What ever happened to Avery Brown?

Too many boys today are growing up to be wimps or barbarians, writes a charter school principal and ex-Marine in the Claremont Review.

The old form of discipline was quick, direct, clear-cut, and effective. The new non-punitive discipline is time-consuming, indirect, muddled, and ineffective. Every breaking of the rules requires a long discussion in which the boy gets to express his “feelings” and therefore make his case. This new form of easy discipline actually compromises the boy’s moral growth in several ways. First, he receives no real punishment for wrongdoing and is not made to feel shame. The absence of these traditional external and internal sanctions inhibits his development of self-control. Second, rather than truly learning to be responsible and to accept the real consequences of his actions, he learns to be litigious and whiny. Worst of all, to the extent his father is involved in all this nonsense, he sees the man who should be his master and mentor not as an authoritative figure who imposes order and dispenses justice but as a craven coddler who shudders to injure an errant boy’s self-esteem.

He’s a bit overwrought, but it’s worth a read.

About Joanne


  1. Anonymous says:

    …best read aloud with a Scottish preacher’s accent.

  2. I don’t think he’s really overwrought. I think he’s right. I read the article, and I struggled, too. The “problem” is that he speaks in an authoritative male voice. The propaganda of the past 40 years insistently tells us that there is something evil and distasteful in the authoritative male voice. Rebellion against this has become a conformist credo.

    Folk wisdom, common sense and experience in rearing and educating the young are always ridiculed in favor of the idiot dispensing of ideology. Life is supposed to be a triumph of abstract intellect. This does not work, but woe unto anybody who dares to publicly dissent.

    You’d be a bigot to suggest that the past imparts any wisdom to the present. Yes, you’d have to be a real bigot to believe that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am a tenth grade teacher at an upscale high school (hence the “anonymous”). I have seena clear decline in the idea of “manliness.” My older female colleauges have commented on the same things.

    It seems that 95% of our problem parents involve the “mother-son” dynamic. It is not father/daughter, father/son etc. but it is invariably Mothers who refuse to let their young men stand on their own. I chalk this up to so many single moms and step fathers (as the author also cites).

    I have had a Mother call me up the day a project is due and berrate me that her son is in tears over it! Read that again, her fifteen year old MALE child was crying over a school project! When I taught in middle school the babying was worse.

    Another problem that the author cites is the near total domination of the elementary ranks by females, some of whom learned their male psychology at “womens studies” programs that deingrate anything smacking even remotely of “male culture.”

    My Wife once taught at an elementary that did not have a single male on the entire staff! (And from what she tells me this Principal did everything but admit that refused to hire men) Amazing, not even a P.E. teacher! Can you even imagine the inverse? Oh yes, there were a few male custodians! Great male role models huh?

    Does anyone think this has nothing to with the shocking fact that about 92% of the elementary kids put on ritalin and other drugs are boys? I am sure all these feminist teachers, counselors and principals, and the fact that many of them don’t understand male development, have nothing to do with this fact. I am sure it is a coincidence!

    Little Johnny wants to run around and play and he likes to build things and explore; he gets bored listening to a soft feminine voice recite Wordsworth, Keats or even Charlotte’s Web. Obviously he has ADD! Let’s put him on drugs!

    Or maybe he is just a little boy?

  4. I thought the article very good, thought provoking. Here is one example of making wimps of boys:

    I carry a pocket knife every day, everywhere (airline “safe” zones excepted). I learned this from my father and it was a point of great pride to get my first knife. I consider it to be an important tool that any civilized man would have (as a former Boy Scout, I still believe in “Be Prepared”). Boys today CANNOT learn this simple habit. My son has a knife, but schools ban all “weapons”, so he cannot get used to carrying it.

    Maybe he and others will learn counter lessons later, but I doubt it. Most of my habits today, good and bad, were clearly set in childhood.

  5. I tend to agree with the author. Strict discipline makes men out of boys. Self-control, a strong conscience and being direct are all excellent qualities to have, among males or females. A shame that some think otherwise.

