Pardon me a rant…
We have been so collectively obsessed with empowering our girls, rightfully so, that in many ways we’ve allowed society to de-power our boys. Obviously, I’m not referring to the ongoing discussions around toxic masculinity tropes, glass ceilings, equity or patriarchy—nobody wants to raise another generation of Mad Men (except, possibly, the tobacco and daytime drinking industries, respectively). Rather I’m talking about healthy opportunities for boys to meet their full, well-rounded potential, and the nuanced power of self that they hold within.
With regard to possible misconception: empowering girls is not about taking power from boys or vice versa. It is not a race, or a case of gaining an edge over the other. It is about all children having the same opportunities, and the means to meeting them. It is about understanding that despite a shared goal, all kids are not all the same. It is okay to take different paths to the promised land. Even better, it should be encouraged.
Some will say that “boys will be boys.” Others will say that it is cliché, a blank check to excuse wayward behavior. They are all right. And they are all wrong to varying degrees. Boys will be boys should not be an excuse for rude, careless or other types of hurtful behavior. It is not justification to disregard the needs of society. But, boys are boys, and as such there are proven differences within their developmental and maturation process that should be taken into consideration while trying to mold them into the adult they will someday be.
Shawn Bean, a writer at Parenting.com and the father of two young sons, wrote a piece called “Why Are We Un-boy-ing Our Boys?” in which he, judging by the unleashed vitriol in the subsequent comments, had the audacity to report frankly about what he has experienced with regard to his own boys and the differences that they have faced in the classroom. People, apparently, took offense to some of his broader brushstrokes. They, according to their comments, felt that he was fueling stereotypes and implying that all girls are well-behaved and that all boys are bouncing distractions desperately fanning what is left of their innate caveman wildfires, reduced as they are to small flames swaying carefully in the wind.
He may have meant that. I don’t know Shawn Bean. However, as the father of two young sons myself, I tend to believe that it is not as black and white as some of his detractors claim.
What I have determined in my combined 15 years of working in public schools, support programs, coaching, and childcare facilities (plus 10+ years as a father to boys), is that boys will be much more receptive to instruction if their strengths are worked in, not against. Thankfully, I am not alone in this theory, and much of modern research in child-rearing and behavioral studies suggests the same thing (it’s quite fascinating, Google it). The topic is also a big one around the virtual water cooler of parent and family blogging. I work, or have worked, at some of the most well-known and trusted names in the internet parenting community, and many a conversation has been had in regard to our boys and whether or not we are failing them.
In his post, Bean comments on the educational system being quick to label nonconforming behavior and the practice of addressing it with formidable forms and quick fixes. When talking about his son’s experience in kindergarten he writes: “The school is thinking about achievement gaps and advanced placement, which means school rankings, which means PR and fundraising. Tanner doesn’t know he is part of the Big Picture. He doesn’t know Obama expects him to win the future. He is thinking about what’s in his snack bag.” Anyone that has ever had a child in public schools can relate to that.
Schools are too often understaffed and underfunded to support the flexibility needed for multiple paths of instruction, despite the fact that they are instructing multiple types of learners. It is a sad fact based primarily upon pocketbooks and politicians, not teachers, principals, or parental concerns. However, I do not believe anyone pursues a career in education in hopes of reducing children to faceless statistics. Professionals in education are there for the right reasons, but they, and in turn the children, are judged on criteria created as pie chart filling, which is not always reflective of what tangible success really is.
The point is that boys, specifically young boys, and the way in which they process knowledge, should not be treated as a hurdle that educators need overcome, but rather an opportunity to develop the skills upon which they will build their future success.
Sometimes it is okay to let boys stoke their fire. It keeps them warm, and it helps to light their way.
This post first appeared on DadCentric in 2011, and as such it is somewhat dated in reference to Mr. Beans’ article; however, the subject is still relevant. Please visit the original article for the conversation that followed in the comments.