Categorized as: Boys’ Learning and Education

Boys, Breast Cancer, and the Magic of Boys’ Schools

I write this post for two reasons. I write in honor of the women in my life who have fought breast cancer, as this is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And I write in response to the September 23, 2011 study in Science Magazine titled “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling.” I challenge its incendiary and unsubstantiated claims that “segregating” boys and girls by gender is similar to the racial segregation of African-American children in the southern schools of decades ago, and that it “increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutionalized sexism.” Here is a small window into my life in a boys’ school, and the transformation I observed, not just in the boys themselves, but in myself as a woman:


On a cool autumn day in October of 2006, over 300 boys arrived one morning wearing pink. Shirts were pink, hats were pink, other accessories and items of clothing that could be bought or dyed pink adorned these boys who gathered together for a photograph in front of white-white New England clapboard buildings under a brilliant blue sky. They casually tossed their arms across each other’s shoulders, smiling at the camera, appearing to any onlooker like the collective innocence and joyfulness of boyhood from a bygone era, made modern by the bold choice of color they had conspired to wear. They wore it in solidarity with a woman they loved who lived in a house next door to the school. A woman who was fighting Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. A woman who just happened to be their Headmaster’s wife and the chair of the English department.

It was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the president of the student body of this boys’ school, working with a faculty advisor, organized a school-wide fundraiser in honor of their beloved English teacher, and all of the other women in their lives, and women they did not even know, who were fighting, or had survived, breast cancer. But wait. Boys don’t wear pink! And why would boys care about breast cancer, anyway—a predominantly woman’s disease they have very little chance of ever contracting?

They raised thousands of dollars for the cause. More importantly, they raised their own consciousness about a “women’s issue” that could potentially affect their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, teachers, or female friends. For some of them, that was actively the case.

Here’s what the boys did not do. They did not sport rubber bracelets or t-shirts that said “I <3 Boobies” or “Save the Ta-Ta’s.” Dedicated female (and male) teachers had deconstructed for them the cruel irony of sexualizing breast cancer.

Here’s what the boys did do. During their free time they (and lots of returning alums) visited their teacher who was fighting for her life. Freely and unselfconsciously they expressed their emotions, their affection, their fears. They connected to her as not only an important woman in their schooling and in their lives, but also as a woman battling a life-threatening illness who might not make it, like so many other women who have not made it. They could talk about it, and cry about it, and do that together.

Too few boys access this side of themselves, especially during puberty, and especially in co-ed settings. But boys have great capacity for this kind of emotional expression, and if it does not come easily to them verbally, they can emote through drama, music, or art. Sadly, in co-ed schools, the social milieu between boys and girls does not always allow boys to easily pursue so-called “feminine” interests that are censured by their peers.  How many times in my career have I heard, “chorus is for girls?”

Poetry, literature, theater and many other artistic pursuits are judged as feminine at best, and as indicating potential homosexuality at worst. Boys sometimes shut down the artistic and emotive parts of themselves when they feel their masculinity is being scrutinized and that, if they are not considered male enough, they could be bullied.  So, one of the wonders of boys’ schools is that chorus is for everyone. Everything is for everyone.

What about athletics? Well of course sports play a big role at most boys’ schools. Healthy competition is encouraged and viewed positively as long as it is paired with a deep understanding of good sportsmanship, being a team player, and the lifelong lessons of camaraderie on the field.

Academically, boys take more risks in single-sex environments. They eagerly raise their hands to answer questions about books. They participate passionately in poetry slams. If they are physically restless or less attentive than girls, they are in an environment where that is understood and accepted by both male and female teachers who love boys, are experts in their development, and know how to instruct them, in all their boyishness, to reach their full potential. Teachers in boys’ schools have chosen to be there and are not just “putting up with” boys.

