Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens

If you're a male, read this review in an open field while gazing up a haystack; it might help. Or so think this book's authors, who believe boys are falling behind girls in the classroom because boys have been cut off from the farm since the Industrial Revolution. I kid you not. "If you think back to how your ancestors were educated, you'll notice that until about a hundred years ago, in all parts of the world, our sons' primary teachers were not lone individuals in schoolrooms but families, tribes and natural environments.... Not until about two hundred years ago did printing and the written word become a major part of a boy's educational life. It was at that point that the Industrial Revolution was upon us." It is true that until recently most boys did not learn in classrooms, but don't chalk it up to their preference for being outdoors. Rather, for most of the world's history, education was limited to the elite. Boys have learned quite well in the classroom, thank you, for most of recorded history. Whether in ancient China, where boys and young men ran a gamut of civil service exams that make current high-stakes U.S. tests look laughable; or late-medieval Europe, where boys studied in monasteries or scriptoria to become manuscript copyists; or in Eastern Europe, where young Jewish males sat at the feet of the rabbi and studied in intimate detail the words of the Hebrew scriptures and commentaries thereon; boys have studied, and excelled, in the classroom. The authors seem oblivious to such historical facts, however, as they're too eager to impress us with what new technologies (PET scans, MRIs, and SPECT scans) teach us about how boys learn. In very few pages (roughly less than 10 percent of the book), they describe some breakthroughs in neuroscience over the past decade, and then spend the balance of the book suggesting ways schools should change to accommodate boys better. Among their more dubious ideas: introduce "male-friendly" language arts programs that draw on movies and videos. Still, the book has some merit. It correctly notes that boys are disproportionately diagnosed with ADHD and that they receive the vast majority of Ds and Fs in school. Moreover, if you're into armchair psychology, you may enjoy analyzing Gurian, who goes on ad nauseam about how misunderstood he was as a child. Girls can do so by the fireplace, at their mother's apron. Guys, you'd best take it outside.

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