars upon which to raise high-performing, emotionally-engaged young men. And I believe that an all-boys approach is the best way to ensure that this occurs.

Single-sex education has long shown to benefit both young women and young men. The emergence of Baltimore charter schools like Lillie May Carroll Jackson School (for girls) and Baltimore Collegiate School (for boys) speaks to the power of this work and the transformational impact it can have in the Baltimore community.

Perhaps it’s time to consider adopting it more widely.

Christopher J. Post is Headmaster at The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland in Baltimore. In conjunction with Gilman School and the St. Paul’s School for Boys, Boys’ Latin with host the Annual Conference of The International Boys’ Schools Coalition through June 28th.

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