There is much discussion these days about boys falling behind girls academically. As an educational psychologist by training and the first female admissions director in the history of my school, I saw this first hand, and I have also written about it. I feel strongly that single-sex education is highly beneficial for both genders, and for boys in particular it can help address the current achievement gap with girls. We have long addressed girls’ math and science gap, with some (but not complete) success. In our efforts to level the playing field, many believe we now shortchange boys. I consider myself a feminist and I believe that our public educational system favors girls today.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to separate the genders during schooling, especially in the middle school years, is to release them from the burdens of our hyper-sexualized society for a few hours a day so they can focus on academics and learn to their highest potential. In co-ed environments, the cross-gender distractions have reached epic proportions, with girls dressing so provocatively and both boys and girls engaging in the greatest degree of disruptive flirtatious behavior schools have ever seen.

For those who question “segregating” the genders, I must point out that single-sex schools are usually not monasteries or nunneries. Boys and girls interact with each other at home, in neighborhoods, in churches and synagogues, in co-ed sports teams, at dances, in joint community service projects, in dramatic productions and in so many other ways. But during the short school day, boys can be singers or girls can be hockey players and no one of the opposite gender is there to evaluate how well they are performing their gender role as our society prescribes it. No one of the opposite gender is there to show off for or to shut down in front of. Everyone gets to explore freely—without stigma—what it means to be boys or girls, and most importantly, what it is to be human.

Many prospective parents coming through the admissions process used to notice, when they visited our campus, that the boys were exceptionally polite and respectful, opening doors for them and shaking their hands firmly with good eye contact and a friendly smile. That is because these behaviors and values were expressly fostered and supported as a school community. There were no standardized tests to teach to or to replace other important lessons, including the value of respect and empathy for women, which was explicitly taught in health classes where no girls were present and honest conversations could take place comfortably.

Parents sometimes asked me if the boys are always as “good” as they seemed during their tour of campus. I had a good comeback line for that: “I fill the school with boys, not angels.” Of course they got in trouble and made mistakes! But failures were teachable moments, and the faculty, which was 50% male and 50% female, all knew how to capitalize on serendipity. Boys had trusted mentors and strong role models of both genders, and that is such a gift. I think it should be the experience of all boys, but co-ed schools draw mostly female teachers, especially at the younger grades. Male teaching candidates are often drawn to boys’ schools where they know they can make a difference with boys, and also enjoy the companionship of other men.

These boys eventually graduate with a strong moral foundation and go on to predominantly co-ed schools where they encounter girls in academic, athletic, and artistic situations having learned to approach them with respect and from a position of self-confidence that has remained intact and strong. They have been nurtured as growing young men, learning emotional literacy and taking risks in ways that co-ed environments can sometimes discourage.

Good single-sex schools that use gender as a lens to better understand boys (or girls) cut to the heart of what it means to develop into healthy young men or women. They combat stereotypes rather than encourage them as the study falsely (and without evidence) asserts.

There are bad single-sex schools just as there are bad co-ed schools. Boys’ schools have a reputation for being bastions of white male privilege, racism, sexism, classism, and bullying. Everyone saw or read Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and so this image of the elite hardscrabble bullying culture of a British boys’ boarding school is what many people consciously or subconsciously think of when they hear the term “boys’ school.” Thank God things have changed. It is not that there is no bullying anymore because all schools have bullying. But without the presence of girls to compete for, boys actually have fewer flashpoints between them and greater camaraderie. The friendships they develop in school often last a lifetime.

Single-sex schools (unlike the discriminatory “separate but equal” racially segregated schools of our pre-Civil Rights era) are a choice. Separate does not mean unequal. It can mean different, and different can be good. It is not forced on anyone. In fact, it is sought out and usually purchased at a high price by parents who can afford it and understand its value, leaving it an option for very few middle and low-income families. Most people do not pay tens of thousands of dollars for an education that harms their children.

What is needed is for more public schools, especially in poor urban neighborhoods, to be allowed to offer single-sex education, even if it occurs simply in academic classrooms within a co-ed building. The research done to date by the Department of Education concludes the opposite of what the Science study purports…that academic achievement and social/emotional development resulting from single-sex schooling results in short and long-term positive outcomes for both boys and girls. The Science Magazine study upset me greatly. It was completely dissonant with my own education and experience. Boys’ schools are by and large exceptional learning environments for young men. They are also extremely tight-knit communities.

By the way, five years later, the Headmaster’s wife is alive and well, one of only a small number of women to have ever survived this long with Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. She credits her excellent medical care, a loving family, supportive colleagues…and lots and lots of boys.

Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project.








The Gender Pendulum: How the Free Market Economy Creates Gender Polarization

This piece is part of a special series on the End of Gender. This series includes bloggers from Role/RebootGood Men ProjectThe Huffington PostSalonHyperVocalMs. MagazineYourTangoPsychology TodayPrincess Free ZoneThe Next Great Generation, and Man-Making.

The day I met Jean Kilbourne I was in Dallas attending the International Boys’ School Coalition’s annual conference. Ms. Kilbourne showed the large international audience of mostly men and a few women her groundbreaking video, “Killing Us Softly,” about advertising’s representation of femininity in mass media, and how damaging it is to the self-esteem of girls and women and to the ways boys and men view them.

I remember sitting in the dark auditorium, feeling awkward amidst my male colleagues, watching the images of dismembered and scantily clad female body parts advertising liquor and cars and possibly orange juice flash across the screen in dizzying succession. Ms. Kilbourne’s voice never rose, remaining coolly descriptive as it explained the relationship between these images and the objectification and ultimate dehumanization of women. There was no need for theatrical rhetoric when pictures spoke so many words.

Is it any wonder that the billboards and magazines that sexualize girls and women—photoshopping them ironically to the brink of anorexic death and the illusion of eternal youth—turn up living and breathing and walking down school hallways in their cheek-bearing cutoff shorts and t-shirts spray painted over push-up bras? Or that 90% of thirteen – fourteen-year-old boys in a Canadian survey admitted to having watched hard core Internet porn, with one-third of those young boys reporting they watched it “too many times to count?” Executive summary: Score one for free speech and deregulation, zero for the human race.

On Halloween, these young unwitting female consumers of craptastic media messages will take to the stage as slutty devils or slutty witches or slutty nurses, competing via self-objectification for the superficial attention of male schoolmates who eagerly anticipate and cheer on the spectacle. And be advised: October 31, National Dress Up As A Hooker Day, is now moving into the elementary schools. It joins fellow new arrivals there that include sexting; the latest growing demographic for lingerie and cosmetic purchases; porn viewing by the under-10 set; and the replacement of dating (which never belonged in elementary school in the first place) by the hook-up culture. I will not try too hard to think of what I’ve left out.

What we are witnessing is the triumph of the free market economy over any iota of concern for the emotional and physical wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of society—our children. Parents are increasingly giving up, resigned that their kids live in a fallen world. Battered and beleaguered educators continue reeling from the inverse relationship between in loco parentis demands placed upon them by bureaucratic legislation, and reduced funding to pay for the execution of said demands.

It is unclear to me who will be the new children whisperers if we can ever wrestle our kids from the clutches of all the purveyors of pop culture who stand to make a buck from exploiting them and pitting them against each other. To everyone who assigns this daunting task to parents, that is analogous to asking them to make sure their children don’t breathe any pollution or get washed away in a flash flood somewhere on this warming planet, because the oil industry and all its pimps and minions are not responsible for these circumstances.

If there is any hope of rescuing the pendulum as it swings into orbit around Mars, caring adults must join together when children are very young to create a new foundation for the future of male-female relationships. As a human society, we need to raise and educate girls and boys with fewer gender-specific limitations and stereotypes, and a greater awareness that life is better for both genders when they can support, rather than exploit, each other’s vulnerabilities.

What would this kind of brave new world look like? For one thing it would look a lot less gender polarized than it does right now, as can be seen in the flaming comment threads on just about any article in the blogosphere related to gender equality or the problems being encountered by either males or females in society today. When does this polarization start? I think it starts from birth, or perhaps as much as four months before, when a baby’s sex can be determined by ultrasound.

