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Valuing Engagement
Academic Dean Doug Houston shared this article with faculty last week noting it provided an interesting perspective on our work with Proctor's students. The article, part of the Great Divide series on inequality for the New York Times, was written by Christina Hoff Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys" and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Sommers references a recent study in which authors found boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

What makes this study, and the associated article, interesting is that the researchers found the differences in performance to be caused by, "non-cognitive skills: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn and the ability to sit still and work independently." The question then becomes, is the current model of 'school' conducive to academic achievement in boys?

Sommers believes it is not, and urges society to ask the question, "If boys are restless and unfocused [in our current school system], why not look for ways to help them do better?" and argues that because grades in school have such a correlation to success in life, boys are not only disadvantaged against female peers, but in the global economic race as well.

The answer to this conundrum? Sommers posits, "What might we do to help boys improve? We can follow the example of the British, the Canadians, and the Australians. They are indulging boys' tendency to be inattentive…They are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged."

The model school Sommers uses to support her perspective? Aviation High School in New York City where students spend half of their day in hands-on classes on airframes, etc. and the other half in demanding English and History classes. Sommers notes, "Vocational high schools with serious academic requirements are an important part of the solution to male disengagement." Sound like a familiar model?

While Proctor is not a vocational school, it takes the concepts that have worked in so many vocational schools and applied them to a college prepartory school envirnment; providing hands on experience in a wide variety of disciplines in order to fully engage its students in the process of learning.

The pictures included in this blog post feature just two of the practical, hands on academic courses within Proctor's curriculum. Dave Pilla's Wildlife Science and Forestry classes have become staples of the Proctor experience, not just because of Pilla's gifts as an educator, but because students are physically immersed in content they are studying.

The same can be said for so many of Proctor's classes where the motivation of students is derived from student interest in topics studied, not through extrinsic factors. Of course for some of our students (boys included) it takes time to figure out which classes or programs will fully engage them, but almost without fail, students leave Proctor excited about learning.

We know the effort to make American education relevant again is an uphill battle, but we feel confident that our models of teaching and learning can serve as an example toward which 21st century education can (and should) evolve.
Courses like Forestry and Wildlife Science mix rigorous academic study with field study.
Recent studies recognize boys struggle to fully engage in their educational experience in traditional American schools.
Christina Hoff Sommers writes, "A few decades ago, when we realized that girls languished behind boys in math and science, we mounted a concerted effort to give them more support, with significant success. Shouldn’t we do the same for boys?"
The proposed changes to education mirror those practices employed in many of Proctor's classes: physical engagement with content in a hands on manner.
Our goal is to actively engage each and every student (male or female) during their time at Proctor so that they graduate with not only new knowledge, but a passion to learn.