The 6 Secrets to Your Son’s Success in School (Guest Post by Dr. Ed Dixon)

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features Dr. Edmond J. Dixon, an educator with over 30 years of experience, and the author of Helping Boys Learn, available in both a parent’s and educator’s editions.

The 6  Secrets To Your Son’s

Success In School

Dr. Edmond J. Dixon

‘Let’s face it; I’m stupid. You know it, I know it, and my parents know it!”

These words were spoken in anguish and anger to me by Chad, a 12-year-old student in my office. He reflected a profound problem that I could no longer ignore as a school principal. I had seen too many boys who did not succeed in school. I knew he was not stupid, and his parents saw him as a smart, if unfocused, child. But our opinions no longer mattered. His experience in school had convinced him otherwise. He dropped out a few years and I was saddened, but not surprised.

Your own son may not become a drop-out, but if he is like many boys, he dislikes school, does not apply himself to the fullest and is willing to let the girls in his class achieve more highly. Statistics show that this leads to boys who are increasingly unprepared for a world in which high levels of education and social-emotional intelligence are required. Without even knowing it, many of our sons are falling behind.

If we change how we approach their learning, we can help these boys be more successful, productive, and happier–without disadvantaging girls. More importantly, I have identified 6 “secrets”  parents can use to profoundly affect a boy’s learning success:

  1. He Learns Where the Action Is – Neuroscience has confirmed that boys develop more brain-wiring for movement than girls at early ages. This is why they love to move, fidget in class, and want to be wherever the “action” is. It also explains why they can sit still for so long playing video games: Those games are saturated with movement!
  2. He Learns In the Game – Boys have profound learning experiences within the context of games because they receive a shot of testosterone when they set goals and achieve them. They love games and competition and if they see learning as something they can compete and “win” at, they achieve higher. However, if they don’t think they can win in school because they aren’t smart enough, they will often refuse to play the game.
  3. He Learns With Humor – Boys love “funny” things. They often can veer into inappropriate or crude topics, but humor is an important tool for boys learning. It helps them feel comfortable with new concepts, engage in teamwork, and take on new challenges. It is a therefore a very effective way for adults to leverage boys’ interest and commitment to learning.
  4. He Learns Through Challenge –  In their desire to release testosterone by winning boys are drawn to challenge. It helps boys learn because through challenge they discover things about themselves and their environment. When used by parents and teachers, it can improve the motivation and resilience of boys when faced with difficult learning tasks.
  5. He Learns By Mastery – Success for any  boy  ultimately comes when he takes ownership for his own learning. When looking at anything they have to learn, boys’ brains have evolved to want to know its usefulness.  In other words, what is it good for? If they can find a good answer to this question, it deepens their desire to understand the way something works and learn skills so as to master and control it.
  6. He Learns For Meaning – Because they want to understand the usefulness of what they learn, boys need to see the reason for it. “Why do we have to learn this?” is more than a way for a lazy boy to avoid doing work. It is essential for him to understand the importance and meaning of the task at hand. If a a parent or teacher can help him see how his learning fits into the larger picture a boy will increase his interest and commitment in the classroom.

You may be wondering how you can apply these understanding to help your own son. Happily, there are some very simple things you can do, but it works best if you know the place to start. To find out, take the fin 3-minute quiz at or  or check out our Parent Community.  Together, we can help every boy reach his potential as a learner!

Dr. Edmond J. Dixon 

A pioneer in the field of Cognitive-Kinesthetics for learning, Dr. Dixon is a human development specialist with 30+ years of experience as a teacher, administrator, researcher, author–and parent of boys! He is the founder of the KEEN Differentiated Learning Group, an organization dedicated to helping struggling learners, and the creator of KEEN 5X, a series of strategies for classroom engagement and learning which has been used with more than 50,000 students and teachers. His latest book, Helping Boys Learn is published in parent and teacher editions. A dynamic and popular presenter, he has spoken throughout North America on education topics. For more info visit




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About Tim Wright

I've been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 1984, currently serving as the founding pastor of Community of Grace in Peoria, AZ. My wife, Jan and I, were married in 1979. We raised two kids and currently have 3 grandkids. I love to ride my bike, travel, read British Mysteries, and Disneyland. I have written 6 books, including my newest--Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys From Church. My website:

  • Levedi

    I’m a college professor with experience teaching lower grades, and in my experience #2-6 apply equally to girls. I don’t see how this list helps teach to the specific needs of boys. In fact, much of this list seems to re-iterate sexist notions about girls by implying that girls don’t learn through challenges or develop “toughness,” or that girls are not/have no need to be pragmatic in their learning. “Learning for meaning” is a crucial skill for any student and I have had just as many girls as boys ask over the years “why are we learning this?”

    • RevTim

      Levedi, I will speak for Ed since this is posted on my blog. The point isn’t that girls don’t learn that way…the point is that boys do! And more than that, that’s how they learn best. With boys falling behind girls in virtually every area of education it’s important for us to understand why that’s happening and what we can do to get boys caught up again. Boys need these specific teaching methods to learn. Yes, girls will benefit, too. But girls also learn well in sit and listen environments where boys generally speaking do not. This isn’t about what girls need. This is about what boys need to succeed in school. Hope that helps.

  • agkcrbs

    Nice, thought-provoking list. I’m sure there is a lot of overlap between genders. Every student, class, and learning culture is different, but if I think about patterns, I might say that when girls ask me for meaning, they are often placated by an explanation of logic or social duty. When boys ask (if they ever do ask seriously, instead of presuming a lack of meaning and acting out over it), their own discovery of application seems to outweigh external persuasion. They seem far more impulsive. I think one thing boys may be lacking in education is male role-models, in the form of male teachers, who would also happen to be less prone to insisting that any mention of male and female disparity is ‘sexist’.