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The Trouble with Boys

Four years ago, I was invited to Fairfield Country Day-a wealthy independent school about 40 miles north of my home in New York City - to speak about a cover story I had just written for Newsweek magazine about the underachievement of boys in school. In my two decades as an investigative reporter, I had gotten used to speaking about my stories-usually to a core audience a thirty or forty people whose lives were touched by the topic I was writing about. But that night, about two hundred and fifty parents had shown up to listen to the research I had amassed about their sons, their schools and what needed to change in our educational system and our society to help boys become more successful.

They were like no audience I had faced before. These smart, empowered, well-educated parents were hungry for dialogue. They wanted fervently to reflect on the experiences and frustrations they were having in their families. They wanted ideas about what they might try. And they wanted answers about how they could instill in their sons their love of learning.

I was humbled by their intensity. And, aware that a certain measure of snake-oil has been sold to parents about gender and education, I spoke carefully — erring on the side of providing less information than in overstating what I knew. When I returned to the magazine the next day, I saw that my cover story was getting hundreds of thousands of views. My story about the underachievement of boys and school had truly struck a nerve.

Shortly afterward, a publisher asked me to expand my article into a book. And so for the next three years, I became a full time researcher into the topic of boys and education-specifically looking at the pipeline that carries all our children from preschool to college and examining the very clear junctures where boys disengage. I traveled around the country, looking at schools that were trying to address the problem of the underachievement of boys and amassed a short list of best practices and compared it to quantitative research, if there was any, to see if there was data to suggest that one school's program might be scaled up or transferable to another district or state.

The result was my book The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Ours Sons, Their Problems at School and What Parents & Educators Must Do. My intention was to move the dialogue forward about boys and school in a progressive, intelligent and even handed way, eschewing ideology in favor of hard data and good reporting. Two weeks after it was released, it chugged up the New York Times bestseller list. It was a top seller on Amazon. I was getting media calls from all over the country. Even more astonishing was the number of parents who wrote me then — and continue to write me to this very day. My inbox has been flooded with letters from parents seeking advice, sharing their stories and wondering — what can we do to help our boys do better?

What has been exciting to me is the extent to which my book has prompted so many women to take an active role in this discussion about what's happening to our young men. For better or worse, moms are often the ones who take the lead in a family on rearing and educating children. Women make up the majority of teachers in every grade. Yet when things go wrong for our boys, women often stay on the sidelines. Several women described how they were waiting for men to step up to help boys the way women in the 1970's helped expand the horizons for girls. And when that didn't happen - or didn't happen enough — women felt powerless to make a difference. Again and again, I heard from moms and female teachers that my book gave them the perspective and data they needed to begin constructive discussion and lobby for change to better keep boys on track.

These days I've been spending an enormous amount of time speaking to parents and teachers in schools and with administrators at national education conferences about what is ailing our boys. The intensity of the concern that I felt that night so long ago in Fairfield has never dissipated. Parents and teachers know that boys are in trouble. Good research and solid data is helping parents bring those troubles more clearly into view. And slowly, the taboo about talking about what ails our boys is lifting. With the right information, people of good conscience are making schools better for our boys — and all our children. I'm so pleased and grateful to be part of that evolution.

Peg Tyre, Author, The Trouble with Boys
About Peg Tyre