Where are the boys?


By Frank Wessling

Mothers and fathers, pay attention to your boys; pay serious attention. We seem to be living more and more in a girl’s world. The boys have too little work to do.
This is the time of year when we see newspaper features on the top high school graduates. With pictures it’s easy to see the preponderance of girls. Even without pictures, female names crowd the top.
This has been a pattern for several years. It may help explain why females now make up a large majority of college students, sometimes calculated to be as high as 60 percent.
The Quad-City Times of Davenport annually reports on the top graduates from more than a score of schools in the surrounding region. It includes pictures of the students who have excelled in several categories of leadership and community activity, as well as academics. Those groups are always heavily female, sometimes as high as six and seven to one.
Last week’s Catholic Messenger reported on the graduating classes from the five Catholic high schools in the Davenport diocese, listing the valedictorians and salutatorians at each school. Among the 11 — two salutatorians at Clinton’s Prince of Peace Academy — were three boys.
Does this trend mean our boys are in trouble? There are other signs pointing in that direction.
The American economy has been essentially a service economy for a long time now. We still manufacture a steady stream of goods, but computerized processes and robotic devices do much of the work, displacing human muscle and less dependable human brains.
The work available in our society is available to women as much as to men — even more if we consider how important the fashion industry has become, along with the advertising that boosts it. For the most part this is a corner of the market for women, by women.
The current economic recession has pushed unemployment rates to double digits for men, especially those with no more than a high school diploma. According to the Wall Street Journal, last winter’s rate for young men 25 to 34 years old without higher education was 14 percent, more than double their unemployment problem before 2008.
Even with jobs, many of these young men continue living with their parents because the work they do isn’t considered worth a living wage. In that respect they are like the mass of women who work in food service, retail sales and the entertainment and travel industries. They can get by with help from family and, often, government assistance programs but the dignity and esteem that goes with self-support remains only a dream.
It is not sexist to point out that this missing dignity is more of a problem for men than women. The expectations we carry, and those that surround us, require more self-sufficiency from men than women. Without it, men suffer in ways that women don’t. Such suffering has effects — shown most obviously in murder and mayhem by bitterly frustrated men, but it burns quietly in every one who feels the world passing him by.
The disparity in school achievement has many causes and won’t easily be changed. We need to notice it first, and decide that change is both required and possible — just as the changes that have helped girls were possible over recent generations.
To begin we might look at that gross disparity at the top of our high school graduating classes and vow to get it changed. If educators and all of our school support systems decide that we want equal outcomes, we could begin doing more to ensure that the school experience is as valuable for the ongoing life of boys as it is for girls. With the way the modern economy is structured, and with a weak family culture, that will be complicated and difficult — not as simple as bringing back “shop” classes.
But we can’t be content with the way things are going now.

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