From the moment a baby’s genitalia are categorized, everything else in his or her life is also categorized. Suddenly boys are swimming in an ocean of blue, while girls are transported into the Pepto Bismol world of princessified clothes, sparkly toys that don’t do anything, make-up for preschoolers, and extra-special girl Happy Meals. Girls fall down a rabbit hole of beauty propaganda from which they may never emerge, while boys are shepherded down their own toy aisles where the adventure games, science kits, and all the colors of the rainbow except pink have gone to live.  Adults who are naïve to these issues reinforce the cycle that the marketers have set in motion, making sure that they buy “boy” or “girl” clothes and toys. Just so there is no confusion, these are all labeled and occupy separate sections of stores and catalogs. Company profits double, while girls’ possibilities shrink.

Once kids go to school, girls quickly gain advantage. Their learning styles and activity levels are better suited to the design of American public schools and the preferences of predominantly female teachers, and they mature more quickly than boys. Boys start falling behind in multiple ways…for example, their grades are lower, they are less often the leaders of clubs, and they are almost entirely disappearing among high school valedictorians. In college admissions, many schools are seeing an applicant pool that is 40% male and 60% female.

Meanwhile, something else interesting starts to happen. Right around the onset of puberty, the pretty pink princesses morph into pretty-obsessed Lolitas. Competing for the attention of boys pits girls against each other, leading to the “mean girl” phenomenon that, perhaps ultimately, results in some of the difficulties women have supporting each other. It is not hard to see why we have so few female elected officials or CEO’s when women tend to view other successful women as too aggressive and less competent than men, and undermine them rather than help them gain power.

I wonder…is there possibly a relationship between boys being dominated by girls academically, and in turn objectifying them to degrade them and take them down a peg? In the adult world, do men who feel insecure about their roles vis-à-vis women in 2011 have a greater need to pornify them?

If girls have been fed a passive role by adults—the role of being gazed upon and focusing heavily on their looks—while boys have been guided to interact more actively with their environment for their whole childhoods, are they all set up for the polarized, exploitative adult gender behaviors revealed in Jean Kilbourne’s video, and the anger and scorn ­­­spewed out in comment threads on the internet every day?

Men are still the power brokers. Has the exploitation of women grown this exponentially because men are angry with women, and have been messaged to view them as sexual objects? And do women enable their own treatment by men because they are so brainwashed by sexualizing media while young that they objectify themselves as teens and adults, believing their bodies to be their most important assets, trading on the fleeting nonsense of “erotic capital,” and therefore setting themselves up for adult lives of dissatisfaction?

It all comes down to the timeless value of respect…self-respect and respect for others. Lack of respect can be found all the way from the neighborhood playground to Capitol Hill, and the degradation of norms we all hear about is not slowing down. We have to teach young girls and boys media literacy and how to deconstruct the messages the profiteers are sending them. We have to teach them to have authentic agency in their own lives. We absolutely must teach them respect.

Women must learn greater respect for their own talents and abilities, neither of which are best spent chasing youth, thinness, and sexual desirability 24/7. They must become more supportive of each other’s aspirations, and begin to help each other manage the aging process with greater serenity and dignity. Mutual respect among girls and women should be encouraged by adults beginning when girls first snatch the silver tiaras off each other’s heads.

Men must recognize and oppose the damage that is done to women, to themselves, and to their relationships by refusing to participate in the social construct that women are there to be looked at and sexually acquired. Women actually need to hear from men that their faces and bodies are not all that they are, and that they are loved, appreciated and valued for their insides.

We must all band together if we are to rise above the debasement we all suffer by the divisive market-driven world we’ve created.

 This article is reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project and The Huffington Post.


Why Boys are Failing in an Educational System Stacked Against Them

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang that we should teach our children well and feed them of our dreams, but for millions of parents of sons, dreams are only that, and boys are falling behind educationally at an alarming rate in this country.  Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and in Life, and many other authors and educational experts proclaim that we have a crisis in the education of boys in this country. The media attention to this topic has been extensive in recent years, yet I do not see the systemic changes that are needed.

Gurian presents statistics that boys get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90% of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80% of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45% of the college population.  If you look in your newspaper right now, in June, you will see the photos and bios of valedictorians from many of your local high schools, and will notice that the majority of them these days are girls.

What Do the Experts Say?

