Special Education Book Reviews

This page will be devoted to sharing reviews on special education materials and their reviews.

For other book reviews on special education topics see this Special Needs Book Review site.

Below is a summery  Boys Adrift by author Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D..  Sax also wrote Girls on the Edge, which I still have on order from the Library, but I’ve read the first one and I was interested by what Sax brings out.  Much was familiar, but there were some new nuggets and since I have written the notes, I thought I would share them with you, as well as recommend the book, in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing.
Sax discusses what he calls a “growing epidemic” of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. I was intrigued, because a number of the emails we get in Learning Services have to do with unmotivated boys – boys who will happily play video games, and are often intelligent and capable, but who, as soon as the word ‘schoolwork’ is mentioned, squirm and manoeuvre to get out of having to engage or perform. I wondered if Sax would have any suggestions for these boys that would apply in a homeschool context.  I’ve summarized his thoughts below and will leave it to you to see if any of the suggestions are specifically useful to your students or children. If you are interested, these books can be ordered from our HCOS Learning Commons!
Warm Regards,
Carmen
*****************
Sax pulls out what he considers to be the 5 main factors that are killing motivation in boys today. note: I’m going to risk leaving things out and oversimplifying in favour of keeping things relatively short and to the point. I suggest you read the book for the scientific research and studies that back up what is written here, and the qualifiers that point out this doesn’t apply to all boys and that it also might apply to some girls.
The Overall Problem: 
Boys no longer care about achieving, being independent, getting good grades, getting a job, providing for a family or going to college. If they do go to college, (and only 42% of college students are male in 2006) most won’t finish their degree.
The First Factor:  School
 
Challenge:
  • Schools are focusing more on “head” knowledge, rather than “experiential” knowledge in the primary years; but if everything can be Googled, it impairs a lively and passionate curiosity, that desire to discover.
  • Boys are less developmentally ready to sit still and learn at 5 than girls are. The result is that boys are quickly self-identified  as “dumb” and form a negative opinion of school.
  • Boys (unlike girls) are less motivated by pleasing adults.  They are motivated by pleasing peers, by competition, by choice/control.
  • When asked to do something they aren’t interested in, boys stop paying attention, and get irritated/frustrated. They withdraw.
  • Boys are not reading. They need to read, for pleasure, to learn about the world, to comprehend. Instead, they are on screens, or playing video games. Comprehension levels for boys at grade 12 are dropping as a result.
  • Boys are not influenced/motivated by self-esteem in the same way girls are.  Girls need to be encouraged, but boys need to be spurred on, challenged.
Suggestions: 
  • Consider holding younger boys back until they are ready (ie. start them in Kindergarden at 6 rather than 5)
  • Allow boys to have more experiential learning; teach them to fix a car, let them play in the woods, build a shed, garden.
  • Prefer real experiences to simulated ones: (also a way of treating and preventing ADHD).
  • Ask boys questions more about what they would “do” than how they would “feel”.  (Has to do with how brain is wired).
  • Some boys are motivated by competition. Encourage the right kind of competition. (Sports, academic teams, rather than individual competitions). Allow boys to be rough and tumble – physical – in the right setting.
  • Get the kids out into nature, direct contact.  Roll in mud, run, swim, explore the beach. Out-door “eco” schools (Waldkindergarten) are one of the fastest growing educational trends in Europe right now).
The Second Factor: Video Games
Challenge:
  • Most boys are finding video games very appealing, highly motivating. Video games meet their “will to power” needs – that is, the ability to be master of their own destiny, controller of their own fate. This kind of boy will sit when you say stand and stand when you say sit. They want to be in charge.
  • Average boy playing games 13hrs/wk, compared with 5hrs/wk for girls.
  • Video games disengage boys from the real world.
  • Video games (violent) cause boys to have a more violent self image. More impacting than watching violent TV.
  • Teenage boys seem to prefer video games to girls. College boys will stay in their rooms, playing video games, rather than meeting people or attending classes, until they flunk out.
Suggestions: 
  • Monitor content.  Watch/play game with your son. If crime/death is rewarded or funny, veto it. (Ratings often don’t accurately address this).
  • Monitor time. ie. no more than 40 minutes on a school night or 1 hour on weekends.
  • Monitor priorities: Makes sure family, faith comes first, school, friends, sports, then gaming. Don’t let screen time replace valuable activities with family and friends.
  • Find alternatives: RaceLegal (legal racing), Motorcross lessons, contact sports, competitive sports, other opportunities (including academic) to truly determine their own course of action, make their own decisions.
The Third Factor: Medications for ADHD
Challenge:
  • White, affluent boys are several times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls or black/hispanic or low-income boys. The pressure on young boys to perform before they are developmentally ready can frame their normal behaviour as “disordered” and result in over medication with “academic steroids”. (30% more boys diagnosed between 1987 and 2007)
  • More difficult for clinicians to suggest lifestyle/parenting changes than diagnose a disorder; most diagnosis originate from teacher.
  • Non-ADHD students, when given ADHD meds, show the same increase in performance as diagnosed ADHD students (on meds).
  • Long-term (into adulthood) side-effects of ADHD medications may include: stunted growth, damage to the nucleus accumbens (bit of brain that turns motivation into action) resulting in loss of motivation. Interestingly, video games also stimulate this bit of the brain, giving the reward of accomplishing a great objective, without any of the reality. This means one can be hungry or guilty or convicted or aroused and he is less likely to do anything about it.  It has the same impact on that part of the brain as crack cocaine. 
Suggestions: 
  • Change the school setting that is not working for your son.
    • Aside: Sax talks about moving to all boys schools; of course, in our collective situations, homeschooling is option we have chosen. Having said that, within your homeschooling practise, you can still consider changing up how “school” is done.  To me, if an environment/situation creates a “disorder” or a “dis-ease”  in you or your child, given the choice, it is always better to intervene and change the environment rather than medicate the person.
  • Look to see what other situations in life might mimic ADHD in your son…social factors, stress, depression, bi-polar, giftedness, sensory issues, diet, allergies/sensitivities.
  • Resist trying ADHD medications with your child “to see if they work”.  Get a qualified, in-depth assessment from a psychologist before putting your child on these medications.
The Fourth Factor: Endocrine Disruptors
 
