A few minutes ago, I sat down to read an article on slate.com criticizing some column David Brooks wrote about the Duke lacrosse team scandal (don’t really care about it, but the headline writers at slate are so good, they make you want to see what an article’s about). Apparently David Brooks had been complaining about the race/class lens being used to look at the story and he thought it should be looked at as a moral issue and a sign of the lack of any attempt by our culture or schools to indoctrinate our youth in morality and chivalry. One Stephen Metcalf at slate didn’t care for the column and as part of his response wrote this:
When a sociologistÂsomeone like C. Wright Mills, for exampleÂhears the word “chivalry,” he doesn’t hear the language of personal responsibility but its dark underside, the language of self-blame. There was a timeÂsurprisingly coterminous with the heyday of Brooks’ chivalryÂwhen a black stripper who had been raped by white college boys would never think of going to the cops. Totally unaddressed by Brooks’ nostalgia for “the 1920s,” when “you can actually see college presidents exhorting their students to battle the beast within” is whether the best aspects of that bygone era (decency in public manners) could be resurrected without the social apparatus that sustained it (white Anglo-Saxon hereditary elitism). Brooks doesn’t mention it, but one way to return university presidents to the language of inner beasts is to once again exclude women, blacks, and Jews from universities.
So chivalry and a moral education cannot exist withracismcism, religious bigotry and the oppression of women? And returning to the days of such things would be a prerequisite to a return to chivalry and morality?
As I sat at my computer, mouth agape trying to figure out if I read that right, the NPR program I had turned on early crept into my consciousness. The father of John Lindh (the American young male picked up with the Taliban back in 2001) was speaking. He was telling the story about how his son had been mistreated, not given a fair shot at justice, blah, blah blah. Someone asked if he thought his son had done anything wrong. His dad responded (paraphrasing here): “not at all. Going back to the 80’s Reagan called these people freedom fighters. John just got caught in the crosshairs when America switched sides, rather suddenly in the wake of 9/11, and began backing the Northern Alliance. What John was doing was admirable. We want our kids to go to other countries, lenewnewe things, learn about other cultures, get involved.” HELLO – your son was hanging out and “learning” with people who cut off women’s breasts, killed their husbands, dropped boulders on the heads of suspected homosexuals, made women prisoners in their homes, left widows to starve, cut off people’s hands, wouldn’t allow little girls to go to school, ripped out the fingernails of women for wearing nail polish and on and on and on. But we’re suppose to think he was just off learning about other cultures like some sort of exchange student? What was he going to do – come home and share the proper technique for whipping a woman in the street with a cat-o-nine tails?
Two displays of such reality-free immoral thinking so close together is just too much for me. I think my brain is going to explode.
We’ve heard a lot lately about boy’s lack of success in our education system. However, in today’s Washington Post, writers Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Chait Barnett say, “hey, don’t worry – the boys are fine.” According to them, we shouldn’t worry because the only boys who aren’t doing well are the poor, minority, rural and urban boys. The boys who really matter, you know, white suburban boys, are doing just fine. Since it’s just the insignificants whose boys are struggling, there’s really no need to introduce dangerous notions about the inherent differences between boys and girls into our educational system. Uh huh.
Too bad even this isn’t true. At the bottom of this page, you can see a table listing the percentage of undergraduates who are male broken out by race and income group. When one looks at the data, the only way to make Rivers and Barnett’s proposition fit is if one assumes that all white, suburban males come from families with incomes of $70,000 or more. (They claim that among white, middle class boys, the gap between college attendance is very slight – 49% male vs 51% female – a statistic which is only true in the above $70,000 income bracket.) Since approximately 85% of white households earn less than $70,000, this seems highly unlikely. Basically what they are arguing is that the boy crisis is a myth because the approximately 12% of the United States population which is white and has a household income of more than $70,000 a year isn’t seeing this so-called boy’s achievement gap. Gee and to think we were all so worried! Of course white males from homes making less than $30,000 are outpaced 42% vs 58%. Those from homes making between $30,000 and $70,000 are outstripped by their female counter-parts 43% to 57%. I dunno, it sounds to me like this “boys in crisis myth” has some substance to it.
While the authors would have us believe that all of the gaps we are seeing are simply the result of race and income, what is striking about the actual data is that the gap in gender achievement for middle and upper income blacks and hispanics is nearly identical to that for whites. It is only low income blacks (and to a lesser extant hispanics) who show a significantly greater gender gap than their white peers. Of course, Madams Rivers and Barnett have made it clear that such people don’t count, so let us not dwell upon unpleasant facts now.
Of course, the source of the author’s incredible spinning of statistics isn’t hard to figure out when you look at the rest of the column. The authors insist that there is more difference between individual boys than there is between boys and girls. (Try telling this to a classroom teacher.) They dismiss all of the brain research which has documented differences between boys and girls by comparing it to theories from the 1800’s that men were smarter because their brains are bigger. They completely ignore the astonishing facts that boys account for 90% of all ritalin prescriptions and that 1 in 10 ten-year old boys is on medication for ADD. Then there’s the fact that boys are stuck in special education classes at much higher rates than girls, are responsible for most disciplinary problems and on and on. Basically, since the boys who really matter (rich, white, suburban) are doing just fine, we should continue to mindlessly accept the outdated, disproven notion that differences between boys and girls will never be anything other than manufactured societal constraints.
