Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Schools (and Society) are Failing Our Boys

Jennifer Fink wrote an insightful article about her eight year old son and his school experience: Why Our Schools are Failing Our Boys

She writes,
Re-entry after winter break has not been easy for him. The rules and restrictions of school – Sit Still. Be Quiet. Do What You Are Told, Nothing More, Nothing Less. – have been grating on him, and it shows. His teacher recently emailed me; she’d noticed a change in his behavior (more belligerent, less likely to cooperate) and wanted to know if there was anything going on at home.
My guess, I said, was that he was upset about having to be back in school after break. I was right.
The lack of movement and rigid restrictions associated with modern schooling are killing my son’s soul.

Does that sound dramatic to you? Perhaps. After all, most of us go through school and somehow survive more or less intact. But if you really think about it, you might remember what you hated about school. You might remember that it took you years after school to rediscover your own soul and passions, and the courage to pursue them.

The stress of school, of trying to fit into an environment that asks him to suppress the best parts of himself, recently had my son in tears. Again.

Truly, this is a woman who would make a wonderful homeschooler, and perhaps she will eventually consider that option. But, sometimes I reflect on our life today and realize that it isn't just school, but our society at large that has made growing up as a young man so difficult.

A fellow mom and I were chatting at my daughter's gymnastics class this other day. She, like I, has both older and younger children and we were commiserating over raising teenage boys. I shared with her how a parenting book I read recently referred to them as "developmental lumps," a phrase which all too often describes the state of my children. Not particularly athletic, they spend a lot of time sitting, sometimes reading, often engaging with technology of some sort. They have friends over and they'll play games or engage in technology side by side.  This lifestyle is not entirely their fault.

At their age, throughout history, at 12 and 13 they would have been doing something productive with their lives - working on a farm, working in a factory, being apprenticed to learn a trade. Even my father back in 1950 started working at age 9. and continued to work until age 71 when he was laid off. That was only two generations ago. Working and contributing to society gives a person a sense of purpose and usefulness. But today, young people generally don't have that opportunity.

Some homeschoolers live on farms and their children work very hard and contribute to the family's livelihood. That isn't really an option for those of us who live in urban areas. There aren't that many chores to do around the house (and my children do help with them), which after lessons, leaves them with little productive to do. They are very involved with acting and enjoy their time attending classes, practicing, and putting on productions. But that is something I pay for them to be able to do.

While I certainly am not advocating a return to the 12 hour days that children worked in the factories, it would be wonderful if our society provided more opportunities for young people to have responsible, meaningful work. Is it any wonder that adolescence lasts to the late 20s today when we rob our teenagers of the opportunity to be truly productive members of society? Instead we plunk them in a classroom all day, without any concern of whether they are actually geared for academic learning (when they might actually be very geared to some sort of on-the-job vocational training), tell them to study for some future day when their life will begin, and blame the teachers when they fail. Nobody is winning in that equation.

Schools and society are failing our boys (and our girls, but that's a topic for a different day).  What are we as a society going to do about it?

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