Boys Will Be Boys, So Segregate the Li'l Bastards

Never ever thought I would hear myself saying this --- ever never ever. But there may be something to say for certain kinds of all boys schools. Well, that is, if there is anything good at all to say about boys, and there may not be, then maybe it's a good idea after all to lock them up with each other for a while.

This is inspired by a recent David Brooks column in The New York Times about the alarming and growing achievement gap between boys and girls in America. He writes: "The eminent psychologist Michael Thompson mentioned at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few days ago that 11th-grade boys are now writing at the same level as 8th-grade girls. Boys used to have an advantage in math and science, but that gap is nearly gone."

I seldom agree with Brooks on anything, because Brooks is a conservative, and I'm a liberal, and, as I think we would all probably agree here in Dallas, liberals are a lot smarter than conservatives. But as the late Ernie Makovy used to say, "Even a blind hog finds the acorn once in a while."

So this is an acorn day for Brooks. He writes persuasively to argue that the hearts and souls of boys are shriveled by an educational culture that vaunts and rewards girl traits -- such as empathy, thinking ahead, organizational ability, self-control -- while it denigrates and punishes all the best boy traits, like punching people in the face.

That's a theme that has bothered me, too, for a long time. Maybe almost forever. I attended a boys boarding school as a kid. Don't worry. It conveyed no social status on me personally at all. I was a fish-out-of-water scholarship kid before schools like that had fish-out-of-water scholarship kids. Nothing stuck.

But when I showed up the social differences were vast. My years there could have been miserable, devoted to nothing else. But we pretty much took care of all of that in the first few weeks by punching each other in the face. And then it was over.

We had our own new social pecking order, the punch-in-the-face pecking order. There was less snobbery at that school than anywhere I have been since, maybe because people just got tired of the punching after a while.

My best friend from those years is the guy I punched the most. He says he punched me the most. We even got in a halfway testy argument about it decades later when I tried to apologize for putting in the infirmary. He said he must have punched me in the head a lot harder than he thought, because he was the one who put me in the infirmary. Whatever.

My own son attended the opposite kind of school, a wonderful Montessori School in East Dallas where a wise and insightful faculty brought out the best in both boys and girls ... until middle school. That would be, until puberty. And there's the rub.

Many boys -- not all, but many -- turn into little ass-holes at puberty. They're aggressive, rebellious, hyper-active, and they have that state prison thing: They can be perfectly well behaved at one moment, then accidentally brush shoulders passing in the corridor and try to kill each other.

So what to do with them? Well, it's all zero tolerance and psychotropic drugs these days. But what is the outcome of that regimen in the long run? Brooks wonders what would have happened if this modern culture of boy repression had been imposed on Shakespeare's Henry V:

"Then he'd rebel," Brooks writes. "If the official high school culture was über-nurturing, he'd be über-crude. If it valued cooperation and sensitivity, he'd devote his mental energies to violent video games and aggressive music. If college wanted him to be focused and tightly ambitious, he'd exile himself into a lewd and unsupervised laddie subculture. He'd have vague high ambitions but no realistic way to realize them. Day to day, he'd look completely adrift."

I worried about all of that with my own son, because I saw it happening with many of his Montessori buddies. It seemed to me the middle school was treating the boys like defective girls, and the boys didn't have anything much they could do about it but flip everybody the bird. Which they did, often and well.

I was lucky. My son found his way into several little bad-boy bands of brats, guys on dirt-bikes in East Dallas and country kids in East Texas who thought fighting was an inter-scholastic sport.

If tolerating some of this was good for him, and I believe it was, I get no credit. It was his poor long-suffering mother who knew enough to step back wordless into the house sometimes and allow nature, however unattractive it might be, to take its course.

I do believe that one way or the other boys need to have a place where they can be ass-holes. It's male destiny. They need to have a realm where they can work things out in their own way, stupidly.

What scared me about the East Dallas way of doing things was that it was sometimes carried out too far from adult view. When I say boys need to be boys, I mean they need to be boys with adults standing by with bullwhips, figuratively speaking. Otherwise, boys being boys goes to bullying in about five minutes, goes to Lord of the Flies in about 10 minutes.

One thing boys really do not have is brakes. I don't know about girls. I never had one. But boys do not have brakes, and some adult has to be there to put the brakes on for them -- sometimes stomp on the brakes.

All of which makes me think maybe segregating kids by gender, at least for part of the day, makes more sense than I used to think.

Not boarding school any more. Now they're all co-ed, and they're for smart kids. They probably don't punch each other in the face much anymore.

And it's probably a good idea to keep boys around their mothers for part of the day anyway. Mothers are smarter than fathers. Damn it.

Otherwise, you don't think they'll just do away with the whole male gender someday do you? We need to keep an eye on that. I think they may be having meetings about it already. Why wouldn't they?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze