Friday, January 4, 2008

Our Sons

The most emailed article from the New York Times on Tuesday was titled, “Giving Boys the Tools for Success and Multitasking”. As I read the article, it took me back to 1999 when my son was in middle school. The teachers nicknamed him “pigpen” because he forever had a stream of papers falling out of his backpack and hanging out of his locker. As much as we tried to help organize him we couldn’t. By eighth grade we gave up. He went through middle school having “nickel and dimed” himself as we were told by his teachers because he would lose homework assignments and get points taken off for failing notebook spot checks. He eventually worked the kinks out of some self-designed system because he completed Honors and AP classes, graduated from high school and attends a top University. But, there was no support - we were told he was just “wired” that way. Not that he would have agreed to see one of the “organizational tutors” in this article anyway - but I am sure no such option even existed.

Back in the early ‘90’s there was an explosion of literature about how boys are failing. Books titled, The Wonder of Boys, by Michael Gurian, Real Boys by William Pollack, and the War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers, essentially reported that boys were on the brink of crashing in every aspect of society - families, schools and the community. Boys were doing poorly in school, abusing more drugs, dropping out of school at higher rates, earning fewer college degrees, crowding special education programs and generally becoming misfits in our society. And today’s statistics support this prediction: girls outpace boys in academics (particularly in reading), in high school graduation rates, and in college acceptances. There continues to be a higher rate of male violent offenders, more boys in special education programs and in the principals’ offices. Take a look at these statistics; they are shocking.

Could it be that when I was worrying about the future for my daughters when they were born in the early 90’s, I should have been equally concerned for my son, being born in the late 80’s? I wasn’t aware then, that boys were becoming more and more disengaged. But it is so clear to me now, that somehow they were left behind.

Ten years after this proliferation of literature the story continues to unfold. A government report called, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2007, examined statistics related to our kids’ health, safety, behavior, economics, education and family and social environment over the past 2 decades. The conclusion is hopeful. Although girls continue to lead by a large margin, the gap is closing. The downward trend for boys has begun a slow turn upward.

During the 1980’s, girls had a lot of catching up to do and progress was made through legislation and programs that equalized access to everything from education to athletics. I am not saying that the playing fields have equaled out yet, but I believe that the close attention that girls were getting in the 80’s directly contributed to who they are today. Perhaps the “boy” literature of the early 90’s was the catalyst to do the same for their brothers.

The mere fact that both sexes are genetically different naturally translates into a divergence of approaches to learning, problem solving and to social interactions. Educators and other professionals are acknowledging that it’s not that boys won’t fit the mold, but the mold doesn’t fit the boys. New teaching styles and methodologies are being investigated, curriculums are being adapted and classrooms are being redesigned. There are all kinds of non-profit organizations that address “boy power issues”, to:

increase academic skills, to increase college success, and to develop the confidence, drive, and determination to contribute to American society.

Sound familiar? Not much different than the organizations that were created to support young girls a few decades back.

With books topping this year’s best seller list like, “The Dangerous Book for Boys” that according to the authors acknowledge:
“In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage"
It is evident that the tide is changing. The book does not promote aggressive behavior, nor does it praise boys over girls, it “exudes the confidence of ages past that boys are to be treasured not cured”. And perhaps this is the direction we need to follow. Boys need to be supported and given the freedom to be who they are. To be believed in. They are the next fathers, husbands and contributors to our society and if they are nurtured as children the results can only be better when they become adults.

Socrates may have had it right, when many thousands of years ago he asked,
“How shall we find a gentle nature which also has a great spirit?”
Perhaps we are moving closer and within time, both boys and girls will grow up being more comfortable in their own skins, content with their decisions, and finding ways to break through some of the issues that our generation has not yet achieved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the encouraging news about the future for our sons. After reading your thoughts on the "Alpha girls", I became seriously concerned that I was fighting an up hill battle to secure the success for my young sons. I never considered they were better than girls, as I always wanted to believe there would come a day that there was equality amongst the sexes in both acedemics and careers. I just never took the time to consider that they may not do as well as their female peers. Please continue to send these wonderful thought provoking messages for us to ponder.