A Community of Men

by David N Hafter, MFT

ApprenticeshipIt has only been a handful of generations since people were born, lived their lives and died in the same geographical region.  Unless a man was conscripted and hustled off to fight and die in faraway war, he was likely to live his life in the same place as did his father.  His sons had the mentoring benefits of access to other family members and known community members in order to address growing up/rite of passage issues.

One of the unintended consequences of the industrial revolution is the breakdown of those non-parental mentoring relationships. As men followed employment opportunities outside of where they grew up, they uprooted (literally) their nuclear families and relocated to places where immediate access to caring mentors was often cut off.  This pattern continues to this day.  Uprooted families experience everything from linguistic differences and accents which separate them from their neighbors to unfamiliar cultural norms and social expectations.  These differences can leave them isolated in their own communities.

In tribal cultures, where established rites of passage created the next generation of culturally consistent adults, it was not the parent who ushered a son or daughter through the process of transitioning from youth to adult. Rather, it was other trusted elders in the community who play that role. After all, for a child, it is often easier to hear guidance and constructive feedback from a trusted adult other than his or her parent. Indeed, life lessons successfully taught by a mentor have often been offered to the child many times before by a parent.

Today, there is a paucity of culturally competent mentoring opportunities for non-familial kids.  In fact, there are now fewer mentoring opportunities of any sort, especially in schools.  For example, when education funds get tight, arts, music and sports programs are the first to go, despite their value in terms of mentoring and skills development. Families may not be able to afford private lessons where their children could benefit from the tutelage of a coach.  Even the military can no longer be counted upon to help in this arena.  Military service used to play a significant social role in the grooming of youth into adulthood.  With professional soldiering now the norm, entering the service – unless aiming at a high level career like a pilot – is more likely to be an economic decision than one steeped in a desire for self-realization (i.e. becoming a man). It is now an opportunity for under-served economic classes and carries with it an unusually high safety risk.

Like all adolescents, fatherless and/or mentor-less young men experience an inner striving for opportunities to earn their stripes as men.  When society fails to recognize this need, we neglect to provide or support the structures where these needs can be met.  Ironically, gang culture has elements that address some of these unmet needs: The need to belong to a community; the need to be relied upon; the need to transition to manhood by taking on and surviving a dangerous task.  Unfortunately, gang activities – once organized around neighborhood protection – are now mostly organized around illegal activities focused on making money and anti-social attitudes and behaviors. The notion of doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do sounds antiquated compared to making money, which has proven to be the apparent over-arching value in our culture.

To counter these trends and their expensive consequences, it is not enough for enlightened men to have good intentions: We need an action plan with a commitment to following through.

What might that look like?  The fantasy is to miraculously overhaul public priorities in line with what we perceive to be the chronic unmet needs of our youth.  This White House proposal is a positive step in this direction yet these unmet needs dictate both a functional and practical grassroots approach which does not rely upon non-partisan political cooperation.

We can start by meeting some of the unmet needs of the fathers and ‘neighborhood elders’ who themselves may not have had the chance to be mentored in their youth.  It is hard for a man to guide youth in ways he was never himself taught. Instead, many of these men learned their life lessons ‘the hard way’, at the fully respectable but unreliable ‘school of hard knocks’. To prepare men to be positive mentors, we start by serving them.  In that vein, offer two models from my own experience:

Garage Groups:  I have been a part of a ‘Garage Group,’ for twelve years now. Named for where we meet, our group of 6 to 8 men meets once a month to talk about issues that we face as men.  We have no leader and few rules (no talking sports or politics).  A brief check-in is followed by discussions on issues relating to the stressors in our lives: Work and relationship issues, parenting challenges, caring for aging parents and our own health and aging issues.  We brainstorm solutions to vexing problems or just hear one another out, as needed.  As we feel supported, we have the energy, inclination and ideas to support our youth.

Men’s Circles: An idea from the oft-maligned or dismissed Men’s Movement, Men’s Circles serve much the same role as garage Groups, but they are drop-in affairs, usually much larger (15 to 20 men) and tend not to provide a participant with ‘answers’.  Instead, Men’s Circles are a place to hear and be heard with other men who may identify with whatever issue a man brings to the group. Just knowing that one is not alone with his issues is helpful and may lead to a man seeking more support. The Davis Men’s Circle operates free of charge.

So, first things first: We, as men, address our own unmet needs and re-connect with the power of community. Next, we calibrate our attitudes and behaviors according to both our own needs and those of our community. Fatherless boys need other men to step up as guides: uncles, older cousins, grandfathers, coaches, clergy and others.  A healthy culture filled with young men who proudly own their strong sense of self is not made overnight but instead, step by step, man by man. Finally, together we create challenging activities – opportunities for boys to earn their place at the table of the community of men.



davehafterDavid N. Hafter, LMFT, (BA – Wesleyan University, Middletown CT; MA, JFK University, Orinda, CA) runs the Urban Children’s Resiliency Program at Victor Community Support Services, Davis CA. He has been a subject matter expert with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences since 1991.

Mr. Hafter is the author of Growing Balls: Personal Power for Young Men, a book of mentoring to, not about, young men. His group counseling curriculum Personal Power for Young Men, is available for downloading free of charge at www.growingballs.com.  Mr. Hafter is also a musician, song-writer/performer and a somewhat capable tennis player and golfer.

Like women, men are also objectified in gaming.

How many are playing roles that increase their disposability? How many seem focused on work-life balance?


*l to r: Top: Solid Snake (mercenary killer); Chris Redfield (of Resident Evil); Kratos (violent God of War series); Hawke (Dragon Age II);

l to r: Bottom: Ken Masters (Street Fighter); Leon Kennedy (Resident Evil 4); Geralt of Rivia (the Witcher); Brick (kills with bolts on fists)

So what do you think?




Boys and Reading – David Greene

boysreadIn a relatively recent New York Times article, Robert Lipsyte, a sports author, posed the following question: “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?”

The U.S. Department of Education’s reading tests for the last thirty years show boys scoring worse than girls every year in every age group. Those of us who have been following the issues revolving around boys’ education are not surprised at all.

Mothers often ask why their sons can’t read. The truth is more often not that they can’t, but that most boys are simply reluctant to read for a variety of reasons.

Most elementary school and secondary school English teachers who teach reading in English Language Arts time or classes do it through works of fiction. Most also happen to be female and choose titles with which they are more likely to identify. Most studies show female students learn reading better through fiction, especially emotive works with female central characters. In fact, most of these stories, especially in the younger years are more emotive and far less action oriented.

Rather than expanding reading selections with material that will better engage boys to read, schools tend to work with books that will encounter less resistance from parents. Boys love to read about things with which many parents today might object.

For example a boy would rather read a “Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter” than a “My Cheeky Angel”. So if it is fiction, make it action oriented.

Unfortunately, studies show that boys tend to relate better to non-fiction. But what non-fiction do we offer them? Here are the top 10 sellers according to Goodread.com, a popular site used by teachers for book recommendations:

1. Redwoods by Jason Chin
2. Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
3. Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola
4. Here Come the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-True Story of Juliette ‘Daisy’ Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure by Shana Corey
5. Step Gently Out by Helen Frost
6. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet
7. Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg
8. Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy
9. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman
10. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

How many of those titles would a 9-year-old boy pull off the shelves?

