Homework is for girls. Let’s play Halo

Thanks to Cassia for bringing this article to my attention this morning. A story in the Deseret Morning News tackles the issue of smart boys who nonetheless struggle to maintain good grades in middle and high school. Two authors, William Draves and Julie Coates, have recently published a book, Smart Boys, Bad Grades, in which they argue that a "grading bias" exists wherein boys get bad grades "because they don’t do as well on homework as girls and are graded on behavior that is unrelated to what they have learned."

Draves and Coates cite an alarming statistic: 84 percent of teachers report boys turn in homework late. But instead of using such a fact to directly resolve the issue through parent/teacher intervention, the authors argue that homework is irrelevant altogether. But they don’t stop there.

"The way to find out how your boy is actually doing is not to look at the grade but to look at his test scores," Draves said. "If you want to know academically what he knows and if he’s learning something, you look at test scores rather than grades because test scores are gender-neutral."

Say what?! Most tests measure the depth of a person’s short-term memory. Anybody can cram for a test and get a good grade in a class because of it. But homework is where students actually learn and apply the material they were introduced to in class. It’s that repetition that begins to build long-term memory, which is really why we send children to school anyway–isn’t it?

Not according to Chuck Wilkinson. He can’t figure out why his "genius" son Gage is getting less than perfect grades in all of his classes.

"The yardstick, obviously, is a grading system which is going to determine what type of college he goes to," he said. "If he keeps (continuing to get bad grades), it’s going to be a junior college because he won’t be able to get into any other university. That’s the part that worries me."

So the parent wants his son to do well in school so he can get into a really upscale university, since junior colleges are so obviously worthless to our society. Chuck makes it sound like his son is a hapless victim of a discriminatory school system. Let’s see what Gage says about his study habits:

"I know most of the information," he said. "I guess it’s pretty true that I don’t like the busy work."

But that’s not the only reason he gets bad grades, he said.

"I kind of procrastinate somewhat," Gage Wilkinson said. "Not a whole lot, but some. Sometimes I get bored in class — I guess sometimes I don’t write stuff down, so I forget and don’t turn it in."

Hmm, that’s interesting. Now, Gage has been officially diagnosed with ADHD, so he’s allowed to turn in his homework late. But even with the numerous accommodations being made for him, he continues to struggle.

I read an article like this and immediately begin to think of all the hidden variables that might be overlooked here. For instance, how much time does Gage spend watching TV or movies, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or hanging out with friends? We are such a distracted society these days. One can come up with excuses for not taking responsibility without very much effort. I see it all the time.

Furthermore, how much of Gage’s strategy (skip the homework, but study well for tests) stems from No Child Left Behind? Many teachers in Utah and elsewhere complain of having to "teach to the test" to meet minimum performance standards. Are we now raising a generation that will "learn to the test," and little more?

Boys may indeed be struggling to do well in class. But it’s a far cry to conclude that the system is suddenly broken and discriminates against males when men have traditionally dominated women in educational achievement for centuries. I would argue that it’s more a matter of misplaced priorities for these boys.

Furthermore, to assert that boys are natural geniuses whose natural talents go unappreciated by teachers is not only overoptimistic, but is also an insult to the millions of girls and boys who succeed in school through their own hard work and discipline.

Learning requires work. If you’re not learning, you’re not working very hard.

I love the attitude of David Larson, a fourth-grade teacher at Farrer Elementary School in Provo.

Homework "is more about accountability than a grade," he said. "It’s a teacher’s way to monitor progress and see if they need help in a specific area." (Emphasis added.)

He said he’s had students score well on the test even though they didn’t do anything during class. "I can’t really punish them for that, but at the same time they need to be responsible for turning in everything," Larson said.

And contrary to what Draves and Coates say, Larson thinks the accountability of turning in homework helps prepare children for their futures.

Larson said both tests and homework are a way to monitor progress. "If guys aren’t doing their homework, I don’t know they’re not getting it until they take the test," he said. "But if boys are doing well (know the material) at the end of the test, wonderful."

Ahh, plain old-fashioned accountability. When did we lose sight of that in our pursuit after results?

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