The problem with boys
Editor’s note: Before I started this blog in late 2010, I blogged for five years at BuckeyeAg.com. When I left the radio network that fall, my old blog posts were, much to my dismay, lost in cyberpurgatory forever. In a fluke of Google the other day, I came across a post that I wrote in June of 2010 that, now that I’m three months away from raising a daughter, discusses a subject I’m still very passionate about: raising young men in our increasingly anti-masculine society. I’ve not gone back and edited this post, so here is what I was thinking that summer.
My Mother used to joke that when she and Dad were starting our family, she ordered boys from the Stork because girls “were too much trouble.” There’s a little truth in every joke, I suppose, because I can just imagine that many of Grandpa’s snow-white hairs were nicknamed for my Mother. Times have changed, however, in the nearly 30 years since Mother got her first son, and boys, it seems, are now the problem children of our society.
Author and therapist Michael Gurian writes about this change of fortune in his book, “The Purpose of Boys.”
“Girls outperform boys in nearly every academic area,” Gurian writes. “Many of the old principles of education are diminished. In a classroom of 30 kids, about five boys will begin to fail in the first few years of preschool and elementary school. By fifth grade, they will be diagnosed as learning disabled, ADD/ADHD, behaviorally disordered or unmotivated.”
Gurian goes on to point out that the challenge of educating boys gets even more difficult after being labeled: “They will no longer do their homework (though they may say they are doing it), they will disrupt class or withdraw from it. They will find a few islands of competence (like video games or computers) and overemphasize those.”
Know any young boys who fit that description?
The author stresses that there are differences – some subtle, others more pronounced – between boys and girls of school age. “Boys have a lot of Huck Finn in them – they don’t, on average, learn as well as girls by sitting still, concentrating, multitasking, listening to words. For 20 years, I have been taking brain research into homes and classrooms to show teachers, parents and others how differently boys and girls learn. Once a person sees a PET or SPECT scan of a boy’s brain and a girl’s brain, showing the different ways these brains learn, they understand. As one teacher put it to me, ‘Wow, no wonder we’re having so many problems with boys.’”
I found Gurian’s thoughts in an op-ed at The Daily Caller entitled “In Defense of the Father” by a columnist referred to only as “Anchorman.” In his piece, the writer shared his dual concerns over the absence of a strong male parental role in the lives of adolescent men: on one hand a developed hyper-masculinity in which the boy overcompensates for the lack of a male role model and never learns to properly control his strength and anger, or to focus his activity and energy. On the other hand exists the opposite effect, a hypo-masculinity, or what the columnists describes as an absence of appropriate masculinity.
“Portrayals of it abound in popular culture and everyday life,” he writes. “Metro-sexualism, the sensitive male, the banning of dodge ball, padded playgrounds, back and chest waxing, feminized scents and colognes, TV commercials that portray the father figure as buffoonish, incompetent or absent.”
I’ve often noted in our coverage of youth organizations like 4-H and FFA the shift in proportion of male to female students engaged in leadership positions within their organizations. The National FFA Organization, for example, reports that of its over 506,000 members, 38 percent are female and that women hold more than 50 percent of state leadership positions. That is outstanding news considering that women have only been allowed to join the organization since 1969. The concern, however, is that we are actively aware – and publicizing – that less than two-fifths of our members are female, and that those students occupy at least half of the leadership positions. My question is, in our efforts to justly establish equality between the sexes, are we losing the boys along the way?
Asking those questions, however, is risky business. Dr. Larry Summers resigned as President of Harvard University due in large part to a speech he presented at a conference on women in science and engineering in which he infamously suggested that the under-representation of women in the top levels of academia could be due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end.” Summers ostensibly suggested that there are differences in the way the minds of the male and female of the species work, and that one sex may be more gifted in some areas of academia and research than the other. While Summers was figuratively tarred and feathered for his remarks, author John Gray’s seminal work “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” sold more than 11 million copies throughout the ’90s for helping men and women understand that their minds work very differently.
While it may be taboo to suggest that there are, perhaps, differences between men and women at a physiological level, it is clear that both the absence of a strong Father-figure in the modern home, and the cultural denigration of the male in our society in general are causing significant problems in our society. It’s time we recognize that equality and balance mean that we can’t leave our boys behind at school or in our communities, and that a Father is a critical role deserving of our respect and appreciation.