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Letters to the editor

| September 9, 2019 | 0 Comments

Don’t put young boys in a box

In this letter, I’d like to make the case for boys. I have always had a soft spot for primary school boys. As an English teacher, I taught boys who loved reading and who could sit for long periods of time solving mathematical problems. They were confident in their abilities to write beautifully. They were known as the achievers. Then, I also had boys who went pale at the sight of a book and who would struggle reading one page. They were also often the ones who couldn’t sit in one place for more than two minutes. The same boys often reversed their letters and struggled to form them the way they were taught, thus resulting in stories that made little sense and took ages to finish. Although they were bright sparks, they were known as the underachievers. Sadly, the latter were the ones who are often diagnosed with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia and a lot of other names that I struggle to pronounce, let alone spell. All too often, after diagnoses, little white pills, broken into halves or even quarters, are sent to school, and teachers set their cellphone alarms so that they can administer the pills at the correct time or face a meltdown later in the day. A few days after the boy has started taking medication, the expected side effects start. Boys who used to have healthy appetites now go green in the face when faced with a lunchbox full of tuck. The obvious result is weight loss. Talkative and often boisterous boys grow quiet, sullen and tired. The teacher stands helpless, thinking a number of things such as: ‘At least now he can finish some tasks on time and form the letters correctly. At least now he can sit still for a few minutes more and focus for longer periods of time. But is the trade-off worth it? Because what I have now is a young boy who is a shadow of his former self.’ We need to think differently about how we deal with boys in our primary school classrooms. I believe that many curricula around the globe set boys up for failure. Fine motor skills, such as drawing and colouring-in, are all activities towards which most girls naturally gravitate at a young age. With boys, on the other hand, actions speak louder than words. Just observe how little boys can play together in the sandpit or with their toys for hours on end without making any intelligent conversation except ‘bbbrrrmm’ noises. Funny how still they can sit when playing with LEGO. I have watched with interest many of my alumni from years ago as they continued their journey after school. Not surprisingly, the guys who sat at the back of the class, seemingly disinterested in school and who were often the ‘underachievers’, went on to become very successful entrepreneurs and businessmen. I am immensely proud of them, as traditional schooling must have been a tedious process for them. Twelve years – or more – seems like a very long time when you are trapped in a system that is not helping you to reach your potential in your own way. Generally speaking, I believe that the traditional curricula taught in so many primary schools are completely irrelevant. I dream of a time when we can restore our boys to their rightful place. I dream of a time when they can be unencumbered by the weight of having to sit still for long periods of time. But most of all, I long for a time when medicating our boys becomes the total exception and not the rule.

Ammie Pringle
Bedford Country School
Eastern Cape

Category: Spring 2019

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