David Brooks on the boy crisis

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote about the “boy crisis.” What if Shakespeare’s Henry V were a rambunctious boy going to an American school today?

But the big story here is cultural and moral. If schools want to re-engage Henry, they can’t pretend they can turn him into a reflective Hamlet just by feeding him his meds and hoping he’ll sit quietly at story time. If schools want to educate a fiercely rambunctious girl, they can’t pretend they will successfully tame her by assigning some of those exquisitely sensitive Newbery award-winning novellas. Social engineering is just not that easy.

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don’t fit the ethos get left out.

“Honor Code”, David Brooks, New York Times, July 5, 2012.

Brooks was inspired by hearing psychologist Michael Thompson’s presentation at the Aspen Festival of Ideas.

Michael Thompson (with Dan Kindlon) is also the author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (2000) and accompanying PBS documentary on DVD. Among other environments, the documentary crew visits a boys-only school to see how it affects the students. Single-sex education a controversial strategy that some charter schools use to get better results.

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