by Mark Sherman
Mark Sherman, a big fan of the President, asks him to call the nation’s attention to the problems facing its boys and young men.
Dear Mr. President,
I am a lifelong liberal Democrat and a strong supporter of your presidency. A friend and I drove two hours to canvass for your candidacy in Scranton, PA during the 2008 primaries; I was overjoyed when you first won the nomination and then the presidency that year, and equally, if not more, ecstatic when you were re-elected last year.
I contributed by far more to your campaigns than I ever have to any other political candidate.
I continue to be a huge fan of yours — bravo for your stands on gay marriage and gun control – but there is one thing about which I have been disappointed: your administration’s apparent lack of concern about how boys and young men are doing in America today. It is in this one area that I have found you, to my dismay, entirely silent. I have been concerned about this issue for 20 years. When I started reading and writing about it I had three sons; they have since been joined by three grandsons. I would love to have had a daughter or granddaughter, but I have simply been blessed by boys. (I suspect Abraham Lincoln may have understood my feelings. When 11-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to him in 1860, suggesting he grow a beard, she included this line, “Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me.” In his reply, the President wrote, “I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons…”)
I am sure you are aware that on so many measures boys are lagging behind girls, and have been for quite a few years now. 0ne of the best comparisons comes from Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, in his oft-cited “For every 100 girls…” Here is just a small sampling of his statistics: “For every 100:
• girls diagnosed with a learning disability 276 boys are diagnosed with a learning disability
• fourth grade girls who watch television four or more hours per day, 123 boys do.
• girls ages 9 to 11 years enrolled below modal grade there are 130 boys enrolled below modal grade.
• tenth grade girls who play videogames for an hour or more a day, there are 322 tenth grade boys who do.
• girls who are suspended from high school, there are 215 boys who are suspended.
• young women who earn a bachelor’s degree, there are 75 men who do.
• females ages 15-24 who kill themselves, 586 males do.
• women ages 18-24 who are in correctional facilities, there are 1439 men who are behind bars.”
I realize that women have still not achieved full equality — whether in terms of salary or position. But if one considers Americans under the age of 25 (and probably even going up to 30), there is little question that it is boys and young men who are lagging.
Even Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who is well-known for his op-ed pieces on the terrible problems facing girls and young women across the globe, has noted and written about the very different situation here in the United States (and it is one that exists in other industrialized nations as well). In March 2010 he wrote a piece titled “The Boys Have Fallen Behind”, where he opens with these words:
“Around the globe, it’s mostly girls who lack educational opportunities. Even in the United States, many people still associate the educational “gender gap” with girls left behind in math.
“Yet these days, the opposite problem has sneaked up on us: In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school. The latest surveys show that American girls on average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.
“The National Honor Society says that 64 percent of its members — outstanding high school students — are girls.”
There are efforts throughout the country to rectify this, but there is no movement even vaguely comparable to the effort made to help girls in areas where they have been behind. I believe this is because the effort to help girls came as an outgrowth of the women’s movement. Women understandably felt that they did not want their daughters to face the same obstacles they did, and both fathers and mothers of daughters have been excited by the ways in which they have excelled.
Until recently, and perhaps even today, mothers of sons have been excited by not only the success of women, but also of young girls. But I have found that more and more mothers – and grandmothers — of boys are becoming concerned about their sons’ future. A perfect example is Dottie Lamm, former first lady of Colorado, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1998, and a leading feminist in her state. Ms. Lamm, who has three young grandsons, wrote a piece in the Denver Post in April 2010 titled “Our Boys Are Falling Behind in Education” (http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_14893585). Her opening lines are “What’s the next battle for an aging feminist? Boys.”
Parents of daughters should be concerned about boys as well. Young women typically want to marry men who are their peers, or close to it, in education, ambition, and earning potential, but as the gender gap grows, finding a partner becomes more and more difficult. This situation is particularly pronounced in the minority community.
To parallel the White House Council on Women and Girls that you initiated after you took office, might I respectfully suggest a White House Council on Boys and Young Men? In the meantime, if in one of your speeches, comments, or press conferences, you could just mention the fact that America’s boys and young men need our nation’s attention, it would bring to me, and so many others, a great feeling of hope.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Mark Sherman is editor of this blog. This is a very slightly revised version of his recent post on the Good Men Project