The Problem with Boys and the Decline of Men

I recently read this article about decline of men.

Here’s a key quote:

“…men of all races and ethnicities are dropping out of the work forceabusing opioids and falling behind women in both college attendance and graduation rates.”


When I finished reading that article, all I could think of was:

  • What am I doing as a teacher to help the boys in my classes be prepared to succeed in the current economy?
  • Am I helping them develop the skills that will be rewarded?

One issue to address about the article before we go any further: “the decline of men” does not mean that men are worthless, devoid of talent, or lacking in capacity, potential, or humanity. It means that men as a group (specifically a particular subset of men) are struggling more than women as a group to find a meaningful place in the job market now that the market has changed and does not reward the traits or skills they, as a group, currently possess.

One narrative about the issue goes like this: it is time for men to change because the world has changed. Suck it up and just do it, boys. The changes you need to make are possible because the other half of the population is already on board. Put down the video game controller, get off the couch, and stop adventuring in guyland.

Here’s another narrative about boys that has been floating around in discussions about education: the experience of school is not designed to accommodate boys’ natural playfulness, competitive instincts, their need to move, to be rough and rowdy. School unintentionally discriminates against boys in this way, and that is why boys are not succeeding like girls. Additionally, boys, as a group, have a harder time delaying gratification and sitting still.

Boys must learn certain skills–ones the market values–if they want to find success as men. But ordering them to suck it up tells an ineffective fairytale, one that allows us to wash our hands of responsibility for men: that it is easy to change, and so it is entirely men’s faults that they aren’t killing it at the American Dream. If it really were so easy to change, most people would have done so already.

This is the context in which I think about my responsibility as an educator, and as a man who has made it to adulthood without becoming part of the statistics illustrating the “decline of men.”

Part of my responsibility is to meet my learners where they are whenever possible. In an attempt to do that, I should be asking myself the following questions:

  • How do I design this lesson to accommodate some of my students’ (of any gender identification) natural need for activity: to move, to speak, to showcase, to deliberate, to argue, to compete?
  • What kinds of reading materials are my students most going to connect with, especially considering what research tells us about male reading preferences?
  • What kinds of writing tasks are my students going to find most engaging?

Part of my responsibility is also to prepare my students for future situations that they are currently unprepared for. While you may spend some time in school showing off skills you’ve mastered, the focus should really rest on pushing the boundaries of your knowledge and skills. In an attempt to bring my students–and particularly the boys–learning experiences that will prepare them for what is to come, I should be asking myself these questions:

  • How do I increase my students’ social skills and maturity levels?
  • How do I help my students to become better listeners and more empathic communicators?
  • How do I teach my students to delay gratification?
  • I can sit still for long periods of time, and I also have a strong need to be active. What is it that allows me to sit still when necessary? How have I designed my own learning experiences and environments to balance my need for movement with sustained focus and stillness, and how can I apply this in my classroom and teach this to my students?
  • What does success really look like? Does it have to fit our traditional definitions? Can we define success in different ways that give boys a shot at being successful in contexts that matter to them, even if that doesn’t mean 4 years of college?

Part of my responsibility to my male students is to show the path of a man who has achieved success and mastered the skills that will give them the ability to find their own success in the ‘new’ economy too. It’s key to meet learners where they are and to cater to learning styles that aren’t currently valued in school, but it is also imperative that we teach boys to master those skills they will need for this economy and for citizenship–ones the statistics say they are lacking.



What do you think about this topic? What questions would you ask yourself? What would your answers to my questions about how to reach students? I’d love to know your thoughts–leave a comment below!