Friday, May 12, 2017

Boys, Pain and Silence

I've raised two boys into young men. I am proud of my sons.
And i thank God that my boys aren't growing up today.
I think of the way our society treats boys from kinder through college and it's a wonder they don't en masse rise up and slaughter us.

This year, through the kismet of computer humor, I ended up with an Art One class of 31 students, 24 of them being male. That's fine. It ends up boisterous and we usually take some odd side trips, but it's okay. What is strange is how some of them have attached themselves to me as a substitute Mom. I've had students do this in the past. It's usually not the star students or the worst of the worst, but instead the average kids who have quirky personalities and interests.

One kid in particular seems to enjoy trying to shock me with outrageous comments. He's a handsome kid, tall, but really goofy. He was complaining about not knowing how to pick out a tux for prom. I told him to get help from his Dad. He replied, "If my Dad actually spent ten minutes with me it'd be a miracle. He's an asshole who left my Mom when I was two months old." It was shocking and I told him I was sorry he had to go through that and his reply was "I'm over it," which of course means, he's not. He's hurting, and badly. Hearing this story, another kid stated," My Step Dad is okay, but I'm pretty much just a replacement for my step-brother who died of an overdose." Wow. So that kid doesn't even feel he's important enough to care about on his own merit. Then another boy talked about how his Mom and Stepfather travel and have missed most of the senior events even though he's heading to engineering school halfway across the country in June. What was strange is that as more boys spoke out, others were having conversations over the things they've experienced-one kid had to run away when his stepfather got so mad over a bad grade that he threw him against the wall. Another had friends buy an airplane ticket to his Dad's home when his Mom and Stepdad threw him out. Others were simply ignored over overlooked or acting out just to get someone to look.

People have talked for years about the pain girls go through in school. But girls, in my experience, are more than willing to tell you about it. Boys generally do not. They carry their pain around until it erupts in ways that are destructive to themselves and to others. Counselors, by and large, are dismissive of boys' problems until they develop to the level where students are shipped to alternative school or juvey. The same people who will intervene for girls when they feel threatened or diminished will rant and rail at boys who are experiencing the same emotions, but don't have the same outlets for their pain. I listen to the teacher next door who nurtures bunches of need girls, but who regularly screams at her class which has many boys in it. I worry because we only have two and a half weeks of school and these boys are showing the type of pain that manifests in binge drinking, drugs, risky behaviors of all kinds. And I fear that the quirky kid who plays jazz and grows bonsai trees or the kid whose father is a radio guy on a large national sports show will do something that will cause me to cry when I see their names associated with some summer tragedy.

Our society, our schools, our nation have failed boys. The push to make things more acceptable for girls has permitted an entire system to ignore the growing problems boys experience. Bullying, learning deficits, special ed and at risk labels are all more often directed toward boys. More boys succeed at suicide. Fewer males than females are in college. We are letting them fall through the cracks.

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