Just a very interesting article about boys at school


I have read about the boys educational crisis in various places, including your own columns and blogs. One thing that is being overlooked: changes in the disciplinary environment in the school and the home negatively affect boys. For decades, we have heard feminists insist that differences in behavior between the sexes are not due to biology but rather due to social constructs imposed on society by the self-serving patriarchy (which was why we abandoned the biological term “sex” in favor of the social construct “gender”).
So, the solution to male misbehavior has been to tell them that it is acceptable, even desirable to “reject the patriarchy” and renounce masculinity in favor of being more feminine (basically Carol Gilligan’s solution to the boys crisis).
Even though they have largely been ignored by the various waves of feminists, research in neuroscience and psychology refutes a lot of these theories as unworkable. Because of differences in body chemistry (i.e. testosterone levels) and brain structure, boys are going to simply be more, well, defiant. Some are going to express it actively (i.e. the “alpha male” who tries to compete, lead, win, and impose himself on others). But others are going to defy authority using passive-aggressive techniques instead, such as with escapism (i.e. the Walter Mitty), withdrawing (i.e. the video gamers) and fatalistic cynicism (i.e. the Holden Caulfields).
Now just as some boys are going to be more feminine as Carol Gilligan and similar idealize, some boys aren’t going to naturally find ways to challenge authority. But the reality is that because of their physical and chemical makeup, lots of boys are.
Of course, this has always been the case. The rub is that it was better handled in the past primarily using disciplinary methods that by modern standards are considered harsh. Now girls, due to their divergent biochemical makeup, are going to be less likely to need discipline in the first place (look at the prison population for verification of this) and more likely to respond to the modern disciplinary methods.
But if you are dealing with a high testosterone 9 year old boy with an alpha personality, in many instances only the reality of corporal punishment is going to get such a young man to sit down. Even with his lower testosterone passive-aggressive male counterpart, it takes regular frequent disciplinary confrontations to overcome the escapist/withdrawing/cynical tendencies.
So, you wind up with situations where the “alpha boys” get expelled, especially when they get older and the mostly female teachers are physically intimidated by them, and the passive aggressive boys are viewed as simply lazy, and furthermore the teachers see their passiveness as an excellent alternative to the aggressive behavior and will reward them with good (or at least passing) grades for it.
And yes, this becomes a much bigger problem where minority males are concerned, as aggressive black males are often stereotyped as potential criminals, and passive black males are stereotyped as lazy while simultaneously getting rewarded for not being a potential criminal.
One of the examples where this manifests: reading. Male reading scores lag simply because it is harder to get males to read than it is to get girls to. The alpha boys will openly defy their teachers and parents, while the passive-aggressive boys will either do as little as they need to get by or they will pick a book that is easy or in line with their interests. Whether it is an alpha male who succeeds in not having to read or a passive aggressive male who succeeds in getting to dictate his reading choices, it is a success. Why?
Because the real issue isn’t reading, it is defying authority, the old “you’re not the boss of me!” thing. At an early age, most boys begin to value personal autonomy over rewards for doing as told. Girls, because of their different body chemistry and brain structures, value reward over personal autonomy. That’s why girls need to have notions of “be independent!” and “be self-reliant!” instilled into them. Now this is not to say that defiance isn’t a problem with girls. Instead, it is that girls begin to experience it at different developmental stages (i.e. puberty) for different reasons.
So, the way to improve reading scores (and male educational issues in general) isn’t to dump the “girly p.c. books” for the recommendations of guysread.com. (The “girly p.c. books” are another issue altogether.) Instead, teachers and parents need to stand up to the alpha and passive aggressive boys with a “read ‘Little Women’ or else!” stance and be prepared to back it up over and over again.
A child who does not generally do as told, especially in areas where obedience is expected like education, is simply a poorly disciplined one. The last thing that we need to do is to find ways to accommodate the bad discipline, because if we do, “the defiant ones” will pick new battlegrounds.
Some parenting experts have long advocated that the reason why boys defy and push boundaries is because they have some psychological desire, or even need, for parents and authority figures to set them for them. When parents and teachers set boundaries for boys, it gives them a sense of security and lets them know that they are valued and cared about.
However, parents and teachers who fail to set boundaries cause boys to think that no one really cares about them enough to invest the effort. As strange as it may sound, for boys at times corporal punishment serves the same purposes as do hugs and kisses for girls. (Now I did say “at times”, for boys certainly do need hugs and kisses.)
You can talk to any number of successful males about their teachers that were their favorite or the most prominent, and it will almost without fail be the best disciplinarians. That is a reason why sports programs are so effective with males … sports coaches are allowed to be much more strict and employ more strident disciplinary measures than are classroom teachers.
A teacher that yells at a child for not paying attention, or has him run laps and do push-ups for failing to do a book report wouldn’t last a week without being the subject of a dozen lawsuits from irate parents and child advocacy groups.
And this comes to another issue: the lack of male teachers in school and in many instances fathers in the home. We talk of this in terms of “role models”, which may be true. However, it may be the fact that grown men are simply better at disciplining boys because they were once themselves boys. Now of course, public schools can’t solve issues like out of wedlock parenthood and divorce.
Also, there aren’t that many things that can be done to get more men into the teaching profession that haven’t been tried already, as men consistently choose clearly inferior (in terms of prestige, earnings, and job security) career paths to public education. such as choosing a business degree that will lead to being a manager of a discount store (which does not even require a college education, offers low pay, undesirable benefits, and long hours) over teaching.
But public education simply has to find and adopt disciplinary measures that work for males, whether it is a return to meaningful corporal punishment or adopting a military school-type atmosphere. Either way, public school administrators will have to defy the libertine anti-discipline crowd that couldn’t abide so much as school uniforms in DeKalb County, people who either think the 1960s protests are still going on, or who wish they never ended.

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