Parent/Educator Resources
Parent/Educator Resources
Books about Boys and Girls
Book Reviewed: Ferguson, Ann Arnett. (2001). Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Why should parents read this book? The book is showing its age—it was published in 2001—but many of the issues Ferguson highlights continue to be problematic. If you are interested in understanding or helping to solve the achievement gap—the well-documented academic performance difference which exists between African-American boys and Caucasian boys—this is considered an important study on the problem and almost required reading. Be warned however, the book is not easy to read because Ferguson’s primary audience wasn’t parents. Consequently, you’re going to encounter some vocabulary and phrasing which may make your head spin a bit. But hang in there and by the time you finish the book, you’ll certainly understand the gist of her message.

Why should teachers read this book? Ferguson says that schools continue to marginalize young black males through punishment and low-quality academic programming. She breaks her research subjects into two groups—schoolboys and troublemakers. As the names imply, the schoolboys do well in school, both academically and behaviorally. The troublemakers—well, let’s just say they aren’t often on the ‘A’ Honor Roll and are frequent visitors to what Ferguson calls the “punishment room.”

Ferguson expounds on some well-known problems, such as the low quality of the neighborhoods in which the majority of the kids live and the low quality of the teachers assigned to improve their academic skills. Ferguson doesn’t necessarily deliver novel suggestions for solving the problems, but she does say that more punishment directed at African-American boys shouldn’t be part of the solution.

This is a reminder to not have low expectations for the kids in your classroom. In addition, don’t automatically accept the premise that students in your school must be placed into classes for “slower” students,” especially African-American boys. (Note: There isn’t much research supporting special classes for “slower” students.) Not being quick to punish kids in your classroom is also important, including processing and talking through problems and situations with the kids instead of automatically punishing them and sending them to the “punishment room.”

Overall evaluation of the book: An academic look at an age-old problem that continues to persist. Three Stars ★★★

Book Reviewed: Howard, Tyrone. (2014). Black Male(D): Peril and Promise in the Education of African American Males. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? This is a sobering look into the massive problems which confront many young Black men in American schools. (Note: Howard is also quick to point out, however, that not all Black men are in crisis and that many of them are doing very well in the world of education and work.) The data and statistics are alarming. Yet, there is a message for many who continue to prattle on about the problems with Black men while continuing unconsciously or consciously doing nothing to help the situation. The problems are vast and yet there are things parents can do in their school context to help school officials make education more relevant to Black kids. Ultimately, this is a book about hope which will help parents understand how to really help Black kids. With this newly acquired information, my hope is that parents will be able to influence teachers and principals and school boards (and even those within their own household) to stop stigmatizing Black kids and direct the focus on improving their academic achievement by making the school environment and curriculum more welcoming and inviting.

Why should teachers read this book? All teachers who say they “aren’t racist” should read this book. Subtle messages and beliefs can have rippling effects in the classroom and unintentionally deliver the story that teachers expect Black boys to underperform the rest of the class. Part of the message Howard delivers is that the influence and expectations of the teacher can have a powerful effect on how the Black male does in the classroom. The Pygmalion effect is alive and well in 21st century America.

Howard’s primary recommendations revolve around giving Black men a space, or arena, for dialogue and discussion. He suggests schools work on relieving the stigma of remediation, since many young Black men are in remedial classes. Howard wants us to rethink our discipline strategies and to offer more suitable interventions than simple punishment. Howard also hints that we should have teachers who care about kids, understand them, push them to do their best academically, and don’t stereotype them into negative roles. Lastly, he believes educators need to move into the arena of social media and popular culture to help understand the young Black man and fashion an education which is more suitable to their environment and social context.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is one of those rare books which cause angst in the reader while ultimately delivering a message of hope. The statistics are alarming but Howard is careful to give us suggestions on what the adults can do to improve education for young Black males. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Kilpatrick, Haley, with Whitney Joiner. (2012). The Drama Years. New York: Free Press.

Why should parents read this book? If you are puzzled, confused, or even bewildered by the changes taking place in your middle school daughter, you won’t go wrong by consulting the pages of this book. The primary focus of this book is middle school girls and how to reduce the level of drama in their lives. The book is written in an easy, engaging style and gives you general pointers for dealing with the drama in which your daughter finds herself engulfed. It’s a good primer on things you should be aware of—the materialism, the self-centeredness, the sudden interest in pleasing boys, the verbal fights, the rise of social media, and the obsession with friends who seem to come and go faster than the fireworks on the fourth of July.

