Cepeda: The tough world of boys
CHICAGO -- It has been a windfall week for boys, those too-oft overlooked stakeholders in American education.
First I found “Boys Have Deep Emotional Lives,” an article in The Atlantic about “mean girls” expert Rosalind Wiseman’s latest book, “Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World.”
Then I lucked into “How to Make School Better for Boys,” also from The Atlantic, by Christina Hoff Sommers on the updated edition of her book “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men.”
Last, on the Daily Beast, I came across “How We Fail Our Boys,” a critical review of Helen Smith’s book “Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream—and Why It Matters.”
For the mom of two very young men—ages 12 and 14-but-thinks-he’s-going-on-21—this was a jackpot on a topic I agonize over every day: What will become of my boys? And one that seems to usually be far off anyone’s radar because, as the cliché goes, it’s already a man’s world so what’s there to worry about?
Believe me, there’s plenty to fret over. Though numerous male writers have tackled this subject, maybe with women increasingly speaking out about the difficulties that young men face it can start being a serious topic of discussion.
The statistics are comforting if you have daughters and terrifying if you’re raising boys. Take these from Sommers:
-- “Women in the United States now earn 62 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 52 percent of doctorates.”
-- “Boys in all ethnic groups and social classes are far less likely than their sisters to feel connected to school, to earn good grades, or to have high academic aspirations.”
-- “The College Board delivered this disturbing message in a 2011 report about Hispanic and African-American boys and young adults: ‘Nearly half of young men of color age 15 to 24 who graduate from high school will end up unemployed, incarcerated or dead.’ Working-class white boys are faring only slightly better.”
Those numbers feel obvious to me. Boys today grow up immersed in an environment where the TV shows, movies and video games marketed to young men feature male protagonists who are violent, alcohol-guzzling, pot-smoking, and/or sexist “bros.” And let me tell you that they don’t model working hard in school to get good grades and the chance at a productive life.
Plus, so many boys just hate school. Mine certainly do, and so do their peers, and I sort of don’t blame them. If I had to toil for my grades in the communicate-your-feelings-in-therapy-speak environment of today’s “everybody’s special” K-8 zeitgeist, I wouldn’t like school either.
Sommers says several things can help boys appreciate school more. For one, we must acknowledge boys’ different learning styles—boys like to work with their full bodies more than they like to sit quietly and listen, and they thrive on competition. Girls, on the other hand, are likelier to enjoy tasks that require communicating with each other and solving problems that require empathy.
Another suggestion from Sommers is to offer pathways to more technical and hands-on post-secondary educational experiences instead of assuming that the only route to a meaningful future is through college.
My humble contribution is to get more male teachers into classrooms. Currently, men represent only 2.3 percent of pre-school and kindergarten teachers and only 18.3 percent of elementary and middle school teachers, with the largest share of men teaching in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
Even in high school, where men fare better as 42 percent of faculty, we could stand to provide all students with a mix somewhat closer to the U.S. population of men, which is 49 percent.
After years of being taught by only female teachers who valued, seemingly above all else, girls’ advanced verbal, social and stay-in-your-seat abilities, both my sons now finally have a better mix of teachers.
Their male teachers may be no more gifted at teaching than their female counterparts, but they bring teaching styles and personalities that are diverse in education simply because they’re men.
Maybe most important, male teachers provide much-needed role models of responsible, thoughtful men in an intellectual, caregiving profession—and modeling such good male behavior is crucial for the healthy development of both boys’ and girls’ view of gender roles.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.