social and emotional learning

America Has a Boy Problem. Public Schools Can Solve It.

Someone on TikTok recently said, "we don't have a gun problem in America. We have a man problem."

As proof, she pointed out that guns are equally accessible to women and men in this country, but  men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of gun crimes. It's as if guys have trouble regulating our rage and responses to life's frustrations in a way that most women do not.

I don't know enough about gun crimes to argue that issue, but I can see her point about the danger of disaffiliated males. These half-formed, men-children who drink Joe Rogan's bathwater on their way to gamer conventions aren’t signaling great things for civilization.

A Root Cause: Failure to Launch 

Indeed, there is a guy problem that starts in youth. Our boys and young men are failing to launch. Young men face more difficulty attaining independence; of 18-29-year-olds, 55% of males still lived with their parents in July 2020 compared with just 49% of females.

This failure to launch leaves young men isolated, lonely and overly focused on gaming and social media. They fall prey to an entire  "manosphere" eager to draw them into online communities of broken, misogynist men.

The men of the manosphere claim to be victims of oppressive feminist ideals and seek manly advice on relationships, work and health from a syndicate of pick-up artists and pop-philosophy influencers like Jordan PetersonRoosh VPaul Elam and Jack Donovan. These are the televangelists in the emergent church of vengeful misogyny, counterproductive gender stereotypes and white victimhood.

On the laughable end of this narrative, the makeshift leaders of the lost boys' movement retreat to hyperbole when they lament falling testosterone levels in males and suggest testicular tanning is the remedy, as if roasting our nuts unlocks superpowers.

Let’s teach boys the skills that make for strong men

As a society we cannot continue ceding boys’ development to the tech-driven manosphere and its clickbait proselytizers of sexism, racism, homophobia, and grievance.  Public schools can and must help boys develop the social-emotional skills they need to self-regulate and develop deep, authentic relationships with others.

Schools provide a space for open and informed dialogue, where professional teachers can help students identify and express their feelings in healthy ways. When that happens, boys learn to manage stress, build positive relationships, communicate effectively with others and practice empathy.  When adults are properly trained, schools can also play a key role in educating boys to develop and respect boundaries. This equips them to handle life's challenges without resorting to dangerous or harmful behaviors that could put themselves or others at risk.

What Good Citizens Can Do Right Now

As concerned citizens, we need to recognize the material threat that untethered young men present to society. Communities need public strategies to create spaces where boys feel welcome and supported rather than ostracized and alone. 

Public schools do invaluable work on this front. Through Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), schools help students build strong bonds with their peers, gain better control over their feelings, set attainable goals and make prudent decisions.  All of this boosts their chances of succeeding in school and life, while making them less susceptible to the influence of the manosphere.

We must quickly and resolutely attend to the attacks on social-emotional learning coming from the manosphere’s right-wing sister, the Mommysphere. Years of sound education scholarship about child development go to the Mommysphere to die and be reborn as emotive slogans and social media jump scares

With their zealotry for whitewashing school curriculum and setting the clock of social progress back to 1776, their favorite year, the new Lost Cause brigade is working to rid schools of positive programming like SEL that makes schools and students safer and more effective.

Good people can’t stand by while toxic moms who apparently have an abundance of free time destabilize our schools this way. Information and activism are the two best tools to counter this trend. We can start by engaging our school communities in fact-based dialogue, highlighting the pro-social and academic benefits of SEL.

SEL has enjoyed support across the political spectrum. For example, a report by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the centrist Brookings Institute says, “despite their importance to education, employment and family life, the major educational and social reforms of the K-12 system over the last few decades have not focused sufficiently on the socio-emotional factors that are crucial to learning.”

The American Public Health Association has found “statistically significant associations between measured social-emotional skills in kindergarten and key young adult outcomes across multiple domains of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use and mental health.”

Unlike many educational interventions, SEL shows strong benefits for students of all racial and economic backgrounds.

Teaching all children–especially our boys–to use tested tools and strategies to regulate their emotions and build stronger relationships will take all of us a long way toward raising healthy, well-adjusted boys in an increasingly complex world.

Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...

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