Update on the Boy "Crisis"

February 11, 2006

Apparently I wasn’t alone in questioning the ballyhoo surrounding boys’ underachievement in school. Newsweek received more than 200 letters from parents, educators and young people and published 13 of them.

While a few of the letter-writers acknowledged the problem — one even praised the gender-segregated classroom to help out boys — most questioned the fuss, including a sister of one of the boys featured in the article. A couple of my favorite letters:

As the sister of Brian Johns, one of the boys profiled in your article, I was infuriated. You seem to imply that American boys are in a state of crisis chiefly because feminism and Title IX have disenfranchised them. Peg Tyre points to some experts who lament the feminization of the American education system, and she notes that one young man got a D in English when his teacher assigned “two girls’ favorites,” “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (written by a man). From elementary school through college, I had to read “boy” books such as “Moby Dick” and “The Great Gatsby,” but no one implied that the American education system was masculine. When girls are in crisis, it is because they aren’t boys; when boys are in crisis, it is national news.
Nicole Johns
Minneapolis, Minn.

And this letter is dedicated to Gloria and all the hard-working, guilt-ridden, single mommies out there:

Yes, boys are in crisis, and American parents are justifiably worried about the men their sons will become. But I wonder what mothers like Lance Armstrong’s make of such statements as “An adolescent boy without a father figure is like an explorer without a map.” The assumption that “masculine” qualities can be imparted only by men undermines the success of millions of mothers who are fully capable of raising thriving, emotionally healthy, masculine sons without a man around. Linda Armstrong raised Lance on her own and did quite well, as did the women who single-handedly raised such successful men as Alan Greenspan, Bill Clinton, Rickey Henderson, Ed Bradley and Jamie Foxx. Armstrong calls his mother his main role model, saying she gave him determination, strength to overcome adversity and the capacity to succeed. These qualities are not exclusively masculine. They are human qualities that mothers can and do engender in their sons.
Peggy Drexler, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry
Weill Medical College of Cornell University
New York, N.Y.

Well said, ladies.