• Manhood •
September 16, 2005
Newsweek reports that educators are finding that boys and girls learn differently – leading to a reconsideration of educating boys and girls together in the same classroom. In “Boy Brains, Girl Brains,” reporter Peg Tyre lays out the story — and the controversy:
Three years ago, Jeff Gray, the principal at Foust Elementary School in Owensboro, Ky., realized that his school needed help–and fast. Test scores at Foust were the worst in the county and the students, particularly the boys, were falling far behind. So Gray took a controversial course for educators on brain development, then revamped the first- and second-grade curriculum. The biggest change: he divided the classes by gender. Because males have less serotonin in their brains, which Gray was taught may cause them to fidget more, desks were removed from the boys’ classrooms and they got short exercise periods throughout the day. Because females have more oxytocin, a hormone linked to bonding, girls were given a carpeted area where they sit and discuss their feelings. Because boys have higher levels of testosterone and are theoretically more competitive, they were given timed, multiple-choice tests. The girls were given multiple-choice tests, too, but got more time to complete them. Gray says the gender-based curriculum gave the school “the edge we needed.” Tests scores are up. Discipline problems are down. This year the fifth and sixth grades at Foust are adopting the new curriculum, too.
Then again, some within the educational establishment claim that calls for single-sex classrooms are “part of a long history of pseudoscience aimed at denying equal opportunities in education.”
The differences between boys and girls are profound. Most classrooms are girl-friendly and largely feminized in culture. Boys think differently, communicate differently, and are incentivized differently. Young boys cannot sit quiet and still for long periods of time. Their concentration patterns are very different from those of girls — and they know it. Resisting an acknowledgement of these differences requires a tremendous capacity for denying the obvious.
September 10, 2005
Danielle Crittenden, author of What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us, has written a must-read article, “The Cost of Delaying Marriage.” The article has recently been republished by Boundless.org. This is an issue I address often, and I appreciate Crittenden’s thoughtful analysis — as well as her perspective as a woman.
Crittenden [married to David Frum, by the way], observes that, as recently as the 1950s, most young women married early. Her analysis:
In this sense, we lead lives that are exactly the inverse of our grandmothers’. If previous generations of women were raised to believe that they could only realize themselves within the roles of wife and mother, now the opposite is thought true: It’s only outside these roles that we are able to realize our full potential and worth as human beings. A 20-year-old bride is considered as pitiable as a 30-year-old spinster used to be. Once a husband and children were thought to be essential to a woman’s identity, the source of purpose in her life; today, they are seen as peripherals, accessories that we attach only after our full identities are up and running.
The article is really important. Her intelligent celebration of marriage is refreshing: What we rarely hear – or perhaps are too fearful to admit – is how liberating marriage can actually be. As nerve-wracking as making the decision can be, it is also an enormous relief once it is made. The moment we say, “I do,” we have answered one of the great crucial questions of our lives: We now know with whom we’ll be spending the rest of our years, who will be the father of our children, who will be our family.
August 25, 2005
“It is nowadays very difficult for a boy to grow up with masculine honor in this society. For one thing, he is standing at the tail-end of a veritable whirlwind of anti-male sentiment that has been sweeping through the country for decades; although the force of this sentiment has somewhat let up, it has left in its wake a vast collection of moral and spiritual debris for any boy to pick his way through.” Those are the words of Midge Decter, first published several years ago.
In “What Are Little Boys Made Of?,” Decter argues that our society is opposed to the very nature of boyhood: Somewhere on the way to and from the 1960′s, something happened in America to suppress this natural condition of boys: some loss of energy, some shying away from their instinctive restlessness and competitiveness, and, with it, a fading of whatever happened to be the standards of gallantry. It is not easy to say what brought this about–our mores of child-rearing certainly had a lot, if not everything, to do with it. In the end what really matters is that the process of damping their natures–which would prove so fateful, to them and to the rest of us, during the years of the Vietnam war–was applauded by the keepers of the national ethos: the intellectuals, the educators, the clergy, and the press.
This article will make every reader think. Midge Decter is a provocative writer, and this article is certain to provoke. Christian parents will not accept every assumption or argument in the article. Nevertheless, Decter is making a serious argument that is seriously needed. Her article, first published in the December 1998 edition of Commentary, is now available at the Web site of the Catholic Educator’s Resource Center. It’s not every day that I recommend an article by a Jewish author posted on a Catholic Web site. This one deserves the recommendation.
