Are Boys and Men Failing at School and Life? - FamilyEducation

Are Boys and Men Failing at School and Life?

September 19,2012
Erin Dower

...Harsh headline, I know. But let me explain...

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing insightful author and education consultant Ana Homayoun about her book That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week, which focuses on all the ways and reasons boys struggle in school, and offers tips and tools to help them succeed. In talking with her and reading her book, I thought it took some guts for a woman to focus a book (and a consulting career) solely on failing boys. Is it really just boys who are struggling? Should we lump them all together? Can we fairly call out one sex for "failing" and prescribe the solutions?

But it was clear that Homayoun was on to something. She had worked with a lot of frustrated/aloof/distracted/bored/disorganized boys and knew exactly what she was talking about (hey, talk to most teachers these days, and they probably agree with a blanket statement that boys are falling behind). 

Her book came straight to mind as I stumbled upon recent headlines, such as "Why Men Fail" and "The End of Men" -- highlighting the epidemic of men struggling to succeed in the modern world. In his NYTimes op-ed column, David Brooks points out that "men failed to get the memo" that a good education really pays off. These days, while three-quarters of the D's and F's given out in school go to boys, women have turned the tables and earn 60 percent of all degrees in higher education. In her 2010 Atlantic article, "The End of Men" (which inspired her new book of the same name), Hanna Rosin highlights the fact that (for the first time in history) women now outnumber men in the workforce, and there are more female managers than male ones in the U.S.

Indeed: Three out of my four managers in my career have been women -- holla! But while I'm proud of women and always rooting for them, I'm also eager to see boys and men -- our sons, nephews, husbands, and brothers -- succeed and for both sexes to push each other. So what's the deal, guys?

It's not just a societal shift -- a deeper investment in helping our girls succeed professionally, and a boom in jobs that call for sensitivity, creativity, and communication (which girls tend to have down pat). There must be something more to it...

Well, Homayoun seems to have hit the nail on the head in her aptly titled Crumpled Paper book: "Missed assignments. Lack of focus and enthusiasm. Falling grades. For too many boys and their frustrated parents, these are the facts of life. But they don't have to be." She points out that in the tween and teen years -- just when really tough academics and the consequential path to college begin -- boys are facing an ever widening gap in maturity simply because they're hitting puberty a couple of years later than girls. That immaturity, and the general Mars-vs.-Venus differences between the sexes, can breed disorganization, indifference, and a serious lack of confidence in boys. You can see how that wobbly foundation might send any young man crashing down, whether it's in middle school, college, or beyond.

So what's a mom to do to get her son on solid ground early on?

Good luck! You go... boys!