Something is wrong with American men.
9.5 million of them are missing from the American workforce. They’re not working AND not in school. Another 1.1 million men of working age are incarcerated. Atlantic writer Derek Thompson found that this is a relatively new generational phenomenon: “The share of prime-age men (ages 25-54) who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the 1970s.”
There are several factors at play here, not the least of which have to do with the changing American family and the unique stresses presented by the modern world. But chief among those factors is this: The federal government’s mishandling of education has ruined men.
Our education system punishes boys from the very start. Beginning in preschool, kids are rewarded for sitting quietly and for playing cooperatively. Boys aren’t wired for that. They are geared toward staying active and competing against each other.
Meanwhile, girls are gaining language skills faster – that’s how the female brain works. Child development expert Dr. David Walsh explains, “Girls talk earlier than boys, have larger pre-school vocabularies, and use more complex sentence structures. Once in school, girls are one to one-and-a-half years ahead of boys in reading and writing.” Public education ignores this biological difference. The system treats boys and girls the same – by treating them all like girls.
And that’s part of the reason that almost 1 in every 5 American boys will be prescribed an ADHD drug by the time he starts his freshman year of high school. (The rate for girls is far lower, even though the rates of ADHD in adulthood – just 4 years away for the typical freshman – are roughly equal between genders.) Some of those boys are diagnosed because they legitimately have the disorder; others are diagnosed because of No Child Left Behind.
The link is clear: NCLB allows kids with ADHD to take more time on tests, and in some districts, the scores of ADHD students don’t count in the school’s overall score. Schools benefited from encouraging parents to get their kids diagnosed and drugged. Ryan D’Agostino explained this in a bombshell report:
“In a study of the years between 2003 and 2007, the years in which the policy was rolled out, the authors looked at children between ages eight and thirteen. They found that among children in many low-income areas (the districts most “targeted” by the bill), ADHD diagnoses increased from 10 percent to 15.3 percent—”a huge rise of 53 percent” in just four years.”
That’s an evil message to send to generations of young boys: “You are inherently defective, the problem makes you bad at learning, and you need pills to fix it.”
Granted, it’s not like teachers all got together one day and said “you know what we should do? Make these kids easier to control.” This is not a result of teachers having control; in fact, this is happening because the government robbed teachers of control over what happens in their classrooms. The federal government mandates that they teach to a test, and the most efficient way to do that cuts out the discovery process and instead resorts to feeding kids information and repeating it ad nauseam. This started ramping up in the 1960s and then became federal law with No Child Left Behind in 2002.
This problem, however, is about so much more than standardized tests. These young men are killed by a thousand cuts in a system that treats them like burdens, not like children. Here are some of the problems they face:
This legislation was well-intended, but it wasn’t well-written, and that’s the part that really counts. Male participation in sports is now limited to the number of women who also want to participate. But, men want to play sports at a higher rate than women do. Could you imagine if a college drama department could only cast as many women as it had men? That would be ridiculous. Women’s extracurricular opportunities should not be limited to the number of men who want to participate – and vice versa.
No More Fighting Like Men
Okay, this one is going to sound a little nutty, but hear me out: Schools don’t let boys fight like men. Fights are inevitable. When you put hundreds of hormonal and immature people in a building together, some of them are going to want to punch each other. Most of those people are going to be boys. (Girls fight, too, but they’re less likely to get physical. See the documentary “Mean Girls” for more details.)
And when somebody throws a punch, the victim will get in trouble if he punches back or even raises his arms to block the hits. Schools treat all physical fighting the same, even if one person gets jumped and just tries to react. These boys are punished for defending themselves, and they’re not allowed to plead their case. Nope, just handed their detention or suspension slips and told where to report – just like their aggressor. Schools actively punish boys who defend themselves like men. The message is “Be a victim. We don’t want you to protect yourself.” That’s so damaging for self-respect.
In college, every man – and they’re supposed to be men by this point – is considered a potential rapist. Sex crimes do happen on college campuses and they need to be taken seriously. False accusations also happen sometimes – but the men are considered guilty from the start and often denied due process. (Two words: Duke Lacrosse.) Consider the case of Paul Nungesser, whose life was derailed when a fellow student at Columbia University accused him of rape. This student built a career on her own lies – this is Emma Sulkowicz, whom you probably remember as “Mattress Girl.” Nungesser and his family endured a 3-year legal battle, while Columbia did nothing to protect the privacy of the innocent. We all recall the fury directed at the U.Va. Greek system, and then at “Jackie,” who totally invented a rape that never happened and used it to punish a group of men who did nothing wrong.
It’s usually around the college years that men are told that masculinity is toxic. The definition of toxic masculinity started off pretty narrow, but grew to encompass all sorts of things depending on whom you ask.
Men don’t know how to change a tire, light a grill, or cook an egg. These are really basic life skills that aren’t getting taught, and when you feel helpless, you feel hopeless. Ideally, those things would be taught at home – but that’s not happening in many cases. There’s a quick fix here: YouTube it. But when a boy is taught to hate learning, he becomes a man who doesn’t ask for answers – despite experts at his fingertips.
Our society uses the education system to place hurdles in the way of boys becoming men. Young men are treated unfairly by a system that views them as inherently less-than and somehow defective. Is it any wonder these kids get depressed and turn to drugs?
Now, no addict would tell you “I started using heroin because of Title IX.” But everyone who turns to hard drugs is running from something. That something might be physical pain, that something might be a lack of opportunity, that something might be stress they cannot manage nor escape from. No addict enjoys being an addict. The pills and the powders are a means of escape – a way to numb yourself against the world.
So it should come as no surprise that men crave that escape, and use drugs at a significantly higher rate than women. Opioids are a mass murderer of American men. They run headlong into addiction because there is nowhere else to turn.
Men can rarely escape to spaces of their own. Every all-male space is being eroded (like the Boy Scouts – now known as Scouts BSA). Men’s groups are thought of as restrictive and elitist – while women’s groups are praised as fostering sisterhood. The Wing is an all-female coworking space. Imagine the uproar if someone tried to open an office populated only by men! Men and women may think, speak, and work differently, but both groups should be allowed single-sex venues in which they excel. And no man should be forced to play by female rules – which, unfortunately, is exactly how public schools are set up.
If we want to stop ruining American men, we have to stop stacking the deck against American boys. That means changing the school system to embrace different learning styles and actually prepare people for modern adulthood, not for factory jobs that no longer exist. That means restoring the American man to a position of esteem, not derision. Give these kids something to aspire to, and get the government-created road blocks out of their way. That’s how we must undo a system that has ruined American men.