August 2, 2005
On Sunday, President George W. Bush addressed several thousand boys at the 2005 National Boy Scout Jamboree. The President spoke after the Jamboree had been marked by tragedy and great dificulty. Just days before, four adult scout leaders had been electrocuted and record-high temperatures sent 300 scouts to the sick bay. The boys were glad to hear the President, and his message was important. Consider these words:
At times, you may come across people who say that moral truth is relative, or call a religious faith a comforting allusion. They may question the values you learn in scouting. But remember, lives of purpose are constructed on the conviction there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference.
In the years ahead you will find that indifferent or cynical people accomplish little that makes them proud. You’ll find that confronting injustice and evil requires a vision of goodness and truth. You’ll find that many in your community, especially those younger than you, look to you as an example of conduct and leadership. For your sake, and for the sake of our country, I hope you’ll always strive to be men of conviction and character.
Those words sound much like what President Theodore Roosevelt would have said a century ago, but President Bush’s message would surely be dismissed by some as anachronistic, simplistic, and moralistic. The cultural elites see the Boy Scouts as fossils from a distant age where archaic virtues once ruled. I am thankful that President Bush didn’t surrender to the cynics. As for myself, here’s one former Boy Scout who hopes that those boys at the Jamboree were listening.
The full text of the President’s address is available through the White House Web page.
July 25, 2005
The astounding popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien and his writings–magnified many times over by the success of the “Lord of the Rings” films–has ensured that Tolkien’s fantasy world of moral meaning stands as one of the great literary achievements of our times. Even as Tolkien is celebrated as an author and literary figure, some of his most important messages were communicated by means of letters, and some of the most important letters were written to his sons.
July 22, 2005
Mark Chanski, a pastor in Holland, Michigan, thinks that many Chistian men fall far short of the biblical vision of what he calls “husbanding.” Several significant cultural factors have contributed to this reality, but Chanski sees even deeper theological issues at stake. Taking his cue from billiards, Chanski describes weak husbands as “passive nice guys,” who have fallen prey to “passive-purple-four-ballism.” The purple ’4′ ball on the pool table is passive, and so are too many men, Chanski argues. His book, Manly Dominion, is worth careful attention. Young men of the rising generation of Christian men needs this book — and so do many of their fathers. Here’s a sampling:
July 15, 2005
Elina Furman writes about the emergence of the “boomerang nation” — a nation of adult children who don’t assume adult responsibilities, but come home to live again with parents. Don’t get her wrong — she’s not opposed to the trend. She just wants the boomerang ‘kids’ to understand why their parents may not be so excited to see them living at home once again. From her book, Boomerang Nation:
July 8, 2005
Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times includes an interesting opinion column by Bob Herbert entitled, “Dad’s Empty Chair.” Herbert writes with passion and insight about the problem of fatherlessness and what the absence of a father means. He looks back at the death of young Christopher Rose, the boy recently killed over an iPod, and relates the concern of Christopher’s father to protect him from the evils he knew would come for his son. Take a look at these excerpts and then read the entire article:
“I was trying to hide him away from all this violence,” Mr. Rose said yesterday. “I knew that someday, somehow, somebody was going to approach him and try to hurt him.”
There are plenty of youngsters who grow up fine without a father in the home. But that’s not a good argument in favor of fatherlessness. Most of the youngsters getting into trouble and preying on others come from fatherless homes, as Mr. Rose pointed out. “There’s no one out there,” he said, “to tell them: ‘Hello! Wake up. You guys have to stop doing what you’re doing.’ “
Kids who grow up without a father never experience that special sense of security and the enhanced feeling of belonging that come from having a father in the home. So they seek it elsewhere. They don’t get that sweet feeling of triumph that comes from a father’s approval, or the warmth of the old man’s hug, or the wisdom to be drawn from his discipline.
July 5, 2005
Writing in the very first year of the twentieth century, William Byron Forbush warned America that it faced a crisis he called “the boy problem.” Forbush warned that a generation of young males, then still in boyhood, would soon enter the life of the nation without the necessary civilizing influences, discipline, and character. He called for immediate action and directed national attention to the problem.
