Mind the Gap

Recently the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic (and others) published startling statistics about how poorly boys and young men are doing in the academic realm. The gap is serious and has been growing for decades.

Girls out-perform boys in math, reading and science in almost every single zip code in the United States, Many other countries where equal access to education is fostered are seeing similar results. Comparing drop out rates, college admission rates, college grades and completion…women are far out-performing the men.

Last year women applied for college at a rate of 6 women to 4 men. By the way, good for the women! This is not news to anyone in academia. This trend began over 35 years ago. So, why does this matter?

  • Many men without high school and college degrees struggle and suffer. They have higher divorce rates, more health problems, are largely absent from meaningful faith life, have significantly lower incomes that compound all kinds of issues, have harder times finding and keeping jobs and are less attractive to women who want marriage and families. They also tend to struggle with complex issues that require critical thinking and tend to be much more conservative and lean Republican.
  • Strong males leaders are largely absent from leadership roles in schools (elementary through college), churches (in many denominations), and community volunteerism. And why does that matter?

Because education seems effeminate to many young men who are beginning to think about their life after school. I’m not saying that women aren’t good teachers. They are! And thank God they’re there. But young boys aren’t able to “seem themselves” in these vital leadership roles, so it’s too easy for them to give up when things don’t go well for them.

And in places like politics, where leadership is still largely dominated by males, many of them demonstrate so little empathy, vulnerability, critical thinking skills and respect for “the other” that the visible leadership models are actually harmful in helping young men to develop healthy masculinity. By the time that policy makers see what’s been right in front of them for decades it may be too late.

In addition, all kinds of risk factors emerge when boys lack healthy emotional connections to older men, particularly their father. So what can you do?

  1. These young men need their dads in their life. I’m calling on absentee dads to man up and get back in their kid’s lives, regardless of the age. It is never too late to take the first step in the right direction. If you know a dad who is MIA, please encourage him to re-engage.
  2. Where dads are absent, these young men need “surrogate dads” who can be present in their lives. Men who will be vulnerable, honest and humble about the challenges faced in work, society and home. Men who will encourage them to stay in school, expect it to be difficult, and know that success only comes before work…in the dictionary. Men who will encourage them to consider teaching as a vocation.
  3. Time matters. Men need to be consistent and reliable for the young men who may be drifting. Over 30% of boys do not live with their dads and another significant percent have dads who are physically present, but emotionally checked out.
  4. Lastly, when there are no men in the picture, then women, please, stand-in and do the same for these young men, realizing you cannot replace their dad, but that the boy is too important to neglect. This matters for the individual, their family and the greater community and society.

Please help “mind the gap.” Raising a boy to be a man is too important to leave to chance.

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Many of these blog entries are edited excerpts from Tender Lions: Building the Vital Relationship Between Father and Son

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