This summer, All Things Considered has been taking a look at the changing lives of men in America. And that means talking about how the country educates boys.
In Berkeley, Calif., a private, non-profit middle school called the East Bay School for Boys is trying to reimagine what it means to build confident young men. In some ways, the school’s different approach starts with directing, not stifling, boys’ frenetic energy.
“I think boy energy has been misunderstood,” says Lisa Hayle, a language arts teacher at the East Bay School. “Instead of squelching their enthusiasm for things, at our school we channel it and work with it.”
The East Bay School is not a traditional boys school, aimed at reinforcing typical ideas of what it means to “be a man.” The school’s director, Jason Baeten, says that the goal is instead to create an educational space where boys can make mistakes, be vulnerable and learn to be self-reliant.
Baeten says, “We all came together and decided what we wanted our graduates to look like, what qualities we wanted them to have. So, things like: respects women, flexible, resilient — all of these.”
One of the ways that the school is trying to upend tradition is by re-inventing shop class for the 21st century. In fact, they don’t even call it “shop.” At the East Bay School for Boys, it goes by a different name: “work.”
David Clifford, the school’s director of innovation, explains why: “We moved away from the language of shop because it has a history behind it, where for decades now, shop has been considered second or third tier in education, where first tier is academics.”
Shop classes have dropped off the curriculum at high schools nationwide. In Los Angeles, for instance, around 90 percent of traditional shop classes have been eliminated.
Now, something called “career and technical education” still exists. In fact, this week President Obama signed a law encouraging the expansion of such programs. But the most popular classes nationwide are health science, information technology and business — not vocational, blue-collar training like carpentry or auto shop.
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