This is also one of the few books written for parents I would suggest you also give to your daughter to read. She may not be interested but, then again, she might bite and start reading. Sometimes middle schools kids will surprise us by doing what we don’t think they will do. Of course, you also have to read the book but that shouldn’t be a problem since it’s a fairly easy and quick read. Sit down with your daughter after she has finished reading (or skimming through the pages) and have a conversation with her about what was interesting, encouraging, or something either of you hadn’t thought about. The chances are very high your daughter will want to talk about certain chapters and how they relate to what is going on in her life. Let her talk and throw in questions and perhaps even a short story of what happened when you were a middle school child. (Note: Despite what she may say to you—she does want to hear about your stories of what life was like for you as a middle school kid.) Don’t preach or teach. Discuss.

Why should teachers read this book? This gem will explain what is happening in your classroom and in the hallways, especially with girls, who seem to be impossible to understand. After reading this book, you will be better armed to both understand and intervene when girls go into “drama mode,” and disrupt class with their arguments, catty comments, and furtive glances. If you pay attention, you will also learn to recognize and spot what is going on beneath the surface, as the girls navigate back and forth between their groups and social cliques.

Overall evaluation of the book: A solid book on the multiple factors impacting middle school girls. Four Stars ★★★★

Book Reviewed: Kindlon, Dan and Michael Thompson. (2000). Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. New York: Ballantine Books.

Why should parents read this book? This is one of the most famous books about raising boys you can buy in a bookstore or online retailer. Parents read the book. Psychologists read the book. Teachers and administrators read the book. And counselors read the book. That said, don’t be frightened from reading the book because of the fact that lots of educated people have also studied this book. Though Raising Cain is somewhat more intellectual than the average book on parenting, this is also probably one of the best books about raising boys you can purchase. The authors list lots of studies and lots of test data, but even if you skim the book superficially, you will learn a cornucopia of useful information.

Much of the focus of the book is about educating adults on the powerful influences which surround boys daily, causing them to be emotionally stunted human beings. But the authors give lots of ideas as to how to break through the ice and really help those boys who appear to be aimless and lost. Don’t worry about the older publication date. Everything written in 2000 continues to apply today.

Why should teachers read this book? Almost every teacher in the world has boys in their classroom—unless they are teaching in an all-girls school. This book actually gives ideas on how to approach and help the academically distant and behaviorally challenged boy. This is a refreshing slant on the age old problem of “what to do with the boys.” The typical educational psychology book will spend an inordinate amount of time illuminating the problems that plague boys but rarely do the books have much useful information on what to do about the problem. I read this book after much of my formal education was completed and am stunned that it never was brought up in any of my classes—and I’ve taken lots of education and counseling courses. I’m not sure how that happened. I think reading and discussing this book should be mandatory for all wanna-be teachers.

Overall evaluation of the book: If I had to pick one book about understanding and helping middle school boys, this would be it. A big Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Sax, Leonard, M.D. (2007). Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men. New York: Basic Books.

Why should parents read this book? This is an important book which combines cultural and medical reasons for the rising tide of mediocrity and disillusionment found in today’s young boys. Some of the messages delivered by Dr. Sax will be ones you have already suspected—that boys are developmentally behind the girls by about two years—and others might be new—such as the reality that phthalate’s from plastics are leeching into our food and maybe causing reduced levels of testosterone in our young boys. Sax presents five reasons and solutions as to why boys are performing so poorly on matters of motivation and academics. The first reason, as already stated, is that boys are developmentally behind girls and that parents should delay their entrance into formal education by at least a year. The second reason is that excessive video game play is causing boys to think the manufactured world of video games is superior to the real world which lies just outside their doorstep. The third reason is that we (adults) provide fewer routes for kids to be active, thus causing an excessive number of kids to be identified as having ADHA. The fourth reason is that contact with the chemicals in plastics is causing a reduction in testosterone. The fifth reason, and last, is that boys are content living their life without ambition or drive. As a parent, knowing these reasons gives you an opportunity to prevent or mitigate their risks.

