December 2 2011
Wasting a Precious Resource: Our Boys
Scholars who take on the notion that overpopulation threatens our planet counter that human beings are our most valuable resource. Far from degrading our world, they make it richer and invent all of the products and processes that improve our quality of life.
I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective, but worry that one of the greatest problems confronting the U.S. (and, indeed, Western civilization) is that we increasingly fail to put these resources to good use — particularly our nation’s boys.
Much has been written on how women are gaining power in the new economy, out-performing men in education, and even increasingly out-earning them. Kay Hymowitz’s book provides a detailed look at the dysfunctional culture that dominates much of young men’s lives — at a great cost to them, and to women too.
David Thomas provides a more personal perspective on this phenomenon in the Daily Mail. He describes the successes of his ambitious, 20-something daughters, and his concerns for his teenage son. While he uses statistics and particulars from the U.K., they resonate just as well with the situation in the U.S. Both education systems are run almost exclusively by women and cater to female learning styles, which has profound consequences for boys.
I’ve been reading these types of statistics and arguments for many years, but they have a very different impact when you consider them as a parent. Debates about nature vs. nurture which used to seem like interesting academic questions become a little absurd once you have kids — particularly children of both sexes. The difference are so blindingly obvious, and clearly stem from more than choices of pink and blue, that the whole idea of a gender-neutral world becomes absurd.
It took my two-year-old son, who has grown up in a house dominated by two older sisters, with mostly girl toys and Angelina books, about five minutes in the home of another little boy to identify and become obsessed with guns and swords. He is more hyper, rambunctious, violent, and less easy to communicate with than my girls were when they were his age.
It’s easy to see how these attributes will be a liability in a few years. My four-year-old daughter was recently described by her preschool teacher as an ideal student: she listens, sits still, and follows directions. She is quiet, polite, and excels with fine motor skills, so she is enthralled by the many craft projects that dominate her preschool experience.
That’s nice to hear of course, but made me pause about the teacher’s perception of an “ideal” student. Clearly, in this instance, the ideal student is decidedly female. And as a mom, I sympathize. If I was in charge of 15 preschoolers, I would absolutely want a crowd of well-behaved children, quietly pasting hearts on construction paper, rather than a noisy mob rolling on the ground or wielding sticks. In other words, I’d rather deal with a bunch of little girls than little boys. But that’s not how schools are supposed to see it, and it’s clearly not good for boys to be surrounded by those who see their natural tendencies as a nuisance.
Like Thomas, I’ll be paying extra attention as my kids grow up to the academic climate in which I enroll my son. I’ll seriously consider and look for opportunities for boys schools when possible. I’m confident that my girls will do well in traditionalsettings, but am not so sure that that’s the situation that will get the most out of my little boy. I don’t want him to get the message that school is not a place for kids like him.
When I was living in Virginia, a family down the street with three daughters had a bumper sticker on their car that read something like this: Girls Don’t Chase Boys, They Run Right Passed Them.
It’s cute, though needless to say, one would never see anything comparable on the car of a family of sons celebrating boys’ superiority to girls. It’s hard to imagine that such a male-applauding bumper-sticker even exists. Yet my neighbors bumper stickers was absolutely unremarkable. In fact, it’s the new vision of equality. As Thomas summed it up: “[Students] have been taught that men and women are equal — except for all the ways in which women are superior.”
That’s the message pushed in our schools and in society. Is this really what we want our boys growing up to believe?