The other major reason boys reading scores have gone down, especially over the past 12 years, ironically, is the heavy emphasis on testing and test prepping. There is no time for playing or acting out roles. There is only time to sit very still, read, and fill in the practice bubble sheets to prepare for the ELA test.

The question remains then, “What do boys need to increase their reading skills?”
Simply, for higher reading success, boys need:

  • Reading lessons with clear, structured instructions with bursts of intense work.
  • Specific goals and praise for success for ACTUAL success and not false praise.
  • Hands-on learning that connects to their reading material
  • Humor. Joke books are fun to read.
  • Choice in reading material: Provide boy centered options even if they make you squeamish. These should also include periodicals, graphic novels (comics), and even technical manuals.
  • Male role models who read, regardless of the material. Any text is reading – including fathers reading the sport pages daily.

Male drop out rates, college admission rates, graduation rates, and level of employment rates all tell us a sad story. Many males are quickly becoming second-class economic citizens, and not only males of color.

As a result of new technology now used in all careers, members of both genders must be highly skilled in reading to flourish. For them to matter and have success, even at many of our new manufacturing jobs, they must be able to use the new technology.

But that technology demands the ability to read and follow the instructions on a computer or tablet. Reading is THE required skill regardless of career and gender. If only one gender is able to make use of it, woe is us.


David Greene taught Social Studies and coached in NYC, Woodlands HS, Scarsdale HS, and Ardsley HS for 38 years. He mentored Teach For America Corps Members in the Bronx for Fordham University. He presently is a staff member of WISE Services, an organization that helps high schools create and run experiential learning programs for seniors. He is also the treasurer of Save Our Schools March Committee.

Warren Farrell takes questions on men’s issues

Warren Farrell has joined the ranks of people like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Stephen Colbert, and many others. He was invited and accepted to be a part of Reddit’s IAMA. The IAmA (“I am a”) is a text exchange where users prompt others to AMA (“Ask me anything”). They asked Warren anything and Warren responded. He mentioned the White House Council Proposal for Boys and Men and touched on a wide variety of topics. When asked: What’s the single most important thing the average person can do to advance an understanding of the challenges that men and boys are facing today? Warren responded by suggesting they read Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Boys and Leonard Sax’s Boys Adrift. The interview included some very interesting answers from Warren from a thoughtful and concerned audience. You can see the questions and answers here:

Warren Farrell takes questions on men’s issues

Newtown Shootings: Warren Farrell Offers New Ideas of What May Help

“It is time that we go beyond fighting over guns and to raising our Sons”.

Newtown Shooting – Warren Farrell offers a core issue beyond the Gun Control issue about the absence of support for boys and young men and why we need a White House Council on Boys and Men. See Warren Farrell original article called: “Guns don’t kill people — our sons do” – “After Newtown, Conn., parents cried out, “What’s making our children kill?” But it is not our children who are killing. It is our sons. All but one of the 62 mass killings in the past 30 years was committed by boys or men.”

Connect to:
Warren Farrell on Google Plus
Martin Brossman on Google Plus at: Google Plus


Protesting Warren Farrell at University of Toronto

Dr. Farrell writes:

Despite about 100 protestors blocking the entrance to my presentation on Boys to Men at the University of Toronto this past Friday, Nov. 16, I was ultimately able to speak.

Why the physically and verbally violent protestors who tore down and defaced hundreds of posters? In part, because my Boys to Men presentation was sponsored by the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFÉ). CAFÉ is a non-profit, self-funded group affiliated with the U of Toronto. It’s only a year old. Some feminist-oriented groups, and especially the Socialist Workers Party, objected to their efforts to bring to the U of Toronto an understanding of the boy crisis and the importance of incorporating boys and men’s issues into the discussion of gender issues. From their perspective, boys and men’s issues equal men’s rights; men are the oppressors and the rapists; and a university shouldn’t be allowing “hate speech.”  From my perspective, boys and men are in the same family boat as women and girls, and boys are experiencing a boy crisis throughout the industrialized world that is hurting boys, families, the economy and those of our daughters who wish to parent their children with motivated and loving men.

Of course, the media is covering the heat, but if you’re interested in: the causes of the boy crisis; solutions; and how you can more effectively help boys avoid the “failure to launch,” go to whitehouseboysmen, CAFÉ, and The Myth of Male Power.


Warren Farrell


We will be presenting an on-air Google Hangout today at 3pm Pacific, 6pm Eastern with Dr. Farrell about this event.

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Why have a White House Council on Boys and Men – Warren Farrell – Tom Golden – Martin Brossman

The video below is of Warren Farrell and Tom Golden with Martin Brossman having a Google Hangout on-air about why we should have a White House Council on Boys and Men. Discussing the how this helps us in raising sons, how it helps women and helps men be better men.

Learn more about the Proposed White House Council on Boys and Men at:

Also connect with us on Facebook at:

Obama’s Missed Opportunity: A White House Council on Boys and Men

by Warren Farrell, Ph.D.

When Barack Obama became President, he immediately created a White House Council on Women and Girls. Shortly after, I got a call from the White House inquiring of my interest to be an adviser. I added to my enthusiasm the need for a White House Council on Boys and Men. To accomplish that, I created a multi-partisan coalition of 34 prominent thought leaders to discover whether the government had a valid role in transforming the boy crisis into our sons’ opportunities.

Our report met with interest at the White House—but three years of effort have resulted in nothing. This is a missed opportunity because as President Obama has been extremely sensitive to women’s issues, he’s acted as if boys and men who are not African American have no issues at all. Sensitivity to our sons and their dads is not only morally right; it is politically wise.

Notice more than the gravity of these issues for boys and men; notice how they would be addressed by different departments of the government, resulting in the likelihood that without a coordinating White House Council on Boys and Men that the left hand wouldn’t know what the right hand is doing…

Education—and Motivation

Most of us have heard the statistics regarding males going from 61% of college graduates to a projected 39%. But few of us know that our sons will be the first American generation to have less education than their dads. And the problem is not just education—it’s also motivation. We’ve heard about the impact of video games and video porn. But few know how plastics leaching into streams and lakes simulate estrogen and accelerate female maturity even as it retards male maturity. For a president interested in our environment, overlooking this impact on virtually every family is egregious.

Emotional Health

Item Boys’ suicide rate goes from equal to girls’ prior to adolescence to five times girls’ between 20 and 24.
Item Among the elderly, men over 85 have a suicide rate 1300% higher than their female peers.
Adolescent male emotional challenges range from ADHD to violence, crime and the 5 D’s: depression, drinking, drugs, disobedience and delinquency.

Physical Health

Why has the male-female life expectancy gap grown from one year in 1920 to more than five years today? And why do boys and men die earlier than girls and women from nine of the 10 leading causes of death? Fortunately, our daughters’ and mothers’ health challenges are addressed by seven federal offices of women’s health. Our sons’ and fathers’ are not addressed by a single federal office of men’s health.


One of every five men 25 to 54 is not working. The areas of future job growth (e.g., health; education) are areas our daughters are preparing for; the areas for which uneducated boys have typically found jobs (e.g., manufacturing; agriculture; construction) are in decline. And the mostly-male jobs requiring more education are being outsourced overseas.

A White House Council on Boys and Men would examine the potential for restoring vocation to education, and for developing our sons’ (and daughters’) skills to match employers’ future needs. It can expand the concept of a “man’s work;” and study other countries’ successes. And when men do work, it can recommend ways to increase safety (92% of workplace deaths are men).


A White House Council on Boys and Men can coordinate potential solutions. For example…

Father Involvement

One out of three children in the U.S. live in father-absent homes, yet most of the above problems would be significantly addressed with one solution: father involvement. To say nothing of how the more fathers are involved, the more crime and poverty are defeated.
How do we get more father involvement? Take a look at how Sweden restructured its paternity leave so that 85% of its fathers would participate. And what about a male birth control pill? And educating boys in school as to their value as future dads? And…

In Conclusion

The latest articulation of the crisis facing boys and men is Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men. If our sons see the “end of men” as their future, they will have little inspiration for life’s journey. With some help, we can transform the end of men to the beginning of men—of men as human beings rather than as human doings. In the past, we taught our sons to consider themselves “real men” if they made themselves disposable—disposable in war and in work. Being a “real man” and dead is a bit of a paradox. Calling our sons heroes if they risked being disposable was often healthy for the society, but it is unhealthy for our sons.

The Council can provide leadership to sustain the respect for firefighters and soldiers that allows us to recruit protectors for our homes and country, even as we also encourage alternative paths to becoming a valued man. Leadership for the future must both question and honor traditional masculinity. As our history of male-as-sole-breadwinner fades as downsizing and outsourcing burgeon, both sexes will need to be prepared to raise money and raise children. Our daughters have learned to do both; our sons have not.

A White House Council on Boys and Men can end the era of boys and men as a national afterthought. It can provide leadership to raise young men that our daughters are proud to love.

President Obama, you have daughters. You respect the family. You love our country. What are you waiting for?


Warren Farrell
Warren Farrell

Dr. Warren Farrell has been chosen by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders. He is the only man ever elected three times to the Board of NOW in NYC. His books are published in over 50 countries, and in 16 languages. They include two award-winning international best-sellers, Why Men Are The Way They Are plus The Myth of Male Power. His forthcoming book, with John Gray, will be Boys to Men.

Dr. Farrell has taught in five disciplines, and been featured repeatedly in Forbes, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He currently chairs a coalition to create a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Grading President Obama on his Treatment of Men’s Issues

This article is in response to an article that appeared on Huffington Post that graded President Obama on women’s issues. I thought it was only fair to also have one for men.  Many of the categories and even some of the wording come directly from that article.

Here we go.


1. White House Council on Women and Girls A
   White House Council on Boys and Men Fail

Women have good reason to be grateful to the Obama administration. President Obama created a White House Council on Women and Girls that made women’s issues an integral part of every level of the federal government.  Now each department must address their progress or lack of progress as it relates to women and their issues.  This is a powerful and glorious step for women and girls.  However, the Obama administration has failed miserably in creating a similar opportunity for boys and men.  A group of over 30 nationally known scholars, authors, researchers, and clinicians gathered to write a proposal urging the White House to offer the same sort of opportunity for our boys and men but after meetings with White House Staff and numerous officials it has been ignored at every level.  President Obama met with one of those thirty and refused to even have the issue on the agenda for their meeting. Fail


2. Equal Pay: Fail

Here’s the bottom line: the Obama administration failed men and women on equal pay. He is a president who entered office with the claimed intention of using science as a guide in his administration and his policy.  Even a brief look at the science surrounding the issue of equal pay would indicate that the discriminatory nature of what is being called the “wage gap” is truly a myth.  The government science and statistics drive this point home but this administration not only refuses to accept its own science, it makes public statements that defy its own facts. Fail

Warren Farrell’s Why Men Earn More

3. Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls: A
    Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys: Fail

The Obama administration gets major cred for taking on the escalating crisis of violence against teenage and college women. However it fails in an epic manner when it comes to teenage and college boys and men for whom it has done nothing.  The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report states clearly that in the last 12 months 2,747,000 women have experienced sexual violence other than rape. Importantly the same report shows that there were even more men who experienced sexual violence (2,793,000) in the last 12 months other than rape.  http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf  (tables 4.5 and 4.6) The science shows that men and boys are a major part of the victims of sexual violence but the policy focuses only on helping women. Fail


4. Violence Against Women  A
    Violence Against Men  Fail 

Obama and Biden have also voiced support for the reauthorization of the VAWA. (Violence Against Women Act)  This bill has been shown repeatedly by credible research to ignore a large portion of victims and perpetrators. It serves female victims but ignores and even shames males who are victimized (see table 3) and also ignores female perpetrators.  The bill is by name, only interested in helping women and it functions in a similar manner. Men in need are ignored.  Both President Obama and VP Biden took part in a television commercial asking men to curb violence against women. This would be fine if they also were part of a commercial asking women to curb violence against men.  They did no such thing. Fail


5. Reproductive Rights for Men: Fail

President Obama mentions the issues of women’s reproductive rights on a regular basis.  This is good, however, he continues to ignore the fact that men have no reproductive rights whatsoever. How many men have had to stand powerless as their child is aborted against their will?  Women are allowed to obtain an abortion, give up the child for adoption, have the child, or even drop the infant off at a police station.They have the right to do all of the above while men must go along with whatever the woman decides and have no rights of their own other than having to pay child support. Fail


6. Jobs: D+

When it came time to offer funds and support for those seeking employment during the crisis of our economic downturn the president had a “shovel ready” plan in place.  The feminine sections complained greatly and even though this has been known to be a “mancession” the president altered his shovel ready plans and spent a good deal of the money on jobs for women, 42% of the money went to female jobs even though women were only 20% of those impacted.



7. Fatherhood: Fail

There are millions of men in the United States who have suffered under the weight of a biased family court system. One would expect our president to have some words of support for these men. However, President Obama on Father’s Day calls out fathers and says, “Too many fathers are awol. “ “They have abandoned their responsibilities and are acting like boys instead of men.”  His Fathers Day speeches have been littered with this sort of verbiage about how fathers need to step up to the plate.  His main idea is not to celebrate the fathers and their many contributions in our lives but to point towards those who need to improve. Happy Father’s Day.  Imagine he did something similar on Mothers Day and told mothers they need to step up to the plate and stop abusing their children. All hell would break loose. Fail


8. Health Care Fail

This administration has web pages for girls health girlshealth.gov and women’s health womenshealth.gov but none for boys or men.  When you go to boyshealth.gov or menshealth.gov you get a “404” file not found error. (try them and see for yourself) There is no government sponsored page for boys or for men.  This is an insult to boys and men and shows how this administration is simply not interested in helping men and boys but is very active in doing everything it can to be of help to women and girls. Have a look at this government page that lists the preventive care that is included in Obama’s national health package. Plenty of preventive care for women and children but not a thing about prostate cancer, testicular cancer, or other male specific diseases.


Is there any sort of national program to help suicidal males? No. Men and boys are nearly 80% of completed suicides and yet there is no interest in working on this crisis. Fail


Final Grade

The above shows a clearly womanitarian stance that considers women and children first and ignores the needs of men. Clearly it is a failed report card for this administration.   It is worth pointing out that they are not alone or unique.  The fact is that for decades our government has ignored the pain and needs of its men and boys.  This is not a new phenomenon.  What we need is a president who is truly humanitarian and able to see both sides and offer love and support for all people, not just for select groups.  I don’t see Obama’s opponent as being a solution.  He too, if elected, will likely carry on the same misandry.  It is going to take a very strong shift in our cultural thinking in order to even make a dent in the unfairness and bigotry that is now accepted by nearly everyone.

