With the rise of feminism in the late 20th century, many institutions in America are catering toward women and making it difficult for young boys to flourish. Our culture has placed high value on sensitivity and on being relational, and the standard of "model behavior" in grade schools is that of a well-mannered, quiet little girl.
Educators in primary school classrooms are typically female, and they often apply a universal standard for "good behavior" to their students. Traditional American pupils are expected to sit still for hours on end, to keep silent unless asking a question, and to keep on-task. Young boys - who are typically full of energy, like rough-and-tumble play, and like to work with their hands rather than sit still in a desk, are being disciplined for their behavior.
Christian Author John Eldredge brought this issue to attention in his book, "Wild at Heart" - "Society at-large can't make up its mind about men," he says. "Having spent the last thirty years re-defining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men," said Eldredge of the hypocritical expectations society puts on men. He argues that "gender confusion" is so widespread in our culture because of the way that our young men are being trained - in schools, and sometimes in churches - to act like women.
Boys are also not faring as well in school - compared with girls, they "earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college," says Christina Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men." "As our schools become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, competition-free, and sedentary, they move further and further from the characteristic needs of boys," she says.
Rather than putting young boys on medication to help them focus in class and succeed in school, Sommers promotes having longer recess breaks and encouraging the male imagination as some practical solutions. "Prolonged confinement in classrooms diminishes children's concentration and leads to squirming and restlessness," she says. She believes that interesting boys in reading is essential to their growth, and recommends Guysread.com - a website dedicated to "help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers," - for a list of books and other helpful material. Sommers cited a British study on genre preferences among boys and girls, which found that young men prefer to read nonfiction, newspapers, and comics rather than poetry, fiction, and magazines.
While being attentive and well-mannered is certainly an expectation for men as they mature, it seems unreasonable to teach young boys effectively with methods that were designed for girls. "In the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live," says Eldredge. He notes that boys would rather compete with one another than play games that are based on relational interdependence - "The recipe for fun is pretty simple, raising boys - add to any activity: an element of danger, stir in a little exploration, add a dash of destruction, and you've got yourself a winner," he says.