Active, Bright Boys: Our Most Underserved Students

Marty Nemko, PhD



Marty Nemko, PhD

When I was a boy, I just could not sit still in class. I was very bored and active by nature, so I would rock my chair back, whisper and write notes to kids, even wander around the classroom until the teacher yelled, “Martin, sit down!”

That was decades ago. Today, I suspect I would, like so many boys, be put on a Ritalin leash. Indeed there are eight boys for every girl on Ritalin.

The blame is placed on the smart, active boy, rarely on the schools, which claim to celebrate diversity of learning styles and needs but stop celebrating when it comes to smart, active boys. Indeed, this decade’s signature domestic policy, No Child Left Behind redirects nearly all efforts to educate the lowest achievers.

This, of course, is ironic in that smart kids have the greatest potential to contribute to society: to cure its diseases, close the racial achievement gap, develop cost-effective solar power, etc.

The unfair treatment of smart, active boys comes from four factors:

1. The widespread abandonment of ability-grouped classes. In most of today’s elementary schools, gifted and slow are placed in the same class. That creates more equality–especially racial equality–but the result is that all children receive a worse education. Imagine for example, that you spoke good Mandarin but wanted to become expert. Wouldn’t you prefer a class with advanced students rather than one that also had beginners? Yet today, we don’t give smart kids (or their parents) that choice. We force them into mixed-ability classes, where dispositive metaevaluations reveal they learn less and are bored. And because, on average, boys are more active than girls, they more often can’t sit still for six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year, year after year. Rather than the harder task of accommodating to smart, active boys’ needs, it’s “take this (meth-like) pill.” and/or be yelled at, and or given bad grades.

2. That elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female. Today, the percentage is up to 93%, the highest ever recorded. Even if teachers believe they’re accommodating to all students’ needs, they can’t help but tilt their teaching to what appeals to them. Thus, books about male heroism are replaced by those of female relationships and heroines, typically in which an inferior male is shown-up by a wise female. Competition–a prime motivator for boys–is replaced by so-called “cooperative learning,” which usually reduces to the bright doing the slow’s work, boring the bright kid and precluding him from learning new things.

3. The media’s continuing to perpetrate the myth that females are oppressed and males are the oppressor. For example, they continue to spout these disproven assertions:

– women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. In fact, a rich research literature documents that sexism is not at the core of pay differentials, for example,  THIS is from the New York Times, THIS is from the Wall Street Journal, THIS is from Compensation Cafe, THIS is from City Journal. Alas, the media chooses to ignore all that research in favor of the broadbrush, “Women earn 77 cents on the dollar.”

– women are underrepresented in high-level positions because of sexism. In fact, as documented in recent well-reviewed books such as Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox, women’s not being in high-office comes much more from choosing to have a less work-centric lifestyle.

– the schools shortchange girls relative to boys. (the long-debunked Reviving Ophelia canard.)

– men abuse women–in fact, studies show that 30 to 52% of severe domestic violence is perpetrated by women.

Thus, the feeling among educators, policymakers, and the public, is that we need to do more for females than for males, ignoring such statistics that boys are achieving far worse in school than are girls, much more likely to abuse drugs, commit suicide, and drop out of high school, far less likely to graduate from college, much more likely, as young adults, to be sleeping late unemployed on their parents’ sofas.

4. Society’s bias that says: let’s help those with the greatest deficit rather than those with the greatest potential to profit: “Those smart boys will do okay on their own. Let’s commit our resources to the lowest achievers.” I deeply believe that such a philosophy will reduce our society to the lowest common denominator, ironically resulting in a worse life for us all. Besides, it simply is unfair for the public schools to not provide at least a marginally appropriate education for all kids, and right now, smart boys get the very least appropriate education.

Dr. Nemko holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently taught there. He is the author of six books and over 600+ published articles, including many on boys and men’s issues.  They are archived

1,000+ of Dr. Nemko’s published articles are archived on His latest book is “What’s the Big Idea? 39 Reinventions for a Better America.” EDITOR: Here is the link to that book’s Amazon page. Please embed it in the book’s title.

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One Response to Active, Bright Boys: Our Most Underserved Students

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