I was fortunate. My father was at home, and our family was together. My mother raised three boys, and as rambunctions as we could be, none of us dropped out of school, and we turned out ok. I think a lot of that had to do with having a father who was a good role model of what being a man and a father was all about. But in addition to that, I had extended family as well. My uncles, especially my godfather, were good role models as well. Unfortunately, this is not found in today's society due to family break-ups, single family households and so on. I am not saying that a single woman, or a lesbian couple, or any other arrangement, cannot raise a decent boy, but it certainly takes something away from that boy if he does not get any exposure to other males, especially older guys who can model good behaviors. The article mentions some of this and about mentoring, but it is done very briefly. I think a lot of what I disliked about the article was its alarmist tone. Do we need to do better by our boys? Yes we do. Do we need to get hysterical over it and portray them as primal neanderthals who can't help themselves? No. Learning discipline and restraint are part of what growing up to be a man is about. These things are learned, and society has to face the fact that for the most part it has done a lousy job in providing such opportunities for learning.
There is plenty of blame to spread around. The educational system that simply does not know or refuses to teach to different learning styles. This is not just gender based. Both genders have people with different learning styles, and this needs to be addressed. Why is this not being addressed? I would say the over-compulsive obssessive drive to use standardized tests has a lot to do with it. Then again, let me use this an illustration:
"For Nikolas Arnold, 15, a sophomore at a public high school in Santa Monica, Calif., college is a distant dream. Nikolas is smart: he's got an encyclopedic knowledge of weaponry and war. When he was in first grade, his principal told his mother he was too immature and needed ADHD drugs. His mother balked. "Too immature?" says Diane Arnold, a widow. "He was six and a half!" He's always been an advanced reader, but his grades are erratic. Last semester, when his English teacher assigned two girls' favorites—"Memoirs of a Geisha" and "The Secret Life of Bees" Nikolas got a D. But lately, he has a math teacher he likes and is getting excited about numbers."
For one, assigning two female favorites in one class does not exactly sound like the teacher is addressing multiple learning styles let alone different reading tastes. If I would have been assigned Memoirs of a Geisha in school, I would probably would have balked too. I know my brothers would have hated it, and we all come from a home where reading was always valued. I can only imagine homes where that is not the case. In that case, it sounds like some teacher needs to do a little reading on literature groups, on offering choices in reading, and on teaching to all the class. His situation also illustrates another problem: easy medication. It is so easy to take a restless boy and medicate him. In my time, if you were overactive, your parents disciplined you and got you to settle down. That was all there was to it. I am not saying there were no kids with actual psychological health problems, but these were rare when compared to today. A lot of parents today actually pray the kid is diagnosed as ADHD so they can stick a pill or two on them. As a teacher, I have seen what some of those pills can do. I have kids in my classroom who were literally zombies as a result of such medications. Has society really fallen so low that rather than work to raise a child they would prefer to drug the child? Additionally, from the illustration above, we see the boy has found a teacher and a topic he likes. The fact he is succeeding means he can actually do the work. Will school always be pleasant? No. I certainly could have done without chemistry for instance, but overall, boys can learn when given an even playing field and are treated decently, which seems to be lacking these days.
It was easy to get to the state we are in today. While many efforts were done to get girls to advance, and those efforts were certainly necessary, everyone assumed boys would just cope fine. After all, they are boys; they are tough; they can take it. But boys also need to learn how to grow, how to be productive, how to learn, and how to be good men. And society needs to step up to this responsibility. Every time a man is left off the hook by abandoning their sons (and daughters), the children suffer. And these men get left off the hook very often by women who either decide not to pursue child support or make the man take responsibility, but they are also left off the hook when they hear women simply decide to raise the kids on their own. Those guys simply say, "fine by me." We could go into a whole philosophical debate about how society emasculates males these days, but that is only part of it. There is some of that, but very often it is a lot of simply women telling men, "don't worry about it. I'll do it." Who knew the guys would actually say, "go right ahead?" And thus another reason why boys have the problems they have: there are no good men to look up to. Note that we can cite a good number of not so good men boys often look up to, but that would be another essay.
The point is there are a lot of factors involved in this, and those factors will have to be addressed if we want a solution to the problem. Nature is not everything. There is nurture and environment. Now some will say, what about a bad environment? That can be overcome, but it seems it easier to blame that bad environment than to actually move to do something about it. You have to address the environment. You have to address the lack of good role models. You have to address the fact of different learning styles and needs. There is a lot of stuff for parents, teachers, and society at large to work on in order not to fail our boys. There are solutions: mentoring programs, schools willing to take risks and try new things, dedicated parents and teachers, but these solutions seem in small supply. We need more and soon. In the end, this is not about whether colleges now have more girls than boys. It is about whether we can afford to lose so many boys because of neglect and false assumptions or overgeneralizations. It's going to take work.
I am raising a daughter now; one of my brothers is raising a son, with another boy on the way. Things like this make me think. For one, what kind of things am I teaching my daughter? What will she learn about men in what she sees from me, from the way I treat her mother, and from the way I interact with others? And what will she learn from other boys her age? She is quite the tomboy, so I know she has a lot of friends in school who are boys. And what about her male teachers? There is the gym teacher and her science teacher. As for my brother, I am sure he wonders about the same things with his boy. I know one thing: being a parent has likely gotten him to settle down a bit. Because in the end it is a great responsibility. It can take a male to make a child, but it takes a man to raise that child, boy or girl. And I think that was the lesson, one of many, my father tried to instill in his boys. I would like to think he succeeded. It's not that boys are a problem. It's that they have needs, and girls have needs as well, and as a society, we have to meet those needs. It's not a matter of using feel-good philosophy. It will take work, and it will take discipline. Shortcuts won't cut it here. Lessons like the ones my brothers and me learned are lessons we should be passing along. Can our society afford to continue the neglect and justify it by saying "oh, boys will be boys?"
On an additional note, the Salt Lake Tribune for January 17, 2006 also had a story on boys and learning. The article discusses issues such as the fact drop out more than girls and face more disciplinary actions. It also goes over the brain differences and ways to solve the problem. I think this article is an example of a small trend. The question is will the reporting lead to some action, or will it become another issue swept under the carpet after a while?