Done? Good. Now tell me what you got out of that column. If you are like most people you’ll look and say that the school system is helping to create a generation of boys that don’t get to be a part of the struggle that it is to be a boy. You have the usual pattern of modern growth of man; disruptive child, insistence of mental problem, drug recommendation, withdrawal, rebellion, getting high at Burning Man, and eventually waking up next to some girl you met and married in Vegas that looks a little bit like Rue McClanahan from Golden Girls days.
I dare say that David Brooks doesn’t go far enough. Whether or not society wants to admit it, school is a microcosm of the social mores and customs of society.
“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.
But this isn’t a school problem. It’s a society problem! We are so damn hypocritical in our culture when it comes to those Neanderthal values that we used to love until political correctness shoved those values into the deepest corner of the basement along with Mel Brooks’ “the sheriff is a n…” and Eddie Murphy’s stand-up tirade about gays. See, most of us love Murphy’s stand-up and Blazing Saddles, but I see people get squeamish when you actually talk about it. Like it’s wrong to enjoy the comedy. Same with these new “values” that places on acceptable behavior. If I told you that I love competition, military service, winning, and strict adherence to discipline, and that I was a teacher, I’d have half the community insisting that I was not a nurturing soul and would be pushing political values that would corrupt their precious child, a child that would some day probably create world peace. Yet we actually value those things. We watch and participate in competition all the time. We honor those that defend us from harm. We strive for our children to be the very best, and even push them to beat out other students to get into college. And we like order, whether we want to admit it or not, discipline works. But society has decided that these values are not as important as a calm child that can rationalize his thoughts at eight years old while doing multiplication tables and contemplating how he’s going to get into Stanford when he graduates high school.
Until society stops the “college for all” push, I don’t see this trend going anywhere good. I’m not saying that college should not be presented as an option to boys or that boys should not be steered in that general direction, but active boys are not a sign of the apocalypse. They are not necessarily demented, disturbed, broken, or in any other way unnatural other than they are active children that might need a different outlet than sitting in multiple math classes to pass the standardized test. Brooks mentioned the falling rates of recess for kids. Ever wonder if recess did some good for active kids? How about more PE for middle and high school kids? There are so many problems we could address just by required more time actually moving. How about opening up the options for kids to use their energy in a different skill set? How about, God forbid, tracking kids into a system that might just better suit their talents and interests?
Or we can just watch the slow decline of boys into the academic realm of irrelevance.