The Perils of Boyhood

Dear Colleagues,

Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means for our students to become young adults in an age of violence. By that I mean the verbal and sometimes physical violence that saturates our media and sometimes comes very close to us – too close. Elected leaders throw schoolyard taunts at their constituents. Violent language and imagery take over our social media. Some in power abuse others. And, yes, those with weapons threaten and sometimes commit horrible acts against crowds of people, including mass shootings in schools. As a rational educator and informed citizen, I know that the odds of physical violence occurring at Gann are vanishingly small. But I cannot dismiss the possibility. Like teachers everywhere, I now must train for that possible outcome.

I also know an important fact about interpersonal violence of all kinds: the perpetrators are usually men. To take the worst-case situation: close to 100% of mass killers over the past 35 years have been male. In a world where we have degendered a variety of nouns that describe what people do (e.g., fire fighters, flight attendants), no one seems to be in a hurry to rewrite “gunman” as “gun carrier.”

A recent article in the Atlantic reminded me of a quote from Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura: “People are not born with preformed repertoires of aggressive behavior. They must learn them.” This line of research on boys and men is now well-established (see here, here, and here, for starters). We know about the pressures boys and men face to live up to standards of modern masculinity; I think we all try to mitigate those factors. Yet, speaking as an educator, my concern for boys remains unabated. Both potential victims and perpetrators of violence, they are in a fragile moment of development. Of course, those of us who are parents hope that we are offering the right kind of support and modeling to our children. And yet … to whom else might boys turn for models of masculinity that embrace rather than repress emotion? What men do they see in positions of power and wealth (a.k.a. the American success story) who are demonstrating vulnerability?

Fortunately, there are options. At Gann, we are lucky to have many men on faculty who serve as positive role models for our students. Our colleagues are unafraid to share emotion, demonstrate vulnerability, and exercise kindness. They run a popular support group for boys; they inspire us through their active participation in our “soul trait” curriculum. They demonstrate openness and compassion in the classroom and beyond. I am grateful to know them; they encourage me to aim higher in my work.

I am also struck by the positive role models offered by many local peers, at Gann and elsewhere, who identify as boys (mental note: let’s thank them!). There are important examples of Parkland, FL teenage activists like David Hogg and Cameron Kasky. These students, clearly angry, are nonetheless transforming their intensity and adrenaline into positive, relationship-building efforts. Perhaps they are inspired by their own peers and co-activists, people like Emma Gonzalez who are leading the way for them. Regardless, I wonder if they may be revitalizing nonviolent activism for a new generation of boys.

Stoneham Douglas Students. Source:

Truly, all of us as educators can help our boys become strong and loving men – simply by inviting and encouraging them to live authentic lives. Patrick Howell, in a recent piece entitled “Freeing the Boy Who Wants the Man to Fly,” offers these words to men who are trying to move beyond their entrapment in “Fear [and] its motley crew: Insecurity, Rage, Depression, Self-Sabotage, Self-Loathing, and Loneliness.”

Try and be the summation of your greatest ambitions with the wanton abandonment of a child. Do not be the adult who is taught behaviors by others: the system, the society of men. Be gentle with yourself in your application of learning, and climb mountain tops, seek to fly to the stars, or bathe cosmic in the pool of light and gas that is the sun. Aspire to your highest dream by making a go at secret, long held ambitions. Or, by challenging a long held negative belief utilized for survival purposes, because the only thing consistent in this universe is love.

Hatred is all encompassing when you are in it, but fleeting nonetheless. The permanency of hatred occurs when we allow it into our souls without challenging it, without facing the devil disguised as ourselves. So, find your mountain and climb. For you will find freedom not in reaching the summit, but in the act of lifting one foot on top of another and repeating the process. The child in you is right. The boy or girl inside you is omnipotent and has been correct: you can do anything you set your mind to.

Patrick Howell. Source:

As educators, we are in the unique position of being able to catalyze this reality for boys. Speaking for myself, I am recommitting today to being a warm and honest educator who does not shy away from personal authenticity or mentoring conversations. As I mentioned earlier, I’m so grateful to have so many colleagues model that behavior for me already, right here at Gann.


Field Notes

Scaffolding is critical to our inquiry journey. Too often teachers enter the inquiry pool in the deep end, heading straight to Free Inquiry…. We can’t blame them; the essential questions students ask and the demonstrations of learning students create are incredibly meaningful and resonate with their audience. But beginning your adoption of inquiry by diving right into Free Inquiry could result in overwhelmed and underprepared inquiry students. 

Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt. KQED Mind/Shift. How to Ease Students Into Independent Inquiry Projects.

The Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning is based on the accumulated experience, wisdom, and research of hundreds of educators who have graciously shared their ideas and critique. It describes six criteria, each of which must be at least minimally present in a project in order for it to be judged “high quality.” The presence of a criterion, however, is only a beginning. Each criterion can be judged in turn as to the quality of its implementation. Projects that are the most memorable, and that have the greatest impact on student learning and development, will be those with the highest quality implementation of each criterion. The Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning is intended to stimulate reflection and conversation about ways that projects can be improved and deepened.

Buck Institute for Education. High-Quality Project Based Learning (report).


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