1. Physical. Or, more accurately, denial that there’s a physical factor. In the age-old debate of nature versus nurture, it has become politically incorrect to acknowledge nature at all. In short, we’ve gone overboard in denying the physical differences between boys and girls and how this influences behavior, despite a growing body of studies replacing conjecture with facts.
2. Reading/writing gap. In our commendable effort to right the historical wrongs of how girls have been treated and educated, we’ve blindsided ourselves to the one solitary respect in which boys are disadvantaged: reading and writing. And we’ve let that slip dangerously even as other trends (including the shift from industrial to service jobs) have aligned to make it of skyrocketing importance. The following cannot be emphasized enough: Boys are not the new underdogs; they are not suddenly suffering in all respects—only in reading and writing. But more than at any point in the past, reading and writing have become the linchpin of success in life.Boys, not to mention many parents, don’t know this. And some parents, teachers, and librarians have been loath to address that increasing gap on the false assumption that focusing on it will necessarily mean a backward slide for girls just as girls have secured some hard-won progress. Yet, on the contrary, a backward slide for boys has ominous potential for females who, in the end, must share their world with males.
3. Home structure. An increasing number of boys are growing up in households with limited or no access to positive and involved male role models. While there are ways to minimize the potential negative impact of this, many parents are unaware of the implications and of some solutions, from reading buddies to mentors from programs like Big Brothers.
4. School structure. The overwhelming majority of teachers and school librarians are female, and we’re also seeing an increase in female principals, education board members, legislators, and other education policymakers. Perhaps it is only natural, then, that classroom approaches, school policies, and sometimes the laws affecting education have shifted to formats that (often unwittingly) favor girls. Some eighty-five percent of children’s authors as well as most editors are also female, which means that the vast majority of people writing and editing and selecting books for school libraries are female. Parents are typically unaware of this, or feel they can do nothing about it. We believe awareness is important, and we outline what parents can do in Jump-Starting Boys. Of course, many of these biases are subtle and unintended. Female staff, like mothers in general, are well intentioned, but their hidden biases are no longer sufficiently countered by males at home and at school.
5. Fear-based backlash. Because males are overrepresented among criminals and those who do females physical harm, individuals and sometimes organizations treat normal young boys’ tastes in reading and writing (war heroes, etc.) as unacceptable. This can be counterproductive to persuading them to read and write.
6. Morals. Due to laws, education policies, societal changes, and multiculturalism, the onus for disciplining school-age children and giving them moral guidance has shifted from schools to the home. However, children spend more waking hours in school than at home, and parents are often unwilling or unable to provide the moral lessons that might help stem the bullying and violence that take place at school. This typically works against education, especially for boys.
7. Parenting styles. For a generation or two, parents have been bombarded with the message that above all, they must build self-esteem in their children. Dutifully, they offer encouraging words as often as possible, repeatedly telling their beloved offspring that they can be something special. The result, say a growing number of experts, is children who grow up knowing deep down that many episodes of praise were unearned, which breeds insecurity rather than self-esteem. And the focus on self-esteem robs them of something more important for both work and personal life: empathy. So, more children feel entitled to special treatment, special jobs, a special life. Is it unreasonable that this sense of entitlement, combined with the factors outlined above, might feed into boys’ rejection of school if school is a struggle for them?
Add to that, parents’ desire to keep their children safe, which can lead to overprotection and reduces kids’ opportunities to gain self-confidence and independence. Then there is the fact that some parents allow a child’s schedule to get so packed, structured, and parent-monitored that again, certain characteristics best nurtured by independent free time are stunted.