How I wish they’d been wrong—but they weren’t.
About twenty years ago, Newsweek did a cover story on boys, pointing out widespread concern about something scary that teachers were seeing in classrooms across the country: boys bailing out of the educational process at an ever earlier age. Mesmerized by the pied pipers of the media and sports, boys were all but ceasing to read, write, or grow intellectually. If this trend continued, pundits warned, boys will bail out of college and higher education as well—and that would have devastating consequences in terms of the future of our nation.
Ever since reading that study, I’ve been intensely aware of the problem whenever I’m in the presence of students, young or old. I speak and read to elementary students quite often, and it’s almost always the same: girls are excited about authors, books, ideas, and growth; boys generally make little effort to stifle their yawns. Of course, thank goodness, there are exceptions—but that’s what they are: exceptions to the norm.
I strongly suspect most parents don’t realize the price their children will pay during the rest of their lives for permitting the media center to replace the home library, the electronic tentacles of cyberspace to replace the daily story hour. Studies reveal that if a child doesn’t fall in love with reading by the third grade, it’s not likely to ever take place at all.
As to the price we’re paying at this moment in history, just listen to David Brooks (The New York Times, Feb. 17, 2010):
“We’re looking at an extended period of above 8% unemployment. The biggest impact is on men. Over the past few decades, men have lagged behind women in acquiring education and skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at age 22, 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men [my italics]. Furthermore, men are concentrated in industries where employment is declining (manufacturing) or highly cyclical (construction). So men have taken an especially heavy blow during this crisis. The gap between the male and female unemployment rates has reached its highest level since the government began keeping such records.”
Brooks notes that “men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity. Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. . . . For decades, men have adopted poorly to the shifting demands of the service economy. Now they are paying the price. The working class is in danger of descending into underclass-style dysfunction. For decades, young people have been living in a loose, under-institutionalized world. Now they are moving back home in droves. We need to redefine masculinity” [my italics]. For the first time in American history, women will be holding down the majority of our jobs—besides being the primary caregivers, as daughters, mothers, and wives.
At the rate we’re moving, it can only get worse for men—and for the women who depend on them.
I do have some answers, but they are long-term and will be anything but easy to achieve. There can be no quick fix to a problem of this magnitude!
I shall continue the dialogue on this issue with next Wednesday’s blog.