Manhood vs. Adulthood

As I wrote earlier this month, I am in the midst of a big transition to become the middle school science teacher at a new all-boys public school next school year.  One big part of my preparation is an effort to learn everything I can about single-sex education.  As a result, I’ve been reading “Boys Adrift” by a recognized expert in the field, Dr. Leonard Sax.  At some point, I will post a more detailed review of the book, but I have been struck by one particular chapter and I want to share why.

For most of the book, Dr. Sax explains what he sees as the causes for a growing lack of motivation among boys and young men in this country.  I may be naïve, but I think that he exaggerates the seriousness of this issue, especially because it is primarily affecting the most privileged among us: middle-class white boys.  As a seasoned educator, I don’t think that this problem deserves nearly as much of our attention as does the achievement gap between socioeconomic and racial groups, or the plague of standardized testing.

In one of the final chapters, however, Sax explores what he calls the “revenge of the forsaken gods”.  He makes the very convincing point that there is a clear and important difference between adulthood and manhood.  Manhood is a set of expectations for responsible male behavior and, according to the author, it must be passed along by other men.

This section really struck a chord with me.  In my preparation for this new position I have focused almost entirely on the academic concerns–reinforcing literacy skills, integrating more experiential education–but I never stopped to think about the opportunity for a specific type of character education.

Our new faculty looks to have a much higher percentage of male teachers than the average for public middle schools, and that fact provides just the resource we need to develop not just young men, but young gentlemen.  I look forward to developing a school vision that includes a common set of expectations and a consistent way to teach and reinforce the skills of successful manhood.  How exciting would it be if our boys saw positive role models all around them and received constant reminders about how to behave responsibly?

Sax brings this point home when he writes,

“Manhood isn’t something that simply happens to boys as they get older.  It’s an achievement–something a boy accomplishes, something that can easily go awry.”

Now, I find myself looking forward to this new opportunity for an entirely new reason: to pass along the virtues and values of manhood.

I hope that I’m up to the challenge.



photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

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