Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it

Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it writes Margaret Wente in Canada’s Globe and Mail.

I sat down with several people who think about this question every day – Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College; his colleagues Scott Cowie and Mary Gauthier; and Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

Our culture is deeply uncertain about the value of masculinity, says Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

For a boy, the two most important life questions are: Will I find work that’s significant? And will I be worthy of my parents? When boys themselves are asked what they need, they say: I need purpose. I need to make a difference. I need to know I measure up. I need challenge. Above all, I need a meaningful vocation.

No wonder so many boys are so miserable. The modern world of extended years in school and delayed adulthood cuts them off from what they need most.

Boys also need to imagine themselves as heroes, says Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College. To girls, Vimy Ridge is a “horrific” place where many Canadian soldiers died in World War I.  When boys are asked about Vimy Ridge,  they imagine themselves there. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”

These days, “boys are often treated as a problem,” Wente writes.

The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening. Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls.

Boys’ schools take another track, celebrating “boyness,” Wente writes.

Several public school systems have launched all-boys’ schools for failing boys. In New York, the Eagle Academy for Young Men is achieving impressive results for minority boys in a tough neighbourhood. These schools demand a lot. Their ethos is: We’ll help you succeed, but we’ll be tough on you, and you must claim responsibility. (By contrast, the attitude of Ontario’s public schools toward difficult boys is: We’ll let you pass if you leave us alone.)

But schools can’t give boys what they really need, Wente writes. They need “men who will guide, instruct, esteem, respect and understand them,” that is, fathers.