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Young players with the Toronto Soccer Association play at Toronto's Flemingdon Park earlier this year.

Darren Calabrese/darren calabrese The Globe and Mail

Why are boys falling behind in school? Kate Hammer takes a look at video games, the education system, the boy code, developmental differences and a lack of role models in search of answers.

There was one boy in Chris Spence's Grade 6 class at Oakdale Public School in Toronto who used to stay after class every day and clean the classroom. That was more than a decade ago, but it was only recently that the veteran educator, who is now director of education at the Toronto District School Board, realized what was really going on.



"It wasn't that [the student]wanted to clean the classroom, he wanted to ask for help and the only time he would ask for help was when all the guys were gone," Mr. Spence said. "So he would sit there and he would shuffle all the books and do whatever until everyone was gone, and then he would say, 'Sir, could you just go over that concept with me one more time?' "

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Teachers, parents and students are all guilty of promoting what has come to be known as a boy code: An antiquated idea of masculinity that paints appearing weak or too keen or asking for help as feminine. It's the kind of thinking that prevents men from asking for directions, or boys from asking questions in the classroom. It also labels things as masculine or feminine, meaning boys like sports while girls read books. This code can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which boys attain lower academic standards.



The boy code persists outside the classroom, too - at home and on the playground - and it can manifest in subtle ways. According to a survey by the National Centre for Education Statistics in the U.S., in 2001 girls aged 3 to 5 were more likely to be read to frequently by a family member, more likely to be told a story and more likely to have recently visited a library.



A Canadian survey found that parents of 15-year-old girls are more likely to expect their daughter to complete a university degree than parents of boys of the same age, and that boys are less likely to report that all their friends intend to go to university.









With research from Carolyn Abraham, Rick Cash and Celia Donnelly

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