According to Whitmire, children are forced to use literacy skills much earlier than in the past, and boys develop these skills later than girls. In the world of “Kindergarten is the new first grade,” boys are struggling mightily to keep up. When it comes to writing, the gender divide is even greater. NCLB and our hyper-focus on standardized test scores is worsening, not ameliorating, the academic struggles of boys, and subsequently increasing the numbers of boys who turn off to school and eventually drop out.

According to Gurian, boys learn by doing and by moving their bodies through space. The more emphasis is placed on the development of early reading skills, and the less emphasis is placed on a healthy amount of movement and experiential learning, the more disadvantageous our schools will be for males.

Our boys need our attention, and although some of what I’m about to write pertains to girls as well as boys, and although gender differences naturally fall across a continuum and no single description fits all boys or all girls, there are nonetheless a number of characteristics that differentiate the two genders generally speaking.

On Growing Up With Boys, Then Raising a Girl

As the mother of a female only child, my parenting experience, while not always idyllic, has been relatively peaceful.  As a toddler, my daughter was sedentary and cautious, and seemed to have nowhere she needed to go.  She would sit in one spot on the floor for hours with a pile of books, “reading” to herself.  I could shoot from room to room, accomplishing tasks, and she would smile up at me from her place on the living room rug as if wondering, what’s the hurry?

She was much like I was as a child, and nothing like the brothers I had grown up with who requisitioned large expanses of the floor plan of our house for their games, commandeering space like an army of two. The entire finished basement was needed for indoor hockey (and windows were expendable). Outdoors, acres of woods were barely enough for their imaginary villages and the conquering of foreign lands. Unwitting trees were the patient recipients of nails and ropes and bungee cords, bending uncomplainingly to the weight of whatever animate or inanimate objects were tied, strapped or hung from them.

One day my brother devised a pulley system to ferry a dangling ceramic soap dish full of birdseed back and forth between his bedroom window on the third floor and a distant pine tree in the back yard, only to have it immediately collapse under its own weight, sending the heavy chunk of porcelain careening downward in a 90-degree arc until it came into abrupt contact with a doomed sliding glass door. This was a terrific lesson in physics. It was also funny.

The Nature of Boys

As Gurian explains in his book, the primitive hunters men used to be were the product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Spatially developed male brains resulted from physical interaction with the environment that allowed sensory input to stimulate the right hemisphere and build white matter and synapses in ways that would be useful for survival.

Even though the concept of the square school with the square classroom with one teacher to 20 or more kids has been around for a few hundred years, our boys are still young hunters whose brains need the same types of stimulation to grow and be healthy as did their male ancestors millennia ago. Our schools are vastly different from the setting of family, tribe and natural environment that used to be the educational milieu for growing boys.

Why Our Educational System Does Not Support Male Learning Styles

Our modern educational system works for many children, particularly girls, but for some boys (and girls) it places constraints on a very normal and necessary experiential type of learning, not to mention the need of many children to move around rather than sit still. While it may be a cynical statement, I have often felt that co-ed schools are girls’ schools that boys go to.

I am not advocating for a return to life in caves and an educational system for boys involving the activities and rituals described in my college anthropology book.  What I do advocate for is a greater understanding and appreciation for who boys are and how they learn best, and the subtle pedagogical modifications that would benefit millions of children.

How Schools Could Honor Who Boys Are

Simple changes to the pace and tempo of the school day, such as incorporating several brief recesses throughout the day, devoting more time to physical education, and including more hands-on activities go a long way towards alleviating some of the natural restlessness of boys and harnessing male energy in positive ways. How much Ritalin could remain on the shelves if we created schools that are ready for boys rather than boys who are ready for schools?

Just as we collectively addressed the needs of girls over the past couple of decades and made great strides in closing their achievement gaps in math and science, let us now turn our attention to our nation’s boys and take equally deliberate steps to assure their success in school and in life. The revolution in brain science over the past fifteen years gives us the knowledge and the tools we need to do this, and we must, for as a society we are setting our boys up to fail in a system that is stacked against them, stacked against the very way they are neurologically wired.

