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Whitmire's Book WHY BOYS FAIL Delineates the Problem, but Not the Solution

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) March 29, 2010 The sad facts in Richard Whitmire's new book WHY BOYS FAIL are not exactly surprising, but they are nevertheless disturbing.

If you think of the famous bell-shaped curve of distribution, American boys at the high end of the distribution curve are doing well enough in elementary and secondary education. Whitmire is not especially concerned about them, and neither am I.

But in terms of educational achievement, the real problems are the American boys lower in the distribution curve. Of course Whitmire is not the first author to write about the relative under-performance of these boys in terms of educational achievement. But Whitmire details and documents their under-performance quite well.

As is well known, federal legislators have passed legislation for American schools that is known as No Child Left Behind. This legislation was initiated under President George W. Bash and passed with the support of Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the Obama administration and Congress are dedicated to overhauling No Child Left Behind. But No Child Left Behind is deeply flawed legislation. It should not be overhauled, but abolished and replaced with far more intelligent legislation along lines that I outline in the present essay.

All American boys today need to work out a specifically masculine sense of identity, just as boys and men everywhere in the world have had to. However, American boys today are required by law to attend American schools, instead of having male puberty rites supervised by adult men in the group to assist them in growing up. Male puberty rites rank with proverbs and storytelling as widespread features in oral cultures. The very survival of groups in oral cultures depended on socially constructive orientations of males and of manliness. As Harvey C. Mansfield of Harvard has famously observed in his book MANLINESS modernity leaves manliness unemployed in terms of socially constructive orientations of manliness.

Unfortunately, this leaves open the possibility of the employment of manliness in ways that are not socially constructive, but are socially and personally dysfunctional.

As is well known, in the United States women teachers have dominated the elementary-school teaching for decades.

As is well known, American boys tend to favor physical activities over more sedentary study in school.

One proposed solution is to form all-boys schools. For the better part of the history of Western culture, all-male formal education was the rule for centuries. Co-education is a rather recent development.

In all-male formal education in Western culture, which was for centuries carried on in Latin, contests and competitiveness in formal learning activities were encouraged and recognized in the classroom, not just in extracurricular sports activities.

However, many male educators over the centuries also practiced corporal punishment in ways and to degrees that would not be acceptable in the United States today.

Oddly enough, not only the practice of corporal punishment in formal education fell by the wayside as girls were admitted more and more to formal education, but so did the emphasis on classroom contests and competitiveness in formal education.

However, as I write, girls and women in the United States are engaging in extracurricular sports activities on an unprecedented scale. Look at how many consecutive basketball games the women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut has won without a defeat!

Nevertheless, everybody who has ever played an organized sport knows that the joys of winning are usually balanced out by defeats. Oftentimes, defeats outnumber victories. In any event, American boys and men glory in athletic contests. Have you heard the expression "March Madness"?

But the point of sports competition is to learn to enjoy the thrill of the game, the contest.

Now, Lawrence Summers famously lost his job as president of Harvard University for discussing why women scientists do not often rise to the highest ranks among scientists. After watching the blow-up about his deliberately provocative comments about women scientists, I nevertheless want to venture walking where angels might fear to tread.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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