Tom Golden

Thomas Golden, LCSW is well known in the field of healing from loss. His book, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing has been acclaimed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others. Tom enjoys giving workshops in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, having been named the “1999 International Grief Educator” by the Australian Centre for Grief Education. Drawing on thirty years of practical, hands-on clinical experience, Tom brings a gentle sense of humor and a gift for storytelling to both his workshops and his writing. His work and his web site webhealing.com have been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report, as well as on CNN, CBS Evening News, ESPN and the NFL Channel. Tom served as the vice-chair for the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health and has also enjoyed helping write a proposal for a White House Council on Boys and Men. He is in private practice in Gaithersburg, MD and also enjoys doing Skype consults. Google+

Honor Our Fathers: A Totally True Story of Sons and Gangs

by Jack Kammer

This could be dangerous, I thought. This is Los Angeles, early June 1992. The Rodney King riots had occurred just five weeks before.

Stranded and alone, hauling a heavy suitcase, I was running late for my plane at LAX. I decided that this was a chance I needed, no, wanted to take. I approached three young Hispanic men standing outside their car in a fast food parking lot.

Warily, I approached them. “How ya doing?” I said calmly and evenly. “I’m trying to get to LAX and I’m running late. The cabs aren’t cooperating. How much money would you need to take me?”

They looked at each other. One of them in a white T-shirt said to the one who must have been the driver, “Go for it, man.”

The driver hesitated. I said, “Name a price that makes it worth your while.”

He looked straight at me. “Ten bucks,” he said.

“I’ll give you twenty.”

“Let’s do it, man,” said the T-shirted youth. The driver nodded and popped the trunk. “You wanna put your suitcase here?”

“No, thanks,” I answered straight back. The image of being forced empty-handed out of the car was clear in my mind. “I’d rather keep it with me.”

“That’s cool,” Mr. T-shirt said.

I knew it could have been stupid, but I took out my wallet, removed a twenty and said to the driver, “Here, I want to pay you now.”

The driver took it with a simple “thanks.”

“So here I am, guys,” I said. “I sure hope you’re going to take care of me.”

T-shirt, sitting in the back seat with me, my suitcase between us, smiled knowingly and said, “It’s okay, man. We’re good guys.”

I nodded and shrugged, “I sure hope so, because if you’re not, I’m in big trouble, aren’t I?”

They all laughed and then T-shirt spoke up. “So where you from?”

“Baltimore,” I answered.

“Oh, man, it’s nice back east. That’s what they say. Green and everything.”

I smiled and nodded, “Yeah. And back east, L.A. is our idea of heaven.”

“Naah, it’s rough here, man. It’s hard.” T-shirt was clearly going to be the spokesman.

“How old are you fellows?” I asked.

They were sixteen and seventeen. They were all in school and had part-time jobs. T-shirt and the driver worked in a restaurant. The quiet young man riding shotgun didn’t say.

“Tell me about the gangs. Are there gangs at your school?”

“There’s gangs everywhere, man. Everywhere. It’s crazy.”

“Are you fellows in a gang?” I asked.

“No way, man.”

“Why not?” I wondered.

“Because there’s no hope in it. You just get a bullet in your head.”

“Yeah, but what hope is there for you outside the gang?”

“I don’t know. I just want to get a future. Do something.”

“What’s the difference between you and the young men in the gangs?”

“I don’t know, man. We just don’t want to do it.”

“Yeah, but why not? What’s the difference?” I gently pressed.

“I don’t know, man. I don’t know. We’re just lucky I guess.”

I let the question sit for a moment, then started up. “What about fathers? Do you have a father at home?” I asked the youth in the back seat with me.

“Yeah. I do.”

“How about you?” I asked the driver.

“Yeah, I got a dad.”

“Living with you?”


And the shotgun rider volunteered, “I got a dad, too.”

“How about the young men in the gangs? Do they have fathers living with them?”

“No way, man. None of them do.”

“So maybe fathers make a difference?” I suggested.

“Absolutely, man. Absolutely.”

“Why?” I probed. “What difference does a father make?”

“He’s always behind you, man, pushing you. Keeping you in line.”

“Yeah. Telling you what’s what,” driver and shotgun agreed.

And with that I was taken safely right where I needed to go. The driver even asked what terminal I wanted. On time. Without a hitch.

I will never forget their names: Pablo, Juan and Richard. I admired them because in spite of everything they were trying to be good.

But the men to whom I am most grateful are the men I never met. The men to whom I am most grateful are their fathers. It was their fathers who got me to the airport. It was their fathers who kept me safe.

Jack Kammer
Jack Kammer

Jack Kammer, MSW, MBA returned to school at the age of fifty-four to earn Masters degrees in Social Work and Business Administration. He did so to document, highlight and take action on male gender issues and the social problems that arise when those issues are ignored and mishandled. He specializes in the Race + Gender effect on marginalized African-American men and boys in urban settings. http://believeinmen.org

Lighting A Fire: Motivating Boys To Succeed, by Kathy Stevens

Editors note –  We are saddened to announce that Kathy Stevens, a member of our group and a co-Founder and Executive Director of the Gurian Institute, died in her sleep on Sunday morning, April 1, 2012. 

We wanted to offer this short article by Kathy to both honor her and also to share a small sample of the gift that she brought in working with the issues of boys and men.  Kathy will be missed.



You’ve got a bright child on your hands! As a preschooler he loved books, drawing, and creating with blocks. He was excited by the things around him and was a bundle of energy, wanting to explore, handle, and figure out his world.

The Disconnect

When he started school he was enthusiastic and looked forward to the wonderful adventures you told him were in store. In elementary school you started getting notes from his teacher indicating that he was “having some problems.” The list included comments like: doesn’t stay on task, fails to turn in homework, doesn’t complete projects on time, can’t seem to stop fidgeting and sit still. In middle school your bright, gifted son is getting by with mediocre grades and an attitude that you find disheartening. He just doesn’t seem motivated to succeed in school the way you and his teachers know he could.

What happened when he entered the classroom? Too often, boys find they are asked to behave in ways that they are not prepared developmentally to do: sit still, be quiet, and use fine motor skills to learn to write. They find that their natural learning behaviors are less acceptable in the school environment. This disconnect can cause difficulties early on. While your son may never become a behavior problem, he might lose his excitement about learning and motivation in school.

This story repeats over and over in the hundreds of e-mail messages we receive from parents of boys all over the country. The names and specifics change, but the underlying concerns are the same. Why isn’t my bright child motivated to succeed in school? Why can’t he seem to finish his homework? Why doesn’t he turn it in when he has finished it? Why doesn’t he seem to care when he gets poor grades on tests and report cards? What can we do to help him perform up to his potential?

Being un-motivated can keep a child from being successful in school and can make home life a constant battleground. What can we do to keep our sons from going through this painful experience? Help them develop a love of learning long before they step into a classroom and educate schools about how boys learn best.

How Boys Learn

The physical connection between the male body and brain causes boys to learn best when they are on the move! In their cribs boys are already interested in the spatial world around them—the revolving mobile overhead, the sights and sounds outside the home. Physical activity, such as running and jumping, keeps male brains developing in healthy ways that promote learning.

