David Brooks: “Honor Code”

David Brooks wrote a compelling July 5 column in The New York Times about the struggle of boys in school.

The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don’t fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.

Far from all, but many of the people who don’t fit in are boys.

It would be wonderful to think a mere 500-word column could tap into the complexities and challenges facing both schools and parents, but almost nothing this important can be addressed so briefly. Mr. Brooks’ concluding thoughts are particularly important for parents and educators to consider:

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curricula that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

Concluded one comment: “Interesting people, David, will always find a way to be interesting.”

The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don’t fit the ethos get left out.

The column has received more than 400 comments, not to mention a strong reaction, both supportive and oppositional, in the blogosphere. A significant number of comments noted the severe shortage of male teachers and role models in the classroom. Others noted that, for all the concern and focus on boys’ struggles, they continue to dominate the corporate board rooms and leadership positions, suggesting that the “problem” might manage to fix itself over time.

Concluded one comment: “Interesting people, David, will always find a way to be interesting.”

Perhaps most interesting was the reaction on The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance blog: “We are not doing enough for boys in Young People’s Publishing.”

You can check out a comprehensive list of recommended books for middle school-aged boys here (PDF).

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