Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Are all-boys schools a radical idea?

This brief piece by William Kilpatrick ran in the hard copy edition of Issues & Views, Spring 1994. It is excerpted from his book, Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong: Moral Illiteracy and the Case for Character Education. As we learn of current efforts to create schools for boys, and as we settle into a new consciousness of what constitutes a "family," should Kilpatrick be considered a purveyor of old, passé ideas?

Boys Should Be Taught by Men
by William Kilpatrick

The idea of all-male schools makes sense. The lives of inner-city youth are so much at risk that radical measures are in order. And the principle behind this particular measure is a sound one. In fact, it is not especially radical. The idea that boys should be taught by men is an ancient and honorable one, practiced for centuries across a wide variety of cultures and settings, ranging from primitive tribes to English boarding schools.

This idea also has a substantial basis in psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, and criminology. It has long been known in these fields that boys have a more difficult time than girls in the formation of sex identity. The fewer strong male models in a boy's life, the more trouble he has. In the absence of an involved and committed male, boys tend to form simplified and stereotyped notions of maleness. Surrounded by women, desperately anxious to establish their maleness, they often compensate for their insecure sense of identity by adoptint a hypermasculine aggressive pose.

As is now well known, boys without fathers are substantially more involved in delinquency and violence than boys with fathers at home. When they go to scfhool, they bring this aggressiveness with them. The answer to masculine overcompensation is not to surround boys with more women at school and expect them to adopt a "let's-be-nice-to-each-other" attitude. They need to do something with their aggressiveness. Either it has to be channeled by adults who are strong enough to channel it, or it erupts in ways that are destructive both to the individual and to society.


Simon in London said...

This seems exactly right, and is particularly the case with more boisterous and aggressive, boyish boys, like my son. Among the races, many black boys in particular benefit from a male-oriented schooling, with lots of exercise, team sports, channeling and discipline, and schoolmasters who are strong male role models.

Here in London the authorities like to bring in black reformed ex-gangsters to talk to 'at risk' black youth about the perils of gang life. I'm highly sceptical of this, it seems to me the inevitable message of the 'successful' and charismatic ex-gangster is to glamourise criminality. I would think that a better approach (as well as team sports etc) would be eg a school emphasis on carpentry & metalwork, and other skilled manual crafts; taught of course by men. There are some excellent Jamaican craftsmen who arrive as immigrants here, but these skills are rarely if ever passed on to the next generation. I believe that can change.

Unknown said...

This is a tough one. Our culture of youth leaves gangs of same-age boys to their own devices. They run wild, in the absence of authority. Without the presence of mature, responsible men how can they learn self-restraint? They quickly learn to buffalo female teachers, or drift into adversarial delinquency, rather than join in constructive endeavors with men whose leadership they respect. Inter-generational learning has transmitted our civilization. Consider apprenticeship, from about 1100 to about 1860 AD.

Grand parents especially passed on knowledge of social history and norms to teenage boys in centuries past. Now they are relegated to an annual visit, often in another city. Boys are alienated from their own families by modern generational segregation & FORCED to mold their behavior to their peer group. Teenage peers are naturally heedless & undisciplined, when left to their own devices. That is genetic.

Extended families are intact elsewhere. They offer more guidance for entering society. I don't think our culture can recover old ways in which adolescents were transformed into responsible men. Proposals I've read of don't strike me as adequate, or even feasible. I see nothing which can replace learning within an extended family.

Perhaps the Israeli Kibutz produces citizens as well as soldiers. If so, I have not heard its successes touted. That would mean even LESS male family connection, & more obedience to the state.