To encourage a boy’s natural learning style provide opportunities for him to use his energy to learn. Letting him explore, touch, and manipulate will help him develop the skills he will need to be successful in school. Puzzles, Legos, play dough, and other small toys develop fine motor skills that will prepare young boys for holding a pencil and learning to write.

Read to a preschool boy—a lot. Let him squirm or fiddle with his toys while he listens. If you think he isn’t attending to the story while he’s playing, check in periodically and ask him, “What just happened in the story?” Probably, you’ll find he knows exactly what’s going on. The fidgeting may well be helping his comprehension. Have your librarian help him choose boy-friendly stories, which are becoming more available as authors realize that boys enjoy reading stories that are centered on boys and the activities they like.

Connect Home and School

Check out the school your son will attend before he starts. Talk to the administrators and teachers to find out if they are aware of the current research on how boys learn best. If they aren’t, provide them with resources like those listed in the sidebar. If you are a member of a parent-teacher organization, suggest that your group help fund resources and professional development opportunities for your school to help teachers and administrators translate theory about gender behavior and learning into the classroom. This helps both boys and girls.

At home, continue to involve your son in activities that are consistent with his interests and make learning fun. Pay attention to what motivates him and provide incentives (not rewards) to encourage ongoing learning. If he’s interested in animals, help him get into a youth program at your local zoo. If he’s fascinated by how things work, connect him with a local engineering organization. If your son likes sports, show him how math and science are involved. Help him connect the dots from what he is expected to learn in school and how it will help him succeed in his chosen interest or activity.

Make Time Trades

Your son needs to recognize that he will have to spend time doing things that he doesn’t necessarily want to do. Create time trades with him to help him become accustomed to doing those undesirable activities. For every minute he dedicates to doing those things he needs to do (homework, chores, his own laundry) let him trade an equal amount of time doing something he wants to do from a list you develop together. You can limit some trades, such as television watching or video-game playing to certain blocks of time (no more than 30 minutes at one sitting) or bank time for a big trade like an overnight campout or trip to a theme park. Establish the rules of the trades together.

Make sure the list is made up of things he wants to do, as long as they are appropriate (even if they don’t necessarily appeal to you). Remember motivating your son is about him and his interests. Both of you can be responsible for maintaining the time record, working on the details for the trade, and planning the activities. Besides encouraging self-confidence and self-regulation, more learning opportunities will open up to your son—math, geography, and more (but you don’t have to tell him that).

Create a Personalized Work Space

To help your son feel good about spending time doing schoolwork and reading, work with him to design his own work space. Encourage him to make it personal and functional. If that involves some paint or furnishings, find ways to let him earn those items. Be flexible and be willing to accept that it might not match your taste. Agree on a time frame before any modifications can be made; this will help your son learn to think about his choices and yet lets him know he can make modifications later. Personalizing his workspace can make sitting down to work more appealing even if the work itself isn’t!

Have a Surprise List Ready

Let your son drop notes in a jar dedicated for surprises—out of the ordinary things he would love to do sometime. Then, when you observe behavior that you want to reward (does his homework for a week or cleans his room without having to be reminded) pull a surprise from the jar and reward him. Don’t use the surprise as a bribe; for example, don’t say “If you do such-and-such, I’ll choose a surprise.” Make it truly a surprise. Don’t do it every time either. Make it random enough that while he might think a surprise is coming, he’s not quite sure—encouraging him to exhibit desired behaviors regularly.

Introduce Him to Male Role Models

Listen as your son learns what interests and excites him. Then find ways to let him meet men who are interesting and willing to share their stories, perhaps even provide some mentoring or an apprenticeship. If your son thinks cars are cool, find someone in your community who builds stock cars or restores vintage automobiles and arrange a visit. If your son loves rock music, find a local musician that will let him attend a rehearsal or even a concert. These activities could become time trades.

Motivation is something we want our children to internalize. Helping your son learn to harness his physical energy to set and achieve his own goals is one of the best gifts you can provide. It will help him become a life-long learner, someone who is always looking just past the horizon to see what adventures might be waiting down the line.

Kathy Stevens, MPA

Kathy Stevens
Kathy Stevens

Kathy Stevens is the director of the Gurian Institute training division. Her work has been featured in Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Educational Leadership, Education Week, and Library Journal.

A Tale of One Island

A Tale of One Island

By Jack Kammer

Once, in the ocean near the equator, there was an island with a mountain range running down the middle and rocky cliffs almost all the way around. The eastern half was wet and green. The western side was hard and dry, and it sloped down to a beach, the one spot on the island that allowed easy access to the sea. Two tribes lived here. The Land People farmed the rainy side. The Sea People fished in the ocean.

Each tribe secretly thought it was better than the other. “We grow things that are sweet and delicious,” the Land People boasted. “We produce flowers just because they’re beautiful. We create life. The Sea People only kill things Continue reading “A Tale of One Island”

Expanding What We Mean by “Nurturing” – Excerpt from Michael Gurian’s new book “How Do I Help Him”

             In observing males and studying anthropological and neuro-biological information regarding male behavior, I developed the term “aggression nurturance” in 1995 in order to try to help professionals and parents look at males more closely.  My specific interest lay in hoping to accurately describe differences between the ways males and females nurture others and themselves toward self-confidence.

In both rural and urban environments in the United States, then in comparative research during two years in both rural and urban environments in Turkey, I observed that males (such as fathers) tended to nurture themselves and others through more direct aggression than females, with less emphasis on distended verbal nurturance, i.e. when they used words, they used them in quick bursts not long paragraphs.  Females, in general, tended to nurture themselves and others through less direct aggression than males, substituting more direct empathic responses to particular situations, and utilizing more distended word groupings.  Though my research goal was somewhat different than theirs, my ultimate outcome mirrors the work of Pepper Schwartz at the University of Washington and Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand.

By now, in 2011, everyone has perhaps observed this kind of difference anecdotally, in their own lives.  But still, let’s illustrate it.  Here is a piece of dialogue I heard recently at a local park as two teenage boys walked off a basketball court.  When they parted company to go to their separate cars, they said:

“Right, then.  Later.”

“Yeah.  Love you, dude.”

“Stop it, fucker!”

“Yeah.  Peace, man.”


Grinning, they both got into their cars.

Perhaps some part of why they grinned was from sheepishness at this intimate ritual being seen and heard by a gray-haired stranger, me, walking by.  But no matter the reasons for nuance, this kind of basic male ritual occurs all over the world.  It involves one-upping, masking-of-vulnerability, aggression, a mock show of anger, deep nurturance, and clear mutual love.

This kind of ritual is an example of what I call aggression nurturance.  This nurturance style, one based in male brain functioning, male biochemistry, and male socialization differs from direct empathy nurturance, which favors female biology, chemistry, and socialization.  Thus, while aggression nurturance can happen between two girls, it is more likely to go on between boys and men, for some very natural reasons.


Excerpted from HOW DO I HELP HIM?:  A Practitioner’s Guide To Working With Boys And Men In Therapeutic Settings by Michael Gurian.  For more information, visit http://www.michaelgurian.com/how-do-I-help-him.html.

Michael Gurian
Michael Gurian

Michael Gurian is a family therapist, child advocate, and the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including The Minds of Boys, Boys and Girls Learn Differently! and The Wonder of Girls. Over the last twenty years, he has advocated relentlessly for boy-friendly research in the public dialogue. The Gurian Institute has provided teacher effectiveness training to over fifty thousand teachers in two thousands schools and districts. gurianinstitute.com

Boys in school: Why Don’t We Pay Attention to the Facts?

