Snarky Behavior

What’s the Matter With Boys?

June 3, 2007 · Leave a Comment


Oh my god he’s wearing a pirate shirt. Damn you Captain Jack Sparrow!

One of the media trends I’ve noticed working in education is the perceived “crisis” amongst boys in today’s society. We have a landmark piece of legislation called “No Child Left Behind” which puts greater attention on those children who are at risk of being “left behind” in the classroom. And the media has collectively decided that group of greatest concern is “boys.”

I’ll get to that in a minute. Let me first say, while the Nietzsche/Ayn Rand side of me chafes at the impulse to achieve universal mediocrity at the expense of excellence, I am more closely aligned with the idea of a government providing a safety net for all its people, even if it means a myopic and obsessive focus on the lowest common denominator.

Unfortunately, it is the scare tactics of “A Nation at Risk” that speaks to policymakers and encourages them to properly address and fund any program, especially when you’re talking about education at the federal level. “A Nation at Risk” (Reagan’s term) pitted US students (implicitly, the future US workforce) in a cold-war context against Russian students. Comparative math and science scores scare (or as I like to contextualize it, “introduce a knowledge gap in the minds of”) policymakers, who then take appropriate measures in the name of “competition.” This changed curriculum, but not necessarily pedagogy, and today you still see a huge distribution and gaps amongst demographic groups in terms of educational outcomes.

President Bush makes a similar case, although his approach is slightly more nuanced. He feeds off of Freidman’s The World is Flat to make our competitive enemy the entire Asian continent. Nothing like the nebulous term “globalization” to get a Republican’s pulse ticking.

Mr. Bush has also made a play at the guilty liberal conscience with what he calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Meaning, if you accept the status quo, you are a “soft” bigot. Who’s going to argue with that? Whoever came up with that phrase deserves a medal. Because, despite Bush’s record low approval ratings, NCLB continues to be his diamond in the rough in the domestic realm.

Now, back to the “boy crisis”: it’s been reported on ad naseum by the major weeklies. Boys exhibit behavioral problems in the classroom; boys’ preferred methods to learn and socialize are being actively ignored; ADD and learning disabilities are over-diagnosed; the formative importance of recess is being neglected; boys are pursuing and attaining higher-education at a much lower rate than girls; and boys are failing and dropping out at a much higher rate than girls.

Reading between the lines, the “boy crisis,” as positioned in these articles, is implicitly to blame on the feminist movement. According to this argument, the over-abundance of females in the education profession actively encourages female achievement. The lack of male role models in this environment is therefore damaging to boys.

This attitude of reverse discrimination has permeated our greater understanding of gender roles in contemporary society. Yesterday the Washington Post ran a story “What Does It Mean to Be Manly?”:

…while catching up with or surpassing men at school and at their first jobs, young women have dumped much of the feminine to embrace the masculine traits that they think represent success.

This has left some young men wondering what it means these days to be a guy. Should they, can they, explore their softer sides in a country that places less value on the feminine than ever before?

(…)

“In trying to empower the girls,” Sandborn says, “we implicitly sent a message that the guys were not as good. Women succeeded in creating positive new roles for themselves. What we haven’t come up with is what a positive image of a man would be.”

Is this really a necessity? I’m no expert on identity, but it seems the less discriminated you are for your outward appearance and characteristics, the less concerned you are with shaping and defining yourself by them. Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal?

If “the masculine traits that represent success” can no longer be gender defined as masculine or feminine, isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that moving toward MLK’s “content of your character” ideal? Why is this perceived as a crisis?

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