Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Boys to Men

Are boys in school falling behind the girls? Not so long ago this would have been an almost heretical idea, but lately there has been much discussion about just such a possibility. University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse is having thoughts about it, as are PBS and the New York Times' Ann Hulbert.

As a teacher of many years both foreign and domestic, I agree that there is something going on here. When I was teaching at a public high school in the States back in the 80's and 90's, there was a saying among the teachers that for many boys it was "better to be tough than dumb." Better to be macho than not be able to answer the question. Better to sneer at the sheer irrelevance of such learning than to actually attempt to learn it. What it often thinly disguised was that the student couldn't read the text. It was too hard for him. What guy is going to admit that?

I remember sitting on numerous occasions after class with individual guys encouraging them to not give up. They usually still had a seed of desire, but already understood how far they had fallen behind and how hard it would be to compete. Their idea of the future was to go set chokers in the woods, work on cars at the local gas station, or get a job at the local paper mill. Well, as we all know, too many of those jobs don't exist anymore.

When I went back to Washington State for my 30-year high school reunion a couple of years ago, it was interesting to see how some of these guys had fared. What's your prediction? Loss of union-wage jobs and a struggle to make it on what's left out there? Yes, some of that, but the majority had done OK and some amazingly well. Those who had started their own businesses had done the best, and these were guys who back in the day would have been thought of as near hooligans.

My brother is another example of a guy not having any interest in academics, a high school dropout in fact, who nonetheless has prospered outside the college route. After 30 years in the electrical trades he'll retire next year at 54 with a pension that will allow him to live in moderate comfort as he divides his time between Latvia, Costa Rica and the States.

I guess I'm just not that worried. After all, who commits 90% of the crime in the world? Seen any ruthless women dictators lately? Isn't it Men With Guns who spill most of the blood we read about every day? We live in a testosterone fueled world. It is our history. Maybe there's another way... Not the feminization of men, but perhaps a modulated masculinity along the lines of Robert Duval in Tender Mercies, or Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story. A full bodied, grown-up understanding of what a man is. This is what our boys are missing...Where are the men out there to show them the way?

1 Comments:

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