  6. Amen on that Geoff Matthews. Self discipline is taught, but until it is in place and fully internalized, it has to be imposed from without. That is the role of parents and others in positions of authority over children.

    It is human nature for young males to challenge authority. Observe it in other species in nature: the young male lion challenges the alpha male, and gets the c**p beat out of him. He learns his limits, he learns to respect authority, he learns the necessary self control to not have it happen again (unless he is particularly stubborn or a slow learner). A young male pup will challenge the pack leader, by something as simple as holding his tail up rather than out – only the pack leader will hold his tail up, and the young pup is challenging him. The pack leader will put him in his place, with enough force to make sure he learns the lesson. The young one must not only turn his belly up to the pack leader, but he will need to keep his tail down, between his legs, for a period of time to demonstrate he has learned his place or else the pack leader will repeat the lesson.

    If young males constantly manage to get away with the challenges through “indirect, muddled, and ineffective” responses to their behavior, they have in effect been successful in their challenge and the poor behavior continues.

  7. Steve LaBonne says:

    I’m not sure this is a purely gender-specific problem. There are all too many whiny perpetual adolescents among women as well.

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    The Marine does seem a touch overwrought, and he runs on some in making his point, But he’s right. And previous posters on this thread make cogent points, as well.

    Seems to me another element of the problem is the matter of responsibility; sense of any personal limits; and the elimination of valuable material from school curricula.

    In most schools and in most classrooms, it seems to me, there are few penalties for doing — or not doing — much of anything. It’s hard to teach personal responsibility when no kid has to exhibit any. Similarly, realistic dress codes (except when requiring uniforms or pertaining to gang colors) seem no longer to have a place in the classroom. And when was the last time you heard about students being required to learn and abide by what once were common social courtesies — caps off in the classroom, or any room; when the National Anthem is played; and so forth?

  9. FWIW, I’m interested in corresponding with someone who can fill me in on what constitutes normal boy behavior, and how to deal with it in a non-feminizing way in today’s world. My husband is a wonderful, gentle, loving man, but his parents beat the crap out of him whenever he did anything (boy stuff or otherwise) so he has no insights as to how we should discipline our 3 1/2 year old son. I don’t know whether I should be disturbed or amused when the boy runs around the room bashing his head intentionally into furniture. He seems to need a lot of affection from me, but I worry that I might be feminizing him if I give him too much.

  10. An interesting fact about that piece: Based on an admittedly quick read, there does not seem to be a single numerical fact anywhere. Authors who make broad generalizations without any concrete data, despite writing well in excess of 5000 words, instead relying merely on anecdotes and heresy, are, in this econ/math major’s opinion, not worthy of much serious consideration.

    And furthermore, I think it is safe to say that every single generation has made the exact same complaints about the one coming after it. As if no one thought that the baby boom generation was lacking in the necessary social graces? And yet America did not collape, and life went on.

    Mr. Moore makes a few interesting points buried within his [most certainly] overwrought screed, but these societal faults do not indicate the imminent explosion of society. As a young male who is neither a barbarian nor a wimp, I see absolutely no reason why this incredibly romanticized picture of the past should be hoisted on future generations as the ideal. Maybe some of us (Americans broadly, not just young people) don’t want every aspect of life governed by a chivalric code that, frankly, in an age that IS litigious and IS dangerous, seem as out of place as a horse and buggy on the streets of Ney York City.

  11. This article was stupid. For those who don’t have time to read it, here’s a synopsis:

    a) Male Teenagers Today are Barbarians because they
    i) dress in a manner the author doesn’t like and use slang he doesn’t approve of
    ii) are interested in sex and do not follow idealized forms of chivalry
    iii) listen to barbaric Heavy Metal devil-music, an especially vile variant of that new-fangled “Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

    b)Other Male Teenagers Today are Wimps because they
    i) absorb music in an introspective manner
    ii) go to the mall.