June 28, 2005
The Sunday Times [London] reports that young British men are turning into “eternal bachelors” and the nation is turning into a “bachelor nation.” In fact, men are marrying now marrying at a rate lower than at any time other than the most intense years of World War II. It’s not that they are not having sex–they are just not making commitments.
These young men are not even cohabitating — they are just living like irresponsible teenagers. As the newspaper reported, “While the fall in marriage is well documented, it has widely been thought this is because couples are moving in together instead. But the LSE [London School of Economics] study, designed to test this notion, found growing numbers of men are simply not forming serious relationships until later in life.”
In other words, they are not growing up. A civilization that fails to encoruage its young men to accept adult roles and adult responsibilities–especially the responsibility of marriage–is sowing the seeds of its own destruction.
GROWN-UP LINKS: John Elliott, Men Behave Singularly Like Eternal Bachelors, The Sunday Times [London], Sunday, June 26, 2005. See also my essay, The Generation That Won’t Grow Up, published January 24, 2005. In addition, see Sophie Goodchild, Half of All ‘Twenty-Something’ Men Shun Relationships, The Independent [London], Sunday, June 26, 2005; and this press release from the London School of Economics.
June 18, 2005
On Friday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program, Russ Moore and I discussed the state of fatherhood in our times. We seem to be living at a moment when fatherhood, having been sidelined, marginalized, and depreciated for at least three decades, is back as a calling among many younger Christian men. That’s the good news. The bad news is that so much ground has already been lost. Here are a few interesting links for your consideration:
1. John Tierney, The Doofus Dad, The New York Times”, Saturday, June 18, 2005. Tierney argues that the “omniscient father” of media fascination in the 1950s has given way to the “doofus dad” of contemporary sit-coms and entertainment. “Where did we fathers go wrong? We spend twice as much time with our kids as we did two decades ago, but on television we’re oblivious (‘Jimmy Neutron’), troubled (‘The Sopranos’), deranged (‘Malcolm in the Middle’) and generally incompetent (‘Everybody Loves Raymond’). Even if Dad has a good job, like the star of ‘Home Improvement,’ at home he’s forever making messes that must be straightened out by Mom.”
2. Steven E. Rhoads, What Fathers Do Best, The Weekly Standard, June 20, 2005. Rhoads, author of Taking Sex Differences Seriously, argues that moms and dads have different functions, responsibilities, and skill sets. In today’s world, that’s a controversial assertion. In the real world, his point is obvious. Consider this: “What do most real-world dads do? When the kids get old enough, they teach them how to build and fix things and how to play sports. They are better than moms at teaching children how to deal with novelty and frustration, perhaps because they are more likely than mothers to encourage children to work out problems and address challenges themselves–from putting on their shoes to operating a new toy. When the kids become older still, Dad is usually better than Mom at controlling unruly boys. Jennifer Roback Morse notes that all the surveys of who does what around the house never mention one of her husband’s most important functions–he is responsible for glaring. When their son acts up, his glares just seem to have more effect than hers do.” This is a skill I learned from watching dear old dad.
3. Michael Cromartie, Soft Patriarchs: A Conversation with Brad Wilcox, Ethics and Public Policy Center, September 10, 2004. Wilcox, who teaches sociology at the University of Virginia, is author of Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (University of Chicago Press, 2004). The book is truly ground-breaking, and deserves a wide influence. Here’s a sample from his interview with Michael Cromartie: Speaking of the influence of conservative Christian belief on evangelical men, Wilcox said this: “It domesticates men by making them more attentive to the ideals and aspirations of their wives and children, and it does this by providing men with a clear message of familial responsibility, a clear sense of their own status in the family, and equally important, a male ethos where they can encounter other men who are committed to family life. Let’s face it–the church is one of the few institutions in the United States where men encounter other men who are interested in talking about fatherhood and marriage–and interested also in practicing what they hear preached. You don’t often find it at work; you don’t find it in the sports stadium; you don’t find it in the local tavern. But in church what you will find is a message and ethos that is family-focused and gives men the motivation to attend to their families. When you look at measures of paternal involvement–things like reading to your children, volunteering for a Boy Scouts group, coaching sports, and so on–active conservative Protestant or evangelical fathers are the most involved fathers of any major religious group in the United States.”
June 17, 2005