I don’t agree often with David Books of The New York Times, and today is one of those days. Yesterday I was reading his op/ed from last week entitled “Honor Code.” In it he pointed out a major problem that we are facing today. Our boys are getting left behind.
Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s most appealing characters. He was rambunctious when young and courageous when older. But suppose Henry went to an American school.
By about the third week of nursery school, Henry’s teacher would be sending notes home saying that Henry “had another hard day today.” He was disruptive during circle time. By midyear, there’d be sly little hints dropped that maybe Henry’s parents should think about medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many of the other boys are on it, and they find school much easier.
By elementary school, Henry would be lucky to get 20-minute snatches of recess. During one, he’d jump off the top of the jungle gym, and, by the time he hit the ground, the supervising teachers would be all over him for breaking the safety rules. He’d get in a serious wrestling match with his buddy Falstaff, and, by the time he got him in a headlock, there’d be suspensions all around.
First, Henry would withdraw. He’d decide that the official school culture is for wimps and softies and he’d just disengage. In kindergarten, he’d wonder why he just couldn’t be good. By junior high, he’d lose interest in trying and his grades would plummet.
Then he’d rebel. If the official high school culture was über-nurturing, he’d be über-crude. If it valued cooperation and sensitivity, he’d devote his mental energies to violent video games and aggressive music. If college wanted him to be focused and tightly ambitious, he’d exile himself into a lewd and unsupervised laddie subculture. He’d have vague high ambitions but no realistic way to realize them. Day to day, he’d look completely adrift.
This is roughly what’s happening in schools across the Western world.
There is a huge problem going on in our culture and it is acutely present in our schools. I like to call it the “wussification of boys.” There is an unwritten rule in our culture today that boys would be ok if only they’d act more like girls. Be nice, quiet, sit still, and don’t be messy! Boys are different. Because they are active it doesn’t mean they have ADHD. Not to mention much of what has been labeled “ADHD” can be attributed to diet and lifestyle. When we let kids watch hours of television and play hours of video games should we really be shocked when they struggle with a short attention span? Probably not, but I digress.
Brooks goes on:
The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don’t fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.
Far from all, but many of the people who don’t fit in are boys. A decade or so ago, people started writing books and articles on the boy crisis. At the time, the evidence was disputable and some experts pushed back. Since then, the evidence that boys are falling behind has mounted. The case is closed. The numbers for boys get worse and worse.
Scores for boys are plummeting. We seriously have a crisis on our hands. As college admission standards in many schools are changing in order to allow more men in.
The answer Brooks writes:
Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.
The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don’t fit the ethos get left out.
Spot on David Brooks.