published Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Upton: Boys need our help to catch up

Sitting in on the opening day ceremony at the Girls' Leadership Academy in the Westside recently, I felt inspired, proud and excited. There was a sense of destiny and purpose in the air at the opening of the charter school. We all listened as powerful women told their personal stories -- some already successful, others just beginning the journey -- all amazing.

As happy as I was for these hope-filled and empowered girls, I couldn't help but wonder, "What about the boys?"

Women had once again risen to the forefront, seeing what was needed and pushing for it until it happened. As much as I believe in the education of girls, I tend not to worry about them as much. I know that for the most part, they are passionate and ambitious.

However, when it comes to education, boys -- who once led the way -- now seem less focused, less motivated and struggling hard to keep up. The educational lag boys have been experiencing for years nationally has come to light again locally as the Hamilton County public schools recently revealed.

People cite many possible reasons that boys seem to be falling behind.

Some say boys learn differently, need more activity but have been denied needed access to recess and play. Others say boys learn best from male teachers, who are the minority in the field, especially in elementary schools.

Perhaps boys should learn separately from girls, where their focus seems better and their progress surer. The chemicals in our plastics and food could be affecting the activity levels and attention spans of boys in negative ways.

Some say that boys growing up in single-parent homes may never have heard a man read out loud. Boys tend to be ridiculed for studying and pretend to study less than they actually do.

One study found that one in five parents of boys were seeking professional help for the school-related problems their sons were experiencing, compared to one in 10 parents of girls.

The list goes on.

A few experts say that boys haven't necessarily fallen behind as much as girls have surpassed them in academic progress and educational ambition.

Boys drop out of high school in much higher rates than girls. Women outnumber men on college campuses. I recall hearing women say that their mothers encouraged them to get an education. I haven't heard men state as often that their fathers encouraged them to do the same.

I have been perplexed that some of my brilliant and capable male friends did not complete their college degrees, though they had opportunities to do so.

Could it be that our boys are waiting for men to tell them education is a manly and therefore worthy endeavor? What if sagging pants, idle posturing, or acting out were simply considered silent cries that elicited attention, direction and nurture from watchful men?

I know there are great leaders out there who are already mentoring, encouraging, and pushing young men along. Perhaps all they need is a few more soldiers to join the movement.

That movement could include a charter school for boys, reading books at public gatherings, modeling degree completion, volunteering in the schools, or a teaching career -- even if it's brief. There's no more room for our boys on the corners of city streets or in jails; let's remind them they still have a place at school.

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a therapist at Richmont/CBI Counseling Center. E-mail her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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