09 August 2007

Danger Boys... and Sometimes, Danger Girls...

I've been following an interesting discussion on the homeschooling forum I belong to - prompted by an article recently published (Thursday, Jul. 26, 2007) in Time Magazine titled:
"The Myth About Boys," By DAVID VON DREHLE
"...One of the hot books of the summer is a zestfully nostalgic celebration of boyhood past. The Dangerous Book for Boys, by brothers Hal and Conn Iggulden, flits from fossils to tree houses, from secret codes to go-carts, from the Battle of Gettysburg to the last voyage of Robert Falcon Scott. A sensation last year in Britain, the book has been at or near the top of the New York Times best-seller list since late spring.

The Dangerous Book, bound in an Edwardian red cover with marbled endpapers, has many of the timeless qualities of an ideal young man: curiosity, bravery and respectfulness; just enough rogue to leaven the stoic; an appetite for any challenge, from hunting small game to mastering the rules of grammar. It celebrates trial and error, vindicates the noble failure. Rudyard Kipling would have loved it.

These charms alone can't explain the popularity of an amalgam of coin tricks, constellations and homemade magnets, however. Clearly, The Dangerous Book has tapped into a larger anxiety about how we're raising young men. This is a subject worth digging into, because it reflects not just on our sons but also on their sisters, on the kind of world these kids might make together--and on the adults who love them, however imperfect we prove to be. With fresh eyes on fresh facts, we might find that an upbeat message to a newborn boy is not so misguided after all.

THE MYTH OF THE BOY CRISIS "I don't think anyone will deny that girls are academically superior as a group. Girls are more academically powerful. They make the grades, they run the student activities, they are the valedictorians."

Christina Hoff Sommers, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was explaining how she came to worry deeply about boys. In the book-lined parlor of her suburban Washington home, she ticked through a familiar but disturbing indictment: More boys than girls are in special-education classes. More boys than girls are prescribed mood-managing drugs. This suggests to her (and others) that today's schools are built for girls, and boys are becoming misfits. As a result, more boys than girls drop out of high school. Boys don't read as well as girls. And America's prisons are packed with boys and former boys.

Meanwhile, fewer boys than girls take the SAT. Fewer boys than girls apply to college. Fewer boys than girls, in annual surveys of college freshmen, express a passion for learning. And fewer boys than girls are earning college degrees. Even sperm counts are falling. "It's true at every level of society" that boys are stumbling behind, Sommers continued.

Observers of the boy crisis contend that families, schools and popular culture are failing our boys, leaving them restless bundles of anxiety--misfits in the classroom and video-game junkies at home. They suffer from an epidemic of "anomie," as Harvard psychologist William Pollack told me, adrift in a world of change without the help they need to find their way. Even in the youngest grades, test-oriented teachers focus energy on conventional exercises in reading, writing and other seatwork, areas in which girls tend to excel. At the same time, schools are cutting science labs, physical education and recess, where the experiential learning styles of boys come into play. No wonder, the theory goes, our boys get jittery, grow disruptive and eventually tune out. "A boy will get a reputation as hell on wheels that follows him from one teacher to the next, and soon they're coming down on him even before he screws up. So he learns to hate school," says Mike Miller, an elementary school teacher in North Carolina. Miller's principal has ordered every faculty member to read a book this summer titled Hear Our Cry: Boys in Crisis.

In short, society treats "boyhood as toxic, as a pathology," says Sommers--who may have been guilty of this herself when she wrote several years ago that the Columbine killers were emblematic of turn-of-the-century boyhood. But she's right that it's not girls who are shooting up their classrooms--and boys are at least five times as likely as girls to die by suicide..."
The article continues - Here's a link (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1647452,00.html) if you want to read the whole thing; there are some great photos, too. I've found this whole discussion amusing, interesting and informative, especially as I look back on the antics of my boys:

Recently, Brendan came to me after being out with one of his friends: "Mom, I had to pull a mildy venomous snake out of so and so's finger and I got bit in the process, but it was ok cause the snake just got me with his little teeth, not one of his fangs." As I started to gently (I think it was gently and not completely panicked.) remind him that snakes are not among the list of OK creatures to mess with, he continues, "I had to, Mom! My friend's finger had already doubled in size!"

He is also fascinated with homemade bows and arrows, slingshots, (He has actually become quite a crack shot - I saw him smack a lizard off the wall from about 20 feet the other day and I was quite impressed.) sword fighting with whatever branches or stalks are handy, training an owl (and now he is asking for a falcon), and, of course, proud of all scrapes and bruises he sports as war trophies.

The other day, I heard Jonathan (yes, 2 year old Jonathan) fussing like crazy as he played out in the yard - he was frustrated that Brendan was only half-heartedly "sword-fighting," and he wanted a more vicious opponent. The other day, I found him 15 feet up a tree swinging like a monkey. Just a few minutes ago, a friend brought the kids home from the pool and told me that Jonathan is quite the dare devil, hence the bump he is now sporting on his forehead. The kid loves to jump off the diving board, swim to the bottom of the pool, dive for toys and hold his breath long enough to panic his lifeguard mother! Too bad the heat here kills batteries so quickly and the only time I notice it is when I actually go looking for the camera to document this type of "photo-op!"

So, I get all this for my boys... what is the explanation for my girls? Continuing with the snake theme, a few weeks ago Rebekah and Nadia spent the weekend out in a village with some friends; first thing they said when I arrived to pick them up (as they show me the new doll clothes that they had also made for their American Girl dolls...) was, "Guess what, Mama!!! We helped kill 4 vipers and 3 scorpions while we were out working in the fields.

It is Rebekah who is guilty of the following. A few years back, our family was taking a leisurely stroll through a park and we began to hear a rather large rustling in some of the undergrowth. All of the sudden, a 3.5-4 foot long monitor lizard pops out, hisses and takes off running - the rest of us all stand there with our mouths hanging open; not Rebekah! She takes off, chasing after the huge lizard in true Crocodile Hunter fashion. Yes - we did stop her before she got too far off the trail.

Victoria is already flipping off the diving board and you should see her jump off the 3 meter platform.

But, it also makes me all the more thankful for my more timid and sweet Anna - her adventures only include falling off our horse, and cantering instead of galloping. But don't you dare get her into a chicken fight at the pool - she is vicious.

And, of course, there are the escapdes of my biggest "danger boy..."

No wonder I've been having panic attacks lately... LOL!

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