Thursday, September 26, 2013

When Boys Will Be Boys

It's always enlightening to read pop psychology which, of course, emerges from what is new research but has then been massaged and shaped, too often to fit existing inclinations, and yes, prejudices. Lately, some of the discussion that has been percolating for years about our educational system's denigrating the needs of boys has focused on two sometimes opposing themes.

The first argues that our traditional culture discourages any showing of empathy on the part of boys.  In this view, boys are forced only to block and tackle, emphasize physical skills, and steer clear of anything that might be termed cultural, such as the arts, literature, or, for that matter, psychology itself. This theme holds that we are depriving boys of the benefits of civilization when all these pursuits are derided as "girly" or gay.

The second theme has it that boys are being constrained from being boys as a result of the gradual triumph of feminine values in our society, if not our politics. Indeed, some see the battle by the gun culture led by the NRA as a last stand by those in the U.S. desperate to preserve the vestiges of the frontier culture that valued physical strength and prowess with weapons, especially firearms, as the hallmark of our society.

Too often, this particular engagement in the overall "culture wars" fails to take note of what has happened to shift the focus of this topic: our working world today no longer offers as many jobs that depend on brute strength. Our society is becoming a "knowledge and information" one. What's too bad is that many boys take to computers and information technology, and are even encouraged in the classroom and outside it to pursue their early interest, but never progress past addiction to video games. It isn't because teachers prefer girls, who generally but not always are better behaved. It's that boys especially finish school--often not graduating or finishing college--without the skills young people need today.

Popularizers in the media--beginning with the late Peter Drucker and moving on to current opinion molders such as Thomas Friedman--have been declaring for a long time that the old world of employment has changed, but only now, with the decline of manufacturing in the U.S., are we seeing the impact.  

While my generation may recall how our elders in the 1950s and 1960s bemoaned the onset of rock'n'roll as certain to ruin our society, the surge in media dominance today means that many young people now are exposed to little more than rap music and music videos by way of "culture". I once had a young relative tell me that there was no longer a reason to read books because one could find any information needed online or through visual media, such as film. He wasn't referring to Kindles or Nooks, either, since whether or not we like e-books, they do serve as a means of making reading easier for many who have made this particular leap into the new world.

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