If The Boys Really Aren’t Alright, We Have Work To Do

When Michael Ian Black published an op-ed entitled “The Boys Are Not Alright” for The New York Times back in February, it garnered a lot of attention from educators, parents, and advocates of young people.

Black’s analysis of young men and masculinity didn’t pull any punches. He referenced the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 high school students lost their lives, and contemplated the role that toxic gender expression may have played. “What do these shootings have in common?” Black questions. “Guns, yes. But also, boys. Girls aren’t pulling the triggers. It’s boys. It’s almost always boys.”

Now, in the wake of another school shooting in Texas perpetrated by the hands of yet another young male, the conversation on school safety has been revived. This is just the latest reiteration of a story that’s been told too many times and too many ways, each just as tragic.

While we usually focus on mental health or gun reform, “The Boys Are Not Alright” adds a another dimension to that story.

“America’s boys are broken,” Black asserts. “And it’s killing us.”  

The idea is that toxic masculinity — an aggressive, hypersexual, and even violent expression of male pride — is crippling our young men and causing them to act out, to show rage and anger indiscriminately.

Black isn’t alone in his concerns about toxic masculinity. Dr. Cora Bruener, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, agreed in a recent interview that boys “are not taught to express emotions in a way between withdrawal or rage.”

Later in the same interview, mental health expert Dr. Gregg Jantz goes a step further. “Boys are failing in school at all-time high rates. It used to be a couple years ago we were getting about 70 percent of the D’s and F’s for boys… More recently in our work, we’re seeing closer to 90 percent of the D’s and F’s and most of the disciplinary problems are going to the boys, so boys are failing in school as a general statement.”

Like the experts in the video, I’m not convinced that throwing out the phrase “toxic masculinity” is the right way to approach the issue. There’s nothing wrong with being a male or embracing one’s masculinity.

But at the same time, it would be irresponsible to ignore the stark differences that these experts have pointed out between male and female students. Perhaps too much screen time and video games are to blame, as a new study suggests. Perhaps we can just chalk it all up to the conventional wisdom — that girls simply mature faster than boys. Or maybe, just maybe, something we did (or didn’t do) along the way came up short.

That’s one reason why “teaching to the whole child” has become such a popular catchphrase in education. While it is crucial to ensure that our kids are successfully learning the fundamentals of math, reading, science, and the arts, I’m curious if we should be doing more to help our students grow as individuals and citizens.

In other words, schools have a place in this fight. Whether it’s through mentoring programs, engaging our students’ parents, or just flat-out good teaching, schools will need to get more engaged in the lives of our young men if we really want to help them face these unique challenges.


Image from Flickr, CC-Licensed.


  1 comment for “If The Boys Really Aren’t Alright, We Have Work To Do

  1. lynn oliver
    May 31, 2018 at 9:09 am

    The belief boys should be strong allows aggressive treatment by parents, teachers, peers, others from infancy so they will be tough. There is much less mental/emotional/verbal interaction/support for fear of coddling. This creates high, maintained layers of average stress for boys (new thought will send to all). These layers remain in the mind taking away real mental energy leaving much less mental energy for academics so they will have to work harder to receive the same mental reward. This treatment creates more social/emotional distance from others/adults. The total treatment creates higher average stress hurting learning/motivation; more activity (not genetic); higher muscle tension hurting handwriting/motivation; much lower social vocabulary/communication skills from both much less communication and social/emotional distance from fear. It creates lags in communication girls are given daily. The high stress creates activity for stress relief not genetics. This creates higher muscle tension which hurts handwriting motivation. The total treatment hurts reading/motivation which requires both a high social vocabulary/knowledge of syntax and low average stress, something boys through harsh, less support are increasingly weak in. This treatment creates more social/emotional from others/adults. It creates lags in communication girls are given daily. The high stress creates activity for stress relief not genetics. This creates higher muscle tension which hurts handwriting motivation. The effect with false genetic models creates more failure and hopelessness. To make it tougher boys are given love honor feelings of self-worth only on condition of achievement. This was designed to keep Male esteem low and be willing to give their lives in war for love honor from society. Males not achieving are given ridicule and discipline to make them try harder. Support is not given for fear of coddling and false belief in genetics. Many boys falling behind turn their attention to sports and video games for small measures of love honor not received in school. The belief boys should be strong and false belief in genetics create denial of the harsh treatment which is creating the low academics low esteem and other problems for boys. This is not about more openness from boys; it is about society allowing aggressive treatment from infancy so boys feel much wariness toward parents teachers who freely use aggressive treatment for any sign of weakness. This is condoned by society. This problem is affecting all male children but the lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in lower areas the much more amplified the treatment given male children by parents/teachers.
    There is a wrinkle to this. There are a “very few boys” given more stable, correct support from some families which will enable those boys to succeed in school. This enables those boys to do well -and receive love and honor from others, which they must continually do to continue to earn that love and honor. This then becomes a drug for those boys which drives them to continually achieve in different ways in school. However the vast majority of boys who do not receive that support will not do well in school and early on, go into other areas to generate love and honor such as sports, military, other.
    As girls we are given much support and care by parents teachers peers. As girls we are treated better and so enjoy support from society. Since we as girls are given by differential treatment much mental social/emotional support verbal interaction and care this creates the opposite outcome for girls when compared with boys. We receive love honor simply for being girls. This creates all of the good things. We have lower average stress for ease of learning. We enjoy much freedom of expression from much protection by society. We enjoy lower muscle tension for ease in writing motivation to write. We enjoy much positive trust/communication from parents teachers and support for perceived weaknesses. We are reaping a bonanza in the information age. Now with girls and women taking over many areas of society we enjoy more lavishing of love honor from society while boys and men are now failing more and are given more ridicule and abuse by society. Mind you this is now coming from girls and women using our still protected freedoms of expression and more with false feelings of superiority.
    As for girls there is a wrinkle also. We are given love and honor simply for being girls. This allows us to choose less than top planes of success and still find wonderful planes of innersecurity. We are not as driven. However, as the middle class continues to drop, there will be fewer boys able to receive the bare adequate support to be successful academically. Also more girls will begin “choosing to go into those higher fields by choice. This will slowly allow women to begin taking over those higher fields just as they have already taken over the other fields. Much more from learning theory.

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