David Greene

My son was born in 1990. By the time he was approaching kindergarten, we had to decide if he was to be one of those male kindergarten redshirts, held back a year to “mature”. We decided against it. He was a very bright and very tall boy. We felt holding him back would indeed, hold him back. What happened was eye opening. In pre-school and kindergarten teachers thought he was “hyperactive.” My wife is a clinical psychologist. She and I knew better. He was a boy. He acted differently than our daughter from his earliest human moments. Eventually we were proven right. He did fine in school. He was constantly described as very mature. A top student and athlete, he is now a pre-med senior in college.

During the 1990’s a great deal of emphasis had been placed on improving the education of girls. Books like Reviving Ophelia, the work of Carol Gilligan, and the political pressure placed on policy makers by organizations such as the National Organization of Women (NOW) made girls’ education a top reform of the early and mid ‘90s. Much of this was very important and good policy. We worked hard on that reform, had workshops, read the research, and changed classroom behaviors to allow girls to be more assertive and improve their work. It was all good.

One afternoon in 1995 we had one of our monthly faculty conferences. It was on the subject of female experiences in the school, under the guise of “gender issues”. At the long table sat several female students, and, at the far end, one male, Andrew. Andrew was last to speak. He was not one of the many superstar students. Andrew was an average kid who felt he had to speak up and tell the story from the male perspective. What Andrew had to say was a far cry from what most of us had heard, but some of his experiences rang true to me. What he said was that most boys don’t have it as good in school here as “you all” think. He gave several examples. They sounded like what my son had experienced. Questions and comments came forth from a few interested people. One person, Ron Bouchier, the school’s Athletic director, came prepared. One of the issues discussed was male dominance in several areas, including sports. Ron not only disputed that, he presented evidence of 16 years worth of team, league, sectional, and state championships and finalist results, and even national individual honors. The facts diametrically opposed the impression most of us had and clearly refuted what had been presented.

I was hooked. I knew Andrew and Ron to be straight shooters. They were on to something real and important. The trouble was that they were ignored at best, cynically assaulted at worse. I also knew the issues and stereotyping my son had gone through so far in school. I was determined to find out more. I started small. First I looked closely at the grades of my senior students. I had no idea what I would find. Little did I know it would launch me on a 16-year investigation on the issues plaguing boys in schools.

A couple of years later I was one of 3 Scarsdale staff members to go a conference on boys held at Wellesley College. I was the only teacher. The other 2 (women) were an assistant superintendent and a guidance counselor, both members of the district’s “Gender Equity Committee”. It had already become obvious to me that gender was a euphemism for “Female Equity”. While in a workshop on boys, I heard volumes about the problems of female students being harassed and bullied and intimidated by aggressive boys who needed to be fixed. A bit nervous about presenting a different view, I stood up and recited a summary of what I had learned over the past few years of investigation in my school and from reading the local papers about valedictorians and salutatorians in Westchester County. After much criticism and claims I must be fabricating evidence, I was summarily dismissed. However a woman sitting near me asked me to tell her more and asked if I wouldn’t mind being interviewed for a book she was writing. I said sure, and found the following in her book and article that appeared in the May 2000 edition of the Atlantic Monthly. That was Christina Hoff Sommers.

What had I found? In my classes, the boys’ final grades were anywhere from 3 to 5 points lower than the girls. Overall that meant the difference between a B- and B or B+. When I checked other social studies classes, the pattern held. In AP classes there was no significant differences. I colleague of mine, John Harrison, and I researched grades from all subjects in the school. The patterns held except in 2 or 3 of the highest-level science and math classes. I redid the work of Ron Bouchier and verified the information he had given those few years earlier. In fact the pattern stayed the same. Together, John and I looked at all kinds of information. We followed the class of 2002 and found that in each year approximately 2/3 of the bottom third of the class was boys and 2/3 of the top third was girls. This corresponded to the almost 3:1 ratio of girls to boys as valedictorians and salutatorians in the county of Westchester.

John and I presented our findings to the staff, and again, seven years later, they were hard pressed to acknowledge what we had found. Not much had changed. Then, as part of an ongoing series of talks and forums for parents the Scarsdale PT Council sponsored a forum on boys called “Are We Failing Our Boys?”. I had invited two other speakers with lots of letters following their names to give what I thought would give the talk more “cred”. The expected audience was about 30-50. Two hundred and fifty people (almost entirely moms) showed up and they were most interested in what I had to say about boys in Scarsdale. Mothers knew what was going on. So did I. But few are willing to acknowledge it in an academic world dominated by NOW and women studies at the University level.

I joined others in this work. I read a great deal on the subject. I gathered much information and from that work, teamed with Dr. Ed Stephens of the On Step Institute and Foundation for Male Studies, helped write a grant for the Leadership Learning Lab of the Central Park Historical Society, and spoke at two local colleges.

One of the most consistent findings in the research is that over the past 30 years how schools have moved to teaching methods that favor how girls learn. Add this to the increasing data about how boys are faring less and less well and you have an understanding about how much of a crisis this is within education, especially among minority males, our most failing demographic. What follows is a summary of what I have found over the years.

In 2002:

12th Graders below Basic Literacy in reading tests

MALES: 33%            FEMALES: 20%.

12th graders with a parent who graduated from college who scored below basic writing proficiency levels:

MALES: 27%           FEMALES: 9%

In 2003: 70 percent of public high school students graduated

Of those,

  • 72 percent of all female students
  • 65 percent of all male students (-7%)
  • 59 percent of African-American female students
  • 48 percent of African-American male students (-11%)
  • 58 percent for Hispanic female students
  • 49 percent of Hispanic male students (-9%)

(Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, Manhattan Institute for Policy research civic report?No. 48 April 2006)

IN 2005:

BS Degrees by Age and Gender

Age: 65 or higher:               Male          Female

  •                                            24.3%        14%

Age: 45-64:                         Male          Female

  •                                          30.7%         26.6%

Age: 35-44:                        Male           Female

  •                                         29%            26.6%

Age: 25-34:                     Male            Female

  •                                       27.2%         32.5%

(US Census: American Fact finder)

IN 2008

  • 137 women have graduated college for every 100 men
  • 130+ Women earned master’s degrees for every 100 men
    (National Center for Education Statistics)

IN 2010

  • 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

(David Brooks, NYT)

Aside from those comparative annual statistics, in general from K-12:

  • Boys are greatly outnumbered in every extracurricular activity outside of sports, from student government to student newspapers and academic clubs.
  • By 12 years of age, boys are almost twice as likely to have repeated at least one grade.
  • Boys comprise the majority of permanent high-school dropouts.
  • Boys are approximately 3 times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD
  • Boys are 10 times as likely to be referred for possible ADHD/ADD as girls
  • Boys (ages 15-19) are 5 times as likely as girls to commit suicide.
  • Boys are more than twice as likely to be suspended from school.
  • Boys are more than three times as likely to be expelled from school.
  • Preschool boys (ages 3-4) are expelled at a rate about 4 ½ times that of girls.