Don’t they have fact checkers at the Washington Post? This sort of amateur statistic spinning really doesn’t deserve a prominent spot in a prominent newspaper.
I’m sure everyone and their brother will have something to say about this Washington Post column today entitled “What’s Happening to Boys”, but I’ll go ahead and add my $.02 anyway. Boys aren’t doing well in our society today. 90% of Ritalin prescriptions are given to boys, they are more likely to drop out of school, be suspended or expelled, commit suicide, less likely to go to college, and apparently more likely to pursue serious employment as young men. Leonard Sax, a Maryland physician and psychologist wrote today’s column on the subject and announced the formation of the National Boy’s Project which is aimed at figuring out what’s going wrong and how to fix it. From looking at their website, it looks like they already have some good ideas and probably won’t have to look too hard to figure it out. The problem is probably going to be in implementing the kind of changes which will allow boys to succeed in schools and feel respected and needed in society.
Since I’m a homeschooling mother of 2 boys, it probably isn’t a surprise that I see schools as toxic to the well being and proper development of boys. Any place where 6 year old boys are expected to sit quietly without fidgeting is a place which has essentially declared war on little boys. I have written here before about my son’s struggle with writing which I believe was made much worse (and caused no small amount of discouragement) by a school system unwilling to work with the natural development of boys. It can take 3-4 years for a boy’s fine motor skills to catch up with a girl’s. Educators know this, yet they continue insisting that little boys spend large parts of their day doing handwork. If a boy must deal with this struggle and discouragement everyday of his school life, it’s no wonder that by 4th grade many of them have checked out. Add in the impulse to criminalize and sexualize everything a little boy does in the name of creating a “safe” environment (as if boys are themselves unsafe) and you have a brew custom made to set a boy on a path towards failure.
If a toxic school system was the only problem, it wouldn’t be so bad. However, our society takes a very dim view of men, what drives them and their worth in our lives as well. It’s easier to see how the breakdown of family affects women and children, but I think it has been just as devastating on young men as well. Throughout time men have been driven to succeed, in no small part, in order to care for their families. I have found that men have a very strong need to be responsible, to be living their lives in service to something greater than themselves and to have people trust them. Knowing that they would be expected to provide for a family or that they could go out into the world an accomplish great things kept many a young man on the straight and narrow. Even today, I have been struck by the number of young men who when talking marriage express what their fiance or wife means to them by saying, “this person is entrusting her life to me.” In all honesty, I don’t think many women see marriage in quite this way – it seems to be a particularly male point of view which reflects the importance of being trustworthy and responsible to them. Today, many young women say proudly, “I don’t need a man.” Mothers teach their daughters “never put yourself in a position where you’re dependent on a man.” We have taken the very thing which is likely to bring out the best in men – the need to be trusted, responsible and to care for someone – and declared it not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous to their partners.
On top of that, marriage is seen by many young men as being a very risky proposition. Our family courts are getting better, but for much of the past 30 years, women have been able to unilaterally declare a marriage over, take the kids, keep the family home, half of everything a man owns and then continue to take a large portion of a man’s income for spousal and child support. I think we’ve underestimated the profound effect that this state of affairs has on a young man’s thinking. Men love their children as much as any women, and the very real prospect of an unhappy wife who can make it near impossible to have a relationship with their own children is a major deterrent for a young man thinking about starting a family. I also think that we women tend to misunderstand how and why losing possessions and income is so hurtful to men in these situations. It’s not really the things themselves, but what they mean to a man. Many men get themselves out of bed in the morning and go to work with one thing on their minds: “I have to take care of my family.” They seem to personalize their work and the possessions they provide for their family more than women. When a marriage ends, the loss of possessions can seem like a betrayal of the care and trust that went into providing them. And a man facing going to work to provide child and spousal support to someone who he feels betrayed by is particularly galling to him.
So you take a young man who checked out of education somewhere around 4th grade, who is facing a future where he is unneeded and where the very things he needs – to be responsible and needed – seem terribly risky and it’s no wonder that many young men just don’t have a lot of motivation to do much more than provide themselves with as much pleasure as they can get. After all, we may have taken their most noble drives and trashed them, but our culture’s still perfectly happy to pander to their least noble drives.
Like I said, I don’t think the National Boy Project is going to have to look real hard to figure out why young men aren’t doing well. What I’ve written is just a small sample of the ways in which we set our boys up for failure. I think the real challenge is going to be in implementing the changes in schooling and in societal attitudes which would allow our boys to turn into young men who are driven to act on their best impulses rather than flounder about in their worst.
BTW, the website mentions t-shirts which have been popular among girls which say things like “Girls rule. Boys drool” and “Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them.” I would just like to say in the most judgmental and least tolerant tones I can muster, that if you have ever allowed your daughter to wear such an item, you should be ashamed of yourself as a human being.