Why should teachers read this book? The best part of this book, as if relates to teachers, are the multiple reassuring messages about giving boys space to move around and be active. One of the worst things we do to boys, according to the author, is that once they enter the educational environment, we slap them down into chairs and expect them to not move or wiggle for 50 minutes. An interesting story throughout this book is the narrative that boys are learning to dislike teachers and school at an early age and that this eventually causes a drop in performance and the resulting development of an “I don’t care” attitude. Part of the solution to this problem is to stop academically piling on material when kids are in kindergarten and the first grade. There also is a message here about educators suggesting to parents that their boy may have ADHD. (Note: One of the highest referrers to physicians, as it relates to ADHD, are classroom teachers.). Part of Dr. Sax’s advice is to give the boys more opportunities to move around and for all adults to be more tolerant of boys who need to wiggle, fidget, and move around the classroom.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is primarily a book about hope because Dr. Sax not only identifies the problem but also has reasonable solutions that parents and teachers can immediately begin implementing with their boys. Four Stars ★★★★

Book Reviewed: Simmons, Rachel. (2011). Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. New York: Mariner Books.

Why should parents read this book? This is a great book to read if you want to understand girls and the resulting shifts and ebbs—as coalitions of girls form and dissolve week by week. It’s not a quick read, though, so plan on spending at least six to ten hours trying to digest what Simmons is saying and then another hour or two figuring out how you can help your daughter. On this plus side, the author does a nice job balancing research and quotes from girls and parents, so the words read clean and smooth. Don’t worry—you won’t get bogged down with a bunch of vocabulary that doesn’t make any sense to you. After reading this book, you’ll better understand why girls resort to spreading gossip and rumor to crush the feelings of girls who have been shunned from the larger group.

Simmons takes on a popular and yet mystifying topic—why do girls resort to tactics such as shunning other girls from the group, spreading gossip and rumor, calling one another “bitches” and “hoes,” glaring at one another in math class, and then carrying on as if nothing had happened. Apply the recommendations Simmons places into her book. They are solid and will help you manage and understand your daughter’s social problems and concerns. Most of what you are going to do with your daughter will revolve around using the concepts Simmons discusses in helping you in guiding your daughter through the turbulent middle school years.

Why should teachers read this book? I think all teachers should be required to read this book because it is extremely accurate as to what happens in schools. Anyone who has ever worked in a school knows that girl problems are sometimes not addressed as well as boy problems because when boys fight they usually do so with fists, shoving, and wrestling on the floor. When boys fight they are easy to spot. When girls fight, it is much less obvious, because the “fight” is verbal and based on body language. Consequently, the case can be made girls get away with more bad behavior than the boys. When boys fight in school they do so with fists and usually get suspended. When girls fight in school, they do with language and innuendo, using the power of the group to achieve the crushing of their enemy. And what do these girls get for consequences? Usually nothing.

Overall evaluation of the book: Excellent book on understanding how girls take their aggression out on other girls and what you can do about it. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Simmons, Rachel. (2009). The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. New York: Penguin Group.

Why should parents read this book? Good girls are supposed to be academically and socially smart, driven, pretty, and caring individuals. If you are a parent who is raising a “nice” girl who is the envy of many other children and parents, you need to read this book. There is a possibility that by focusing so much on what a “good” girls does and acts, that you could be undermining her ability to think and advocate for herself in the future. After all, we know—and so do our daughters—that being good is a richly rewarded event. Good girls get asked to the prom, they date the cutest boys, they are very popular with other kids and adults, and they often are the type of students that teachers dream about occupying in the desks in their classrooms. But these very same traits which make them homecoming queen may also limit their rise in the workforce of tomorrow. The author says, essentially, that nice girls don’t get the big corner office suite.

One note of caution: If you believe, for political or religious or cultural reason, that women should be subservient and obedient members of society, you may despise this book and not make it past page 20 before hurling it into the trash. However, think about the messages you are sending your daughter. Are you training her to be a kind, selfless, non-confrontational daughter who defers to authority and her innermost wishes and desires? Are you also training her to have the tools to say “no,” to ask for what she needs, and to say what she thinks without worrying excessively about what people will think of her?

Why should teachers read this book? This narration will help you understand and help the girls who “fly under the radar” because they are quiet, polite, and compliant. It is because of their quietness, politeness, and compliance which may cause you to unconsciously ignore them in the classroom because it looks as though they don’t have any problems. In this book, Simmons will also help you realize the benefits of controlling the boys—who are usually the easiest to spot with misbehavior—and loud girls, so they don’t dominate the classroom. Help the quiet girls become assertive and independent. Just because they aren’t asking for assistance doesn’t mean they don’t need or want it.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is a great book for transforming your daughter from an obedient nice girl into a confident, self-assured woman. This book won’t be useful to all parents, but will be very useful to those parents who have “good” daughters. Five Stars ★★★★★

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