The U.S. Department of Education concedes that no serious research is available comparing different instructional methods that might help boys. Many education researchers have been found to be reluctant regarding research aimed at exploring gender differences in learning. In short, the researchers have found that because of changes in the educational system, the average boy of 50-75 years ago is very likely to be diagnosed with ADHD today, especially if they are bored and gifted boys (Armstrong, 1996, Hartnett et al. 2004, Howard and James, 2003).

There is also a great deal of agreement on the major reasons why these horrors are occurring:

  1. Gender roles in education, especially in elementary school, where 85% of teachers are women.
  2. Popular books (Reviving Ophelia 1994) and groups such as the American Association of University Women alerted the public to an educational failing that helped convince educators that schools were ignoring important girls’ problems, such as the loss of self-esteem among middle school girls who had been successful in elementary school
  3. Resistance from educators who also point to male success in the workforce as proof that advocacy for boys is unnecessary. (Even as statistics point out how men have been and will remain hardest hit by the “Great Recession” and the economic shifts in our nation.)

Over the past 20 years a great deal of knowledge has been accrued regarding biological and brain differences between boys and girls. Some of it shows the following. The language area of an average 5 year old boy’s brain is the same as a 3 ½ year old girl’s thus less able to learn to read K-2 (NIMH, 2006). Girls have more brain area in the frontal lobes devoted to language and expression of emotion as well as superior connectors between language areas to the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center (Neu,8).

Girls’ advanced prefrontal cortex also provides an advantage in decision-making and impulse control (Baron-Cohen, 2003). Girl brains are earlier to process emotional (tend/befriend tendencies) while boys rely more on brain stem and cerebellum resulting in more fight/flight tendencies under stress (Taylor et al., 2000). Boy behavior is far more likely to be determined by Nietzsche’s “will to power” (wanting to be in control of one’s environment) thus more likely to turn to video games and exhibit more confrontational and contradictory behaviors (Gleitman, 1980). As a result of differentiated development of boy and girl brains boys are worse listeners, and thus have greater difficulties in classrooms.

Other researchers point more directly at early academics in K-2. Boys are not as reading/writing ready as girls. This has led to higher stress and failures producing diminishing boy’s motivation. Oddly, or not, the nation that scores highest in the most widely used international reading and writing tests is Finland. They start formal school at the age of 7 (Gurian, p 20, Finnish National Bd. Of Education). Verbally structured classrooms tend to decrease motivation and performance of boys. The results show an increase in the use of boys’ resting brain states, poor note taking, poor attention to directions, and less homework done. These results were especially found in middle and high schools with boys who had higher IQ scores and had earlier successes in elementary school (Gurian, p 246). Hey..that was me grades 9-11. Often too, the boredom of bright boys is misdiagnosed as ADHD. (Howard and James, 2003)

Other educational mismatches between methods and gender differences abound. Overall changes in educational format and curricula over the past 30 years have been detrimental to boys’ learning. Among these are more reading and writing at earlier ages, less physical and non-linear learning, and the disappearance of gym and recess. The evidence shows that more schools have become less and less oriented to these boy strengths. Boys simply learn better when interested and motivated. The research has also shown that boys are primarily visual, logical, musical, kinesthetic, and naturalistic learners (James, p228).

All the research points to the fact that boys simply learn better through experiential doing (“Kenntnis”) than learning about something through reading whether print or computer screen based (“Wissenschaft”). HIstorically, boys learning has gone from physical apprenticeships, action, and practice to sitting in verbal/ written learning environments (Grossman and Grossman, 1994). The result is that normal fidgeting and physical movement, once necessary and normal, are now liabilities (Gurian, p53). There are ways of reforming schools to take these issues into account but they are not past of the No Child Left Behind syndrome.

Let’s take MATH and ELA. Over the years, even math problems have become more word oriented, for which girls’ brains are believed to have an advantage. ELA is theme based and often revolves around character feelings. Boys are more analytical and think more in terms of plot and action. Girls see more global outcomes and themes (Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993). Sax and Judith Kleinfeld (White House conference on Helping American Youth, 2006) contend that although the basic drilling for elementary reading skills works through 4th grade, the ELA curricula and practices in grades 4-12 have contributed to poorer boys’ results during those grades. In fact, although the tests results of 4th grade boys had improved, the 12th grade results show that 1 in 4 boys does not read at a basic level of proficiency as opposed to 1 in 16 girls. (USDE 2007)

Another area to rediscover is the issue of stereotyping. It is what got me interested in this issue in the first place. My son was stereotyped from an early age. Boys get the message that “typical boy behavior—loud, competitive, and physical–is bad, and that they need to become more like girls—quiet, cooperative, and gentle” (James, p115). “Typical boy behavior” is often misdiagnosed as ADHD. According to both Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax this occurs especially when the teacher first suggests ADHD testing. Sax postulates that occurs because most classroom settings are not boy friendly enough, most teachers (predominantly female in the early grades) are not fluent in the needs of boys, and too many K-1 classrooms are inappropriately academically advanced. (Ironically, since the early 1990’s girls have been getting the message to become more assertive, competitive, and more physical.)

In another example of stereotyping, a 1992 study showed that “60% of teachers believed that their male African American students would not go on to college.” In that particular study 65% of the teachers surveyed were African American (Garibaldi, 1992). One reason was the sub-cultural “call and response” (Schwartz, 2001; Townsend, 2000) style of many inner city males, actually physically active, loud, engaged and enthusiastic learning is often perceived as angry and hostile (Grossman and Grossman, 1994). Most upper middle class secondary schools (where many teachers come from) stress higher critical thinking skills, conceptual thinking, and applications while most lower socioeconomic secondary schools, stress safety, class management, and rote learning to achieve success on basic skills as shown on national standardized tests.

That is the reform that needs to be made most. The reform movement as it now stands simply makes this worse. The result is a lack of practice in deeper understanding of material and the underlying skills for advancement both to and in college. Today’s “reforms” have led to more competent mediocrity in inner city schools.

Whatever the causes, boys are found with:

  • Poorer motivation (Gurian, 244)
  • Poorer learning while sedentary as a result of their need to move around (Gurian, Sax, James, Tyre, Neu and others)
  • Poorer ability to hear softer higher sounds such as female voices (McFadden, 1998 and others)
  • Poorer episodic memory, less oriented to detail, thus poorer at test taking (Davis, 1999 and others)
  • Poorer at planning and paying attention (Naglieri and Rojahn, 2001)
  • Poorer at delaying gratification (Canada, 1999, 2000)
  • Poorer emotional communication skills.
  • A greater need for lists, clear directions, depth of learning vs. breadth (Gurian, 48)
  • Greater frustration, with less control and more discipline problems
  • Greater use of the brain’s “rest state” (zoning out or looking distracted)
  • A preference to shut down or say they didn’t do the work instead of admitting they don’t know (Gurian, p165).

What We Can Change In Districts? How can we learn from all the research and institute real reform beyond the Gates, Bloomberg, Duncan, and Rhee style we are currently engulfed by?