Challenge:
  • There is a over-abundance of plastics in our environment, plastics which, when they break down, disrupt our hormones (the endocrine system); they mimic estrogens. Synthetic chemicals  seem only to mimic the female hormones.
  • Bisphenol A/phthalates found in rigid plastic bottles, as well as other sources of plastic, is leached into the food/water. These substances irreversibly disrupt brain development, specifically, memory and motivation. In animal studies, exposed males learned significantly less well, and more slowly; they were less curious.
  • For girls, there are problems with this: early puberty (commonly at age 9), leading to a whole set of concerns for them.
  • For boys, their puberty is delayed, so that they are entering puberty just as girls are ending their puberty.
  • Endocrine disruptors may cause ADHD, childhood obesity, brittle bones, learning challenges, reduction in distinction between males and females (boys more feminine, girls, more masculine), lower fertility rates in men, genital abnormalities in boys, testicular cancer.
Suggestions:
  • Don’t give your child soft vinyl toys or pacifiers made from phthalates – look for products labelled PVC-free.
  • Don’t microwave food for your children in plastic containers. Use glass or ceramic instead.
  • When using a microwave, place food in a bowl rather than on a plate…then plastic wrap can cover without touching.
  • Avoid plastic bottles for your own drinks and for your children’s drinks. ** especially pregnant women
  • Don’t use clear plastic baby bottles.
  • Don’t allow the dentist to put sealants on your children’s teeth unless they are PVC-free.
  • Encourage companies to use, and then only buy, plastic that is PLA – polylatic acid, made from corn.
The Fifth Factor: Rights of Passage
Challenge:
  • In enduring cultures, men teach boys how to be men, (brave, sensitive, hardworking, gentlemen) via a separate community. This is no longer typical. There is often no way boys can become “culturally defined competent individuals” – no way to prove their worthiness, to be led to manhood. This recognizes that becoming a “real” man is not a biological fact, it is more – involving maturity, sacrifice, courage – the change from being primarily a receiver to primarily a giver/provider; the use of your strength in the service of others.
Suggestions:
  • Find (or be a) male role models for your sons…a coach or youth leader who reads in his spare time, who participates in Habitat for Humanity projects, or serves at church, provides for their families, is active in the community.
  • Find a community of men who will help guide your son into adulthood….an all male Bible-study, sports team, camps, boy scouts, all male missions trips etc.
Book review on Daring Greatly by Carmen Timmermans.

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