So what is happening to our boys? They begin life, just like girls, brimming over with a sense of wonder. Each day far too short for all they want to see and do. Their sense of beauty is just as strong as girls’ are. They cry just as often and as much at heart-stopping beauty: be it a sunset, a story, a painting, a piece of music, or a face. They yearn with fierce passion to become, to learn all there is to know.
And then . . . they wither. They disengage. They begin majoring in minors—and never quit. Their dreams die stillborn.
Broken driveshafts litter the land. Why? No one seems to know. Or care. But I do.
* * * * *
Where and when did we lose them? It started early—very, very early. With:
“Don’t bother me, Daddy’s busy!”
“Will you just shut up! Your questions are driving me crazy!”
“No, I don’t have time to take you to the park.”
“No, you can’t play outside, there are perverts on the loose!”
“No, you can’t have a sandpile—sandpiles are too messy.”
“No, Mommy doesn’t have time to read to you,. Go watch TV—no, I don’t care what you watch, as long as you leave me alone!”
Since a boy deprived of action is a Ferrari limited to a thirty-foot-long strip of pavement, boys end up going where we send them—to video games (the wilder, the more violent, the edgier the better), to gameboys, to dark movies, to 24/7 sports (most of it vicarious). Vicarious . . . that says it all. Since we deprive them of action in the real world outside, they settle for a meaningless virtual world. All that pent-up energy that should be channeled into life-affirming growth is poured down a rat hole. Makes no difference, be it drugs, liquor, violence, porn, or lassitude: the results are the same, reminding me of a summer day in Nashville, many years ago. I was alternatively reading and taking notes from a large stack of books, and swimming laps in a rooftop swimming pool. A young man of about eighteen was sprawled out on a deck chair doing nothing. Out of the blue, he spoke up:
“What are you doing here in Nashville?”
“Me? Oh, I’m working on my doctorate in English. That’s why I’m reading so many books.”
“Oh, I’m just curious; you seem to really enjoy it—like you get high on it.”
I laughed. “I do. I do get high on it. It’s exciting to grow, to learn things I didn’t know before.”
Then the saddest words I’ve ever heard, accompanied by a sigh: “Guess I could never get your kind of high—it’s so much easier to just do drugs.”
I never saw him again.
* * * * *
Which leads me to a recent conversation I had with an area elementary school principal. She said, “Since you’re so involved with getting kids into reading, you’ll never believe what they told us at a reading conference I just attended.”
“What was that?”
“When you’re reading to small children, don’t show them the pictures.”
“Huh? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“That’s just what I said.”
“What possible reason could they have for not showing them the pictures?”
“That’s the part I can’t get out of my head. They say that most children today come from non-reading homes—hardly a book, magazine, or newspaper to be found anywhere—, replaced of course by a large screen/media center. . . . Well, everything in the house being electronic, these kids are so electronically overexposed they are literally incapable of creating their own mental pictures—”
“In other words,” I broke in, “they are incapable of imagining.”
“Exactly. So they tell us not to show them the pictures, as they’d be just one more visual crutch to keep them from creating their own mental pictures. So we’re supposed to read them but one line at a time, stop, then ask them what kind of mental pictures they can come up with, so that gradually, over time, we may help them belatedly to begin to think their own thoughts.”
I was stunned. Speechless.
So no wonder we’re losing our boys! Deprived of action and growth in the real world, and deprived by media overexposure of the ability to imagine, to conceptualize, to think, one by one they disengage, leave us, and spiral out of life into darkness. You can tell by the vacant stare, the bored look in their eyes, that they’re no longer with you. So it’s little surprise when they drop out, give up on college and real growth, and inertly slip down into a virtual world from which they never return.
So they’re just as dead to us as was Eugene Field’s unforgettable Little Boy Blue, whose toys
“. . . wonder, as waiting the long years through
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
Since he kissed them and put them there.”
* * * * *
Next Wednesday, we’ll tackle the learning ramifications of being incapable of imagining.