    The reason for this shocking state of affairs is:
    a) Dad doesn’t beat the crap out of his kids often enough these days
    b) They have to read Charlotte’s Web, and the shock is too much for them.

  12. I don’t buy it. I never needed anyone to “teach” me how to be a woman. As a self-reliant and resourceful character, I naturally turned to my grandparents (both of them) as good models of character and virtue. I carried a knife even as a girl, till I learned it could get me in trouble, but this reality was not damaging to my character. These “barbarians” and “men without chests” the author describes are pretty much straight stereotypes. Also, why is it damaging to a boy to not ever have a chance to go fishing, but not to a girl. I think the article was provocative, but it is bombastic and whiny more than anything else. Teenage boys: you want to be more of a man? Go find out how. If you have a good character and are not lazy, you will become a respectable and admirable “person” (or if the word “man” is necessary to distinguish you from the girls, then Okay, go with Manliness).

  13. “Authors who make broad generalizations without any concrete data, despite writing well in excess of 5000 words, instead relying merely on anecdotes and heresy, are, in this econ/math major’s opinion, not worthy of much serious consideration.”

    This is a great idea if you’re writing a research paper. For the rest of us, we prefer to actually believe what experience and tradition has taught us. The rearing of children is not a research project. It is our spiritual life. I relieved heavily upon my fathers “anecdotes and hearsay” for wisdom about child rearing. It worked.

    “Stereotypes” about males is a euphemism for human observation throughout history. We refer to those stereotypes so insistently because human experience has proven that most males conform to them.

    The PC catechism has become so old. The advocates of it remind me of the Catholic girls I grew up with in the 1950s. They fretted that they might be commiting a sin because they wore Mary Janes (shiny patent leather shoes) and the boys might see the reflection of their panties. The same sort of hysteria infects those indoctrinated in PC.

    “God forbid, Mama, he uttered a stereotype! I guess I better get my gun.”

  14. I liked the essay. True the author made liberal use of 2 sterotypes, whereas he could have expanded his definitions or introduced a couple more sterotypes. He does not state that all men are one or the other, but that the percentages are changing, say, from 20-60-20 to 35-40-35. As a former wimp, who longed to be a barbarian, I can personally testify that the middle path is elusive and must be taught by men who know how to be men.

    A good book on how to cure wimpiness is “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge. He critiques Christianity for making men into “Nice Guys”. I crossed out the word “Christianity” and replaced it with “modern feminism”; then the book hit home. Money quote:
    “Where are all the real men? … You asked them to become women.”

  15. It’s one thing to have reared a child based on anecdotal knowledge. It’s quite another altogether to defame one-half of an entire generation without bothering to stretch beyond your own personal preferences in the course of the argument. In any case, in the place of wild, unsupported innuendos and steroetypes, a few actual facts may have prevented this article’s degeneration into a “Young’uns are runnin’ wild today without their whuppins'” rant.

  16. Steven V. says:

    This article is nonsense, pure and simple. An excerpt: “Finally, today’s boys mill about their adolescent and post-adolescent years lacking any formal, approved rite of passage that would turn them into men. The American frontier disappeared in 1890. The call of the sea did not survive much longer.”

    One would anticipate that the author would follow with an example of what this “formal, approved rite of passage” actually was. But no–he begins lamenting how colleges have changed–as if the example of Harvard students is in any way indicative of late 19th century “manhood.” The article is absolutely infected with similarly bizarre leaps of logic.

  17. I shall commence beating all males who do not see things my way immediately! Oh, wait, I can’t do that cuz I’m a giiiiiirl and that would make me a feminist or something.

    FWIW, hats are not permitted to be worn past the front door of my school.

  18. Steven V. says:

    Reading my last post, I realize I was slightly ambiguous. My objection was principally to the author’s use of the term “formal, approved rite of passage.” In what way was frontier life, or life on the seas, a “formal” right of passage, considering most men of the time didn’t go to the frontier (that’s part of the essence of being a frontier). And approved by whom?

