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A Question of Purpose: Rebellious Boys and Education

I’m not the only one that’s noticed that rather large and looming wall between most boys and early academic achievement. That wall is the following question: “Why?” Usually that question comes out a little differently. More likely than not it sounds something like: “Why do we have to do this crap anyway” to which we usually answer “Because I said so,” and subsequently follow that statement with a detention slip and a letter home about the boy’s behavioral issues. After all, the girls never ask questions like that.

Gerry G., an inner city high school teacher and writer for the City Journal, writes one of his articles bout how boys are being short changed by the continued feminization of our classrooms. He cites some frightening statistics: “Only 65 percent [of boys] earned high school diplomas in the class of 2003, compared with 72 percent of girls, education researcher Jay Greene recently documented.” Some might attribute this to the popular theory that girls mature more quickly than boys, but those of us who’ve ever attempted to teach elementary to high school notice much more striking differences. Boys question the purpose of the education they are receiving far more often than girls do, and if you fail to answer them sufficiently, they will slouch back and lose interest completely. Girls are far more willing to work without the need for an explanation. This is a natural difference, and boys ought not to be punished for it and labeled “behaviorally challenged.” That is precisely, however, how our society deals with this more aggressive and inquisitive thumos, and that is one of the greatest factors to the difference in graduation rate.

If you are a parent, the primary instructor of your children, be ready to answer your boys. Why do we have to learn Greek Mythology and who the hell cares about Odysseus or whatever his name was? What could possibly be so important about Shakespeare that we have to read a play that he wrote hundreds of years ago where everyone dies in the end? When am I ever going to use calculus anyway? Be ready for these sorts of questions with purposeful answers, because your son will need more than the usual, “Just do what you teacher says because you need good grades to get into a good school so you can get a good job.” This may seem a little harsh, but if you cannot answer him as to the purpose of each subject, then why are you sending him to school at all?

This is an expansive topic and Garibaldi captures the issue much more fully in his article. I encourage you to read it if you have or work with young male students. You can find it here: