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Education Letter to the Editor

The ‘Boy Problem’: So What Else Is New?

July 11, 2006 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Education’s “boy problem” is, as Lyn Mikel Brown, Meda Chesney-Lind, and Nan Stein contend in their June 7, 2006, Commentary “What About the Boys?,” related to “poverty, racism, and heavy doses of toxic masculinity with its persistent message to boys that studying is for wimps.” But what else is new?

Our problem is that we long ago contrived a system for schooling boys that worked passably well in simpler times, but is not up to the task today.

The challenge is so much greater than it was 50 years ago, when I was in school. There was no integration and minimal immigration. The education of girls was taken less seriously. (The authors would gasp in horror at the two-page spread in my high school annual on the Future Homemakers of America.) It was a benighted time, but some white boys did tolerably well.

Priorities changed in the ’60s. But the bureaucratic structure of schooling did not. A clumsy, unresponsive system was suddenly saddled with broad new responsibilities. It added layers of staff members and programs, but stumbled at its core mission: to foster academic achievement among all its charges.

What is needed today is a structure that is highly sensitive to success and failure, that can learn, and that is flexible.

The route to such responsiveness is to figuratively affix funds to students and let their parents direct them where they will. Parents—first the astute, and then over time even the dense and indifferent—will find their way to schools that serve their boys well. (Think of it like an automobile market: True lemons have long gone by the wayside.)

The authors are correct on this point: Concern for boys does not mean we must neglect girls. But it does mean we must neglect—we must in fact abandon—structures that no longer serve their purpose.

Tom Shuford

Lenoir, N.C.

A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as The ‘Boy Problem’: So What Else Is New?

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