    The bottom line is, we should not look through the rose-colored glasses of Westerns and romanticism about the open range and ignore the fact that even in that time, the author’s examples represent a rather small fraction of American men and are not good examples to describe some [in my opinion mythical] downfall.

  19. jeff_wright says:

    Chris and Boo make some interesting points; it’s obvious they’re members of the cohort in question. However, I think it’s important to remember that Joanne’s site is about education or the lack thereof and I accordingly find this piece valuable. From my perspective, as a member of the preceding generation, I find the piece intuitively correct, especially wtth regard to the barbarians.

    I could not agree more with the observation that every generation thinks the one following is going to hell in a hand basket. Unfortunately, one thing is true with regard to today’s barbarians that was not true in the past. Namely, they’re dumber than doorknobs. They are uneducated—both academically and in the ways of the world—and they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of failure. This was not true of preceding generations. Those who didn’t do well in academics usually ended up in well paying blue collar jobs. Not today’s barbarians: not only are they often unable to demonstrate rudimentary academic skills (3Rs), they can’t fix a car, can’t plumb a house, can’t do skilled carpentery and would be disasters on an assembly line, which requires a great deal of discipline. IMO, today’s barbarians are lazy, unruly and unskilled. A lot of them are also fat and out of shape, after a short life devoted to watching TV and eating junk food. What used to be termed “louts.” BTW, if only one of the negative modifiers—lazy, unruly, unskilled—is eliminated, there is hope for the individual. Put all three together and you’ve got trouble. These young men will be permanent members of the underclass and society will be putting up with their aggression and stupidity for years to come.

    The wimps? I’ll confine myself to observing that I have a certain male self-image, honed by combat service and a life spent doing many of those “manly” things—one of those rites of passage—and a lot of today’s boys don’t meet that standard. But maybe they don’t have to. I’m not sure, because as has been pointed out, society has changed. I do wonder how they will deal with their own male offspring and what kind of cycle we may be getting into with regard to the American male.

    As an aside, I would also note that another traditional male virtue—the ability to do fixit-type stuff with one’s own possessions (car, house, etc.) even with a college degree and professional occupation—also seems to be fast receding from the skill set of many younger men.

    FWIW, I’ll also note that my college-educated, professionally employed daughter and her friends often remark negatively about the men they encounter on a daily basis. They see both the barbarians and the wimps and don’t like what they see. Seems there’s somewhat of a shortage of traditionally attractive males out there.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Wow, that’s more than a little overwrought. It reads like a parody, especially the rock ‘n roll part. Man, that guy is an a-hole.

  21. As the mother of three sons, married to their father, I agree with some of what he says, but agree he is a bit over the top. He doesn’t mention an issue I think is an important problem for boys – options for girls have been expanded – more jobs, more choices, equality in sports, etc…, but boys often believe they have the same traditional male choices. The effort to reach out to girls has been important, but it is still boys who have lower test scores, more behavior problems, and other indicators of problems. We need to pay attention to them. This should start with their parents.

  22. Bill Leonard says:

    Jeff Wright has it about right.

    My family’s paradigm was that every kid ought to be a competent adult — i.e., could cook, at least rudimentarily; could fix the plumbing; could tell the guy where and probably, how to repair the roof, even if she couldn’t do it herself; usually could treat the kids and the pets, based mostly on empirical evidence, and certianly knew wehn it was necessary to call in a real professional; and a lot more.

    I still can. So can my kids. When they run into, say, a practical problem with the house that they can’t solve, they call me. And they still are learning. And they laugh at the incompetents who weren’t raised the same way. For the record, my kids are 32 and 29; both are married, are college graduates, and are competent adults, and both are doing just fine.

  23. “I don’t know whether I should be disturbed or amused when the boy runs around the room bashing his head intentionally into furniture.” Sarah, if he isn’t actually destroying anything, my advice is to be amused. If it hurts, he’ll quit. There will be enough behavior that you have to correct, that you can afford to be indulgent about innocent rowdiness in a 3-year-old. As to the affection part, I can’t help you there – I’ve got a girl. Actually, my mom told me to quit hugging her so much when she was nine or ten because I was preventing her from growing up. I ignored this.

