Saving Our Sons: How the Schools, Parents and Media Stifle Boys
By Marty Nemko
Who gets more college degrees, men or women? According to a new report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, it was equal in the early 1980s, but since then, women are getting an ever higherproportion of degrees. Today it’s 135 for every 100 men earn. By 2016, it will grow to 162.
Ever more good jobs require a degree, so that disparity portends disaster for men. And a disaster for half our population is a disaster for everyone.
The reasons for the lack of male college graduates start early, the result of K-12 education having been made girl-friendly at the expense of boys:
-- Competition, a prime motivator for boys,has largely been replaced by "cooperative learning."
-- Readings about adventure and heroism are giving way to tales of relationships and heroines.
-- Social studies now stress men’s ill-doings and women’s (and minorities’) contributions.
-- Schools allow girls to wear such tee shirts as "Girls Rule," but if a boy were to wear "Boys Rule," he'd likely be sent home to change.
-- Today, 70 percent of secondary school teachers are women, and in elementary school, 91%, the highest percentages ever recorded. The main male role model boys see in school is the custodian.
It’s no surprise that, according to a University of Michigan study, the number of boys who said they didn't like school rose 71 percent between 1980 and 2001.
And when boys get home, the lack of positive male role models and the assault on their self-esteem continues. When they turn on the TV, most males are portrayed as buffoons or sleazebags shown-up by wise, confident females.
In fact, males are primarily responsible for creating the cars we drive, the buildings we live in, the computers we use, and the medical discoveries that save us, yet if a Martian descended on earth and attended public school and looked at our media, he’d likely conclude that men and boys are disposable.
Is it then any surprise that boys, more active than girls from birth, misbehave more in class? In decades past, they were simply called "active" and allowed to work off energy as the blackboard monitor or sent on an errand. Today, they're more likely put on Ritalin. The number of boys drugged with stimulants to control "hyperactivity" has, in the past 20 years, risen 3000%!
And it hasn't done much good. Boys' reading achievement has fallen well behind girls', they're 2 1/2 times as likely to drop out of high school, 5 1/2 times as likely to commit suicide, and, as mentioned, far less likely to earn a college degree.
When, in the 1960s, more men than women obtained degrees, massive efforts were undertaken to redress the imbalance. Yet, now, when men suffer the deficit, little is being done.
What should be done?
The media now takes inordinate care to ensure that women and
minorities are not unfairly portrayed negatively. Equal care must
now be devoted to boys and men.
Schools claim to celebrate diversity yet insist on providing one-size-fits-all, girl-centric education. Whether in co-ed or single-sex classes, boys need boy-friendly instruction: more non-feminized male teachers, more competition, praise for boldness, more active learning (for example, simulation and drama) and less seatwork, less relationship-centric fiction and more how-to books. Importantly, teachers must accept that boys will, on average, wiggle more than girls--and that does not require ongoing criticism, which, not surprisingly, leads to more oppositional behavior, to the school psychologist, to Ritalin, or to the little yellow bus of special education.
Ironically, educated parents often do particularly badly by boys. The college curriculum and the media consumed by the intelligentsia stress women’s’ accomplishments and men’s’ evils. So, these parents too often feel justified in emasculating, squeezing the maleness out of boys: aggressiveness, competition, physicality, dislike of seatwork.
Of course, I’m not advocating that parents or teachers
allow Junior to become a savage, but aggressiveness, bravery, and
competitiveness, channeled wisely, can be the stuff of which
greatness is made. We can refine but rarely remold so we must honor
males’ ways of being, just as we’ve been urged now for
decades to honor females’.
Apart from the impact on society, so many unnecessarily unhappy and underperforming children is, in itself, most sad. Over the past 20 years, I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in the boys I’ve counseled. Twenty years ago, most boys were confident and ambitious. Now, disproportionately, they’re despondent or angry, while the girls more often feel the world is their oyster. And they’re right, but it should be both genders’ oyster.
Boys advocate Joe Manthey reminds us that "When girls were behind in math and science, we said there's something wrong with the schools. But now, when boys don't do well in school, we say there's something wrong with the boy."
Let’s stop blaming the boy and start fixing our media, parenting, and schools.
Nemko is co-president of the National Organization for Men. He is a career and collegeadviser to males and females. He is also a Contributing Editor at U.S. News and World Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Marty Nemko 2004-2018. Usage Rights