  • Use more Kenntnis (experiential learning) and less Wissenschaft (the linear pursuit of knowledge:
  • Install appropriate experiential learning programs K-12.
  • Restore old-fashioned Kindergarten.
  • Start formal school a year later. Both genders will benefit.
  • Start MS and HS at 9:00 AM. Use adolescent sleep studies.
  • Evaluate and improve the screening for ADHD.
  • Use more effective modes of discipline. Boys, again unlike girls, usually react better to “power assertion” (clearly stating the rules and explaining how they were broken) and “attention withdrawal” techniques as opposed to induction (How would you feel if you were Johnny?) Induction, because it is not direct, often creates anger and defensiveness and thus makes some boys suspicious over time thus escalating their reactions (Heyman and Legare, 2004).
  • Provide access to good male mentors, heroes, and role models.
  • Get parents and the community involved.
  • Restore recess and add more physical education classes…Jim needs GYM!
  • Consider single sex classrooms, subjects or schools. The research is still out.

What We Can Change In Classrooms?

  • Use differentiated instruction and assessments based on boys’ preferred learning styles and intelligences. As math has included more word problems and essay questions (female strengths) ELA and Social Studies should incorporate questions allowing for visual answers (ex: cartooning), and grade for logic and being concise.
  • Design units and lessons using Grant Wiggins’ Understanding by Design (1998)…Start at the outcomes and plan backwards, including appropriate authentic assessments.
  • Provide reading choice. Boys comprehend more when they read about their interests.
  • Questions should ask what would you “do” as opposed to what would you “feel?”
  • Use analogies where possible. It is a boy strength…either as teaching tool or in tests. So why did the College Board remove these from SAT tests?
  • Give problem-solving assignments.
  • Use direct language in giving directions. Be matter of fact. Do not coddle. Give them what they need in order to solve the problem.
  • Be vigilant about monitoring work and returning results swiftly and constructively.
  • Train students to take verbatim notes and then to summarize them.
  • Use voice modulation so boys can hear well.
  • Add touch and eye contact, depending on sub-cultural issues.
  • Use visuals, graphics, art, drama, music, and physical activities.
  • Build in strategic “Brain breaks.”
  • Use humor.
  • Use competition, with winners and losers, especially as part of a team.
  • Put boys in groups larger than three.
  • Do not over-compliment boys or sweeten comments without merit. Self esteem for boys must be addressed differently than for girls. Boys, unlike girls, will not do better if they think they are good in a subject. (Baumeister et al., 2003)

The Gates, Bloomberg, Duncan, and Rhee, TFA, and Teachers College Workshop model reform movement have thrown many of these methods out. It’s time we looked back at the research and matched up with the findings.

  • “If you think about how many boys are getting bad grades, failing tests, not performing in class, becoming discipline problems—and if you look beyond the reading and writing gap, you might notice other key elements of male nature that are now a mismatch with conventional schooling.” (Gurian, 52)
  • “Despite the research, schools that allow boys to function in accordance with their natural development are a dying breed.” (Tyre, 75)
  • Many school districts, from Atlanta to Wilmette, have finally realized they must react to these issues. In Wilmette, after a huge in district probe, a “final committee report provided irrefutable evidence that [even] upper middle class boys were not thriving in school.” The Board of Education’s response “was clear: Do whatever it takes to improve the performance of all children—including boys” (Tyre, 121,122).

Thus it is our task to create a more equitable education system for boys, without sacrificing the success of its girls. To accomplish this all involved must open their minds beyond the current trends and understand the research based socio/neurobiological foundations of cognitive gender differences as they relate to education. We must recognize the levels to which curricula and teaching respond to these research based foundations. And we must develop educational approaches based on solid research to provide a more boy-friendly instructional climate yet still be responsive to both genders. (James, 8 )




David Greene is a guest contributor who is a former High School Social Studies teacher and coach in The Bronx, Greenburgh NY, and Scarsdale NY. He presently is an adjunct for Fordham University, mentoring Teach For Americans in the Bronx. He is a staff member of WISE Services, an advisor to the Foundation For Male Studies, a HS football coach, and was a member of the Save Our Schools March and Call to Action Program Committee.


What the Penn State Scandal Tells Us: We Don’t Care About the Sexual Abuse of Boys

Printed with permission from The Father Factor

Roland Warren

Most of the commentary about the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University is what one would expect. Penn State football fans debate the fairness of the abrupt firing of their beloved coach; the Penn State board of directors talks about its need to hastily handle this public relations nightmare and restore the university’s storied reputation. The pundits on TV and radio pontificate while pointing their fingers and shaking their fists, questioning how Jerry Sandusky could get away with so much abuse of so many boys for so long.

Certainly, this makes good fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. And it may even assuage our collective need to understand what happened. However, this sexual abuse scandal confirms a much broader problem that has become increasingly evident to me. One that says less about Penn State than it does about our culture.

We don’t care about the sexual abuse of boys.

Consider just a few of the allegations in the Sandusky situation:

A janitor observed Sandusky the showers at the Penn State football building with a young boy pinned up against the wall, preforming oral sex on the boy. The janitor immediately tells others on the janitorial staff, including his supervisor. In fact, another janitor also sees Sandusky with the boy. Despite all of this, no one makes a report of the incident.

A 28-year-old Penn State graduate assistant enters the locker room at the football building. In the shower, he sees a naked boy, who he estimates to be about 10 years old, being sodomized by a naked Sandusky. Although he tells Paterno the next day, at the time, he does nothing to stop Sandusky.

Now, replace the word “boy” in the above instances with “girl.” Do you think that two janitors would fail to stop Sandusky from sexually assaulting a little girl? I think not. What about the graduate assistant? He was a former Penn State football player. No doubt, he would have used his best form tackling technique on Sandusky to stop him from raping a little girl.

And, consider how differently the Penn State administrators, who were told by Paterno about Sandusky’s behavior, would have responded if the victims were girls. Would they have stood idly by for years? No. They would have taken immediate action rather than risk being on the receiving end of the wrath of celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, NOW, and numerous women’s groups on campus. They would have reasoned that Penn State getting a reputation as a university that did not protect girls and women would have deeply negative consequences for years to come.

Not only that, they would probably take proactive steps to show the public that Penn State is dedicated to becoming a place that is safe for girls and women. They would start a new research center, and host forums, events, and marches to show their solidarity with the community of women. What will Penn State do to show it is a safe place for boys?

Boys have no advocacy groups to fight for them. Baby seals, pit bulls, and trees do, it seems. No matter how young and vulnerable, boys are expected to fend for themselves.

According to Prevent Child Abuse America, the sexual abuse of boys is under-reported and under-treated. Although the sexual abuse of girls has been widely studied, little research has been done on the abuse of boys. Accordingly, we don’t know nearly as much about it as we should. But, what we do know is quite troubling.

First, boys at the highest risk are younger than thirteen years of age, nonwhite, of lower socioeconomic status, and live in father-absent homes. (Alas, it is no surprise that Sandusky founded an agency that would provide him easy access to troubled boys from broken homes.) Second, sexually abused boys seem to experience more severe and complex consequences than girls in respect to emotional and behavioral problems. Yet, as a culture, much like the Penn State janitors and the graduate assistant, we see what is happening, have the ability to help, but we do nothing.

As is typical with all sex scandals, in time they move from the front page to the back page; from being the lead story to a minor mention; we move on and we forget. But our boys need our help to protect them from the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world and, when they become prey, to help them heal.

But first of all, they need us to care.


Roland Warren
Roland Warren
Roland C. Warren leads NFI in its mission to improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers. Roland leads NFI’s activities, such as its award-winning public education campaign and its cutting-edge programming for fathers. Roland played football for Princeton University, and received his M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Roland and his wife, Yvette, have two sons.