    “In what way was frontier life, or life on the seas, a ‘formal’ right of passage, considering most men of the time didn’t go to the frontier (that’s part of the essence of being a frontier).” Steven V., you’ve said a mouthful. Most people, male and female, are pretty much engaged in just trying to get by.

  24. Interestingly, Anonymous, Keats, Wordsworth, and E. B. White are all men.

    I teach 10th Grade English in an affluent school district. All my principals are men, as is half my department. I’ve had a male student cry in my presence once, but certainly not over school work. And I’ve dealt with some goofy dads, let me tell you.

    The problem with arguing from anecdotal evidence is that anybody with an opposing anecdote can easily refute your point.

    When I encounter rule-breaking, the process is not long and muddled. The child is told what he or she did wrong, receives the detention or whatever, and that’s the end of it. I suppose I could whack them with a ruler, too. Is that what the article is advocating for when it says “the old form of discipline”? Having teachers spank and beat children in school? Is that what you want “the government schools” to do? Or do you just want us to spank the boys and not the girls?

  25. jeff wright says:

    Rita, you don’t spank tenth-grade boys or whack them with a ruler. You knock ’em upside the head. Carefully, because they might be bigger and meaner than you are. Detention? Right. With boys, detention often does no more than further fan the flames of rebellion. Discipline is far more difficult than that. Young men are really hard to deal with and the schools are not equipped to do the in loco parentis job they’ve been so eager to embrace. What’s happened is that the schools are literally cheating a lot of decent kids out of their right to an education. The education that taxpayers are paying for. Because of their inability to deal with barbarians. And it’s not the schools’ fault.

    Don’t you ever feel guilty about those other 25 kids sitting there scratching their butts while you’re burning THEIR time screwing around with Jim or Bob who just won’t get with the program? The old joke about getting the mule’s attention with a two-by-four is very true with a lot of boys. You in the schools (and society as a whole) nibble around the edges when hard-nosed in-your-face action is needed. Boys are a lot harder to deal with than girls and they (and society) are suffering from the current one-size fits all paradigm.

  26. SF in nowhere says:

    >”Teenage boys: you want to be more of a man? Go find out how. If you have a good character and are not lazy, you will become a respectable and admirable person.”

    I think this is a good example of why society is seeing more cases of destructive or lethal behavior from maladjusted males. To paraphrase the commenter’s putative solution, ‘If you teenage males want to be men, go find out what’s involved and then do it. Oh, and it helps if you have good character.’

    Sterling as this recommendation is, the author of the original article points out that *there are damn few socially-positive role models for boys*. Boys who lack great fathers will almost always be socialized by their peers.

    Remember “Lord of the Flies”?

    There are thousands of role models for barbaric, cut-your-throat male behavior; perhaps ten percent as many for academic/professional types; and a fraction of a percent for the educated, thinking man who can also face down barbarians when the crunch comes. And putting all the burden on teenage boys to “just do it” isn’t likely to help one bit.

  27. The essay is hilarious on many counts. I especially love the bit about how easy it is for young men to get young women to have sex with them. Then he spouts off on baseball hats and rock music. Isn’t this the same line I heard from the Taliban? This guy doesn’t advocate cutting off hands and locking up women, but he sure talks like a guy who wouldn’t argue too strongly against it.

    Boys have trouble becoming men. That’s not a new thing, an American phenomena, or the fault of feminism or absent fathers. Our society has a disconnect between sex and gender that hasn’t been seen in any historical era I’ve ever heard about. Today, both men and women can do masculine things, but men are expected to avoid feminine things (wimp behavior). So what’s a boy to do? Emphasize the masculine (be a barbarian), submit to femininity (wimp), or seek a third way and focus on the self (something that can be disastrous or wonderful, depending on the individual choices).