This is not to say that social and cultural influences are not contributing factors to who boys are today, but we now have medical evidence, once elusive, that illuminates the very significant role biology plays in male/female brain development and learning. Parents and teachers need to become better educated about how boys and girls really are different, and how to best meet the needs of each. Particularly relevant to this discussion is the theory of “natural learning,” which takes for granted that a learner is a whole person – a living system – and that every aspect of a person, boy or girl, contributes to his or her learning.

What Does the Future Hold?

At some colleges today, boys are being given a boost in the admissions process because they have become a minority.  If we do not address boys’ educational needs earlier in life than this, the skewing of college enrollment, and thus opportunity in life, will only get worse.

Meeting the learning needs of all of our children is a lofty yet imperative goal. We must join together to nurture and celebrate what it is to be female and what it is to be male and the very essence and value of the difference. And after all, boys will be boys.

Reprinted with permission from The Huffington Post.


It’s Time for the Global Village to Stand Up for Our Children

When Abercrombie & Fitch recently launched their pushup padded bikini top for girls aged 8 to 12, something inside me finally broke. My anger was volcanic, flowing through friends and family, spewing onto Facebook and across Twitter. For an entire day I searched plaintively for others who could understand my disillusionment.

I found a few soul mates, in person and on the Internet, but what I mostly found was the screaming silence of indifference. I wanted to shake people, to shout at them to wake up and take a look around, to ask them to stop playing with their iPhones for a moment and pay attention.

During those initial hours of my realization of just how far the elevator had dropped this time, I raged at my loving and patient husband who shared my anguish over the damage that certain corporations can inflict upon our children, and the sea of apathy among parents that borders on resignation. Some added their voices to the chorus of outraged, activated parents, while others either had no discernible reaction, or openly questioned what the fuss was all about, noting that mothers could simply refuse to buy the bikini tops for their daughters—problem solved. But was it really? I kept wondering, imploring, why do we increasingly fail to protect our kids, and why do we seem to have lost sight of our most core value, the collective rearing of well-adjusted children, securing our future as a thriving species on Earth? I could not process the depth of my anomie.


“Anomie” is one of my favorite words, acquired in college Sociology 101. It is a term describing both the personal perception of a lack of social norms, and the actual breakdown of social norms and values. It arises from a mismatch between personal or group standards and broader social standards, or from the lack of a social ethic. Large-scale moral deregulation is the result. How can the global village nurture and protect its youngest and most vulnerable members amidst such deregulation?

The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is perhaps overly simplistic because, as Hillary Clinton pointed out in her 1996 book on this topic, the village will raise the child if the parents decline the job or cannot overcome the obstacles placed in the way of managing it. A quick survey of psychological and cultural ills facing today’s children as they navigate the path to adulthood is at best challenging and at worst, for some children, insurmountable.

While Clinton’s book of fifteen years ago focused on issues such as the eradication of poverty, universal health care, educational excellence, protection from child abuse, and other necessary roles of the village in the raising of happy, healthy children, the world has changed significantly in the past decade and a half, and we increasingly need a village that also protects girls from being targeted for early sexualization by pop, rap and hip-hop music, clothing marketers, magazines, and even the toy industry. Jean KilbournePeggy Orenstein and other valiant crusaders speak out loudly against what some experts consider a communal pedophilia toward young girls, and the feeding of our daughters to this beast of consumerism. Boys are similarly victimized by the easy availability of Internet and even mainstream television pornography that exposes them prematurely to explicit sex and disconnects their emotions from the physical act of intercourse. And these are just a few examples.

I’d like to have been in the conference room at Abercrombie & Fitch when their executives calculated the potential profit to be gained by objectifying ever-younger little girls. Surely many of these executives were also parents who found some way to psychologically distance themselves from their behavior and patent culpability. There has always been an inverse relationship between desperation and standards, and in case you’re wondering, that sound you hear is the happy ding of cash registers drowning out hypocrisy.

When I think about all of the CEO’s getting rich by preying upon our children, I like to think that instead of acquiring fortunes, the fortunes acquire them, but that’s far too idealistic. The global village has its work cut out for it. Bob Dole could not have been more mistaken when, during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention preceding the 1996 presidential race, he was quoted as saying: “…with all due respect, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.” His jab at Hillary Clinton revealed that he had completely missed the point, and had likely never even read her book. Clinton was not devaluing or deemphasizing the role of the family; she was arguing for an American culture that supports rather than undermines the difficult job of modern-day parenting.

