It’s Time for Some Probing Questions

Just over the last two days, we see two more reports of school shootings narrowly averted: see Suburban Student Charged In Possible Murder Plot and Teens Arrested In Alleged School Massacre Plot. I know nothing about these particular cases other than what is noted in these stories, and I don’t choose them for any particular purpose, other than (a) they are there today, and (b) I have some questions that I think need to be asked.

It seems to me that when we hear about these, we aren’t going far enough with the questions as to why? What is different today? I went to school from 64-77, and I don’t ever remember hearing one such story. The whole idea was so foreign – bringing guns to school to kill unarmed kids? Who would do such a thing?

Yet, here we are. Something is different. It just isn’t normal to have that much disaffected and rebellious rage bottled up inside of our young boys. Sure, teenaged boys are known for this, to a point. But nothing as violent and widespread as what we’ve seen over the last 10 years or so.

I don’t have the time or energy to dive too deeply into this right now, but I’ll put forward a theory that I’ve read others (can’t remember who right now) put out there, regarding boys and school.

The theory goes something like this. For the purposes of education, boys have needs which are different from girls, and those needs are generally speaking not being met by the overly feminized public school system, which pretends all students are girls and caters to those who like to sit quietly and discuss feelings.

This is an over-simplification, but anybody who has read The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers’ will recognize the general complaint here. Not enough gym, not enough recess, not enough discipline or control, too much talking, too much listening. Boys are nearly all of the discipline problems, most of the special education students, and get 70% of the failing grades. Nine out of ten kids on Ritalin are boys, and many of those are due to questionable recommendations by teachers who are simply not qualified for such diagnosis. Young men are only 45% of the college population today, and falling. Etc.

Bottom line, it’s a pretty well-documented list of ways that education seems to be failing boys, across a wide spectrum of ages and disciplines.

And it started, generally speaking, in the mid-late 80s and early 90s. Note also, when all this school violence really seemed to ramp up, around the mid-90s. Note the timeline: kids in high school in 1996 -1999 were in K-2 in the late 80s.

So to continue with this theory, and to follow it logically to its conclusion, one might posit that those teen boys who are already “at risk” — the most alienated, the most isolated, the most rebellious and disaffected and mad at the world — might show signs of being even more aliented, isolated, rebellious, disaffected, and mad at the world, due to the unfriendly environment they are asked to succeed in. Other factors are undoubtedly at work, but as we all know, there is nothing more important to a teen than their peers and the social settings in which they compete with those peers.

And a few of them — a tiny but still significant percentage — might take it out on their peers, with weapons.

It is important to note what I’m not saying here. I’m not saying that schools turn every boy into a raging murderer because they got recess taken away in third grade. I’m not saying that every boy is predisposed to violence, or that no girls are, or that girls don’t have issues all their own. I’m not saying we need perfection from teachers or school adminstrators, or that boys are to be treated with kid gloves because they are suddenly too fragile to handle the disappointments and frustrations that we all go through growing up.

I’m simply bringing up some questions that seem like they need asking, about the changes in our educational system, and about the violent streak that seems to have grown up around it.

I have no idea if studies have been on such things. I would hope so, but then, that would require explicit acknowledgement that the environment can be somewhat poisonous for these kids in the first place, and I’m not sure how likely that is.

So, I just have to ask: how do we know that a feminized school culture is not at least a factor — and maybe a major one — in pushing already-troubled teen boys over the edge, into violence?

And to be even more specific, when is the educational establishment going to wake up and realize that boys, despite their tougher appearances and mannerisms, do indeed have emotional needs too? And that the cost that we as a society pay for ignoring those needs can be pretty high, paid not just in violence, but also in the more subtle ways that we might be sapping their will and their drive to succeed, in a world that they apparently see as not valuing their contributions?

Kids don’t need that much from us growing up, really. Food, love, attention, time. But what they really, really need from society is a series of subtle messages that shows they are valued members of that society. And from what I’m seeing, I just have to question if we as a society are providing those subtle cues to help that process along, for our boys.

For a whole lot of reasons, we really ought to try harder to get this right.

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