    The choices available to boys and girls today will probably make the sex/gender disconnect even greater in the future. Dissatisfaction with potential mates will remain high (as it should be: why should finding a life partner be easy?). Traditional roles will be chosen consciously rather than by rote, which should keep the world from going to hell.

    As a father of two boys, I don’t see smooth waters ahead for them. Nor do I see an easy time for my daughter. If there is one difference between my sons and my daughter, it is that my sons would have more trouble entering a traditionally female profession than my daughter would in pursuing a tradionally male profession. That’s the big injustice facing boys in the future, but don’t expect it to be a major issue for the media.

    The biggest problem with the essay is the fixation on just wimpiness and barbarity. Sure it’s fun to look at the extremes as points to argue against, but the middle way is the way I’d wish for all my children: be nice, not a pushover; bold, but not reckless. But then, us moderates are always called wimps, so maybe I’m just a coward who needs to have my children sent to military school.

  28. Jeff — more like 29 other students. But no, I don’t feel guilty, because I don’t spend a lot of time on them. They get a warning and then they’re out. You might be surprised at what a motivator it is to get back *into* the classroom with their peers. You know that the majority of bad behavior is for the benefit of the audience, yes? Remove the audience, and the balloon deflates.

  29. Mark Odell says:

    From the article:
    First, a clear challenge must be issued to young males urging them to become the men their grandfathers and great-grandfathers were.

    Since Lt. Moore (so titled on the hypothesis that there’s no such thing as an “ex-Marine”) to this point has not defined what he means by the phrase “the men their grandfathers and great-grandfathers were”, I point out that this could be either good or bad.

    In the barbarian universe, Buckleyesque vocabularies are not required.

    Ah, well, now that he’s gone and invoked one of the neocons’ Most Holy Names, I must respond: Eschew Obfuscation.

    What feminism has done, in conjunction with political correctness, is deprive overly non-offensive, modern parents of the language traditionally used to bring up young boys: “Be a man.” “Stick up for your sister.” “Quit throwing the ball like a sissy.” “Quit crying like a girl.”

    Such “language traditionally used to bring up young boys” should have been nuked very thoroughly, by simply asking: “WTF is THAT supposed to mean?!?”

    Instead, we have a lot of lukewarm, androgynous talk about “being a good person” and “showing respect to people.” A naturally rambunctious and irascible boy, though, is not too interested in being a good person. For if he achieves that status, what will distinguish him from his prim and proper sister?

    Is that a rhetorical question, or does he really want an answer?

    The parents have no language to answer their son’s deepest and most natural needs.

    This sentence should read: “The parents still have no language to answer their son’s deepest and most natural needs.”

    “Big boys don’t cry” on one hand, and political correctness OTOH, are not our only two choices!

    All-male colleges, where young men used to compete against each other in the lecture halls and on the playing field, can now be counted on the fingers of one hand.

    “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

    In short, modern America lacks what virtually every society in the past has established and governed with great effort and concern: a proving ground for male youth seeking some legitimate expression of their erratic and as yet undisciplined spiritedness.

    And so, your fellow neocons want to bring back the draft. How very convenient.

    Nor can they fight for grades, for a girl, for God, or for country (though September 11 has altered this last).

    Has it, now? Has it indeed? As a Claremontista (or at any rate, as one who writes under the ægis of the Claremont Institute), it’s quite understandable that you would want to help divert attention from the reality (fighting for the state) by falsely labeling it “fighting for country”.

    Even the saints of old would find the 21st century an inhospitable place, for how could they “fight the good fight” against their own fallen nature in a world supposedly without sin?

    Hey, I know what — instead of fighting your perpetual “War on Terror” for you as janissaries, we’ll just “fight the good fight” against you neocons and your fallen nature! How’d that be?


  1. Where Have the Manly Virtues Gone?

    There is a growing chorus that contemporary culture gives boys the choice to be wimps or thugs. The manly virtues are ridiculed or condemned. What do Terrence O. Moore, Robert Shaw, and Bill Whittle have in common? The surety that