How did we get to this place as a nation, and further, as a global society? I have plenty of theories of my own, but would love to hear readers’ opinions on this question, as well as ideas for how we can push the pendulum back in the other direction. Who are the strongest new voices in this discourse? Where should concerned parents and citizens look for education and advice? A large and comprehensive dialogue among all stakeholders is sorely needed.

Regardless of how we got here, I suppose that if you walk five miles into the woods, you’ve got to walk five miles back out. I’d say it’s time we admit that the global village is failing, and that we need to pull the walls around ourselves and figure things out in a hurry.

It takes courage to recognize the real as opposed to the convenient. Healthy children and healthy families do not exist in a vacuum. If we as a society do not take whatever steps are necessary to create a culture that prioritizes the welfare of children over unbridled corporate greed, we not only fail as a global village, we fail as human beings. We also risk becoming one more fallen empire in the course of human history. Anomie is just the canary in the coalmine.



Reprinted with permission from The Huffington Post.


Why Choose a Boys’ School for Your Son?

Who are boys today?  The question is both simple and esoteric. There is no typical American boy, if there ever was one. But times have changed.

A long-ago conversation with an elderly neighbor reflecting on his childhood in our hometown was illuminating in its commentary on what has changed. “When I was a boy, schools didn’t have all this fancy stuff. We had 30 kids in a class, and we sat in five rows of six.  And if someone didn’t behave, well, he was expelled.  We were quiet and we did what the teacher told us to do.”

So schools have changed, and society along with them.  Although boys are still boys, as they have always been, childhood itself is quite different. Kids are busier and more pressured; adolescence has become a much longer period of time, with full independence being put off well into young adulthood; and new understandings of individual learning styles, as related to cognitive development and gender differences, have advanced teachers’ abilities to help each student meet his potential. More is expected of children at younger and younger ages, and the thought of a child not going to college, or not pursuing post-graduate education, is no longer acceptable in many segments of American society.  The world is a more competitive place where high-achieving parents fear that their children will be left behind if they do not begin resume-building soon enough. Education is a far more complex endeavor than ever in our history.

Boys’ schools have responded to these changes by individualizing their teaching methods and their ways of supporting a variety of “types” of boys; by accepting the physicality of boys and allowing them more opportunities for movement; by integrating and trying to balance technology in their curriculum; by providing single-sex classroom environments free of cross-gender distractions that allow boys to experience classes like Choir and Drama without feeling embarrassed in front of girls; and by growing their academic, athletic and arts programs in depth and breadth. Boys are accepted for who they are, and exposed to ever-richer opportunities for exploration and personal and social growth in order to meet the challenges that await them. Boys’ schools believe that these years in a boy’s life are a critical time for taking risks and trying new things.  Because modern-day schools often find themselves in loco parentis, the role of the teacher has become ever more crucial in helping today’s boys navigate their own childhoods. And because it has been said that co-ed schools are really just girls’ schools that boys go to, boys benefit from all-male academic environments that do not expect them to sit still and be quiet, as is more often the nature of girls.

Boys’ schools evolved in other ways as well. Efforts to diversify their student bodies and their faculty and staff—racially, socioeconomically, geographically, and in so many other ways—reflect significant steps on the institutional level towards creating school communities representative of the larger world, since boys will be entering such a world, and aspiring to be leaders within it.

I am guided by an unfaltering belief when it comes to stewardship of the education of boys: It is that they are always becoming.  My favorite poem, There Was a Child Went Forth by Walt Whitman, captures it well.

“There was a child went forth every day,

And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years…”

As the boy walks through town and country, he is forever changed by all he encounters.

Like the boy in Whitman’s poem, we are all becoming. What boys in all-boys schools give to their schools, and receive in return, will be steps along the road to who they become, not only during their school years, but in the many years beyond.  These boys will all be like the boy who “went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.”  I wish each one of them the most beautiful of journeys.