Remember the Boys

I have recently heard from several sources that one in six American men between the ages of 18 and 34 is out of work or in prison. Yet that engenders exactly no response –from anyone. Might our chancery bureaucrats take some time from sipping tea to ask a simple question, “How on earth have we allowed things to get so bad for these our younger brothers, especially now, when we need their energy and their dynamism so desperately?”

If we were to chuck every single educational “innovation” visited upon us by political hucksters in the last eighty years, and simply teach what was then considered the norm for a person with a half-decent background in arts and letters, and call it “classical,” we would at once stanch the bleed from our enrollments and give our young people a standard deviation or two over their schooled counterparts.

Why we don’t do that, in the face of the dilapidation around us, I don’t know. What are now old and destructive habits die hard.

One of those settings on our Educational Automaton reads: “Co-education at all costs.” This too is something to reconsider. I think that the results are in. The education of boys, largely by women who do not think deeply about the needs and the strengths of boys, has proved to be a staggering failure.

Perhaps there is something in the nature of boys, fallen nature or otherwise, that resists daily submission to women in all things great and small, when they know that those women find their masculinity an irritant. And perhaps there are some boys, quite a few in fact, who are simply not equipped to learn well from women at all, once they have passed a certain age.

I am not talking here about the relationship of a mother with her sons. I am talking instead about a need that all cultures have recognized. If only men can make men out of boys generally speaking, and if education for a boy is ineradicable from coming to be a man, then we can expect that some boys will really flourish when they are taught by men. It will be like taking a plant that doesn’t like well-drained soil and putting it near the pond, or like setting a wild animal free to be itself. This doesn’t necessarily imply anything bad about sandy soil or about the zoo.

The odd thing is that, to the extent that a woman does love men and their masculinity, she will be exactly the sort of woman who could teach boys very well. And she is also exactly the sort of woman who would incline to having her sons taught by men and not by her sisters. She would also understand that this need is not something you can simply wish away, or rub out by political propaganda.

Champions: 1936
Champions: 1936

People who say that boys should learn to be led by their sisters understand neither boys nor leadership. You do not learn to be led, no more than you learn to fall in love, or to delight in fresh air and open fields. The initiative belongs to the leader, who must inspire a delight in following, with the followers sharing in the leader’s vision and action.

If that inspiration is lacking, the fault lies with the one who wants to lead, and not with those whose hearts and souls have not been touched. I speak as someone quite aware of his inability ever to be at the head of any political movement.

There’s a further implication for Christians. We have been advised by our Lord that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And that he who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven must be the slave of all the rest. “Do not be like the Gentiles,” says Jesus, “whose rulers lord it over them and who are called their benefactors.”

Christian leadership is service: which can only mean that the leader gives himself to bring about great things in those he leads. His leadership is for their good: they are why he leads, just as any decent father will be glad to see his son grow up tall and strong and clean of heart.

It follows that a woman who would lead boys must somehow see in them the fathers-to-be, the leaders of other men; and this involves her in some difficulty. She wants to raise sons to be men who protect women, and who would not use their considerable advantage in strength and in tolerance for aggression and danger to put women at risk.

But she cannot inspire boys with the noble calling of protector and provider while assuring them that they are no different from their sisters, or by reminding them that in their grades they are inferior to them (because the boys find sitting in a school almost insufferable, or because their brains do not work in ways that teachers find comfortable, or because the things they love to study, such as military history, have been scrubbed out of the curriculum). It must be one of these, or something similar, because it is a plain fact that they are not less intelligent than the girl.

We cannot have all things on our own terms. I can wish that human beings will not be prone to vice, so that if we give them unbounded license as regards sex (or money), they will magically learn to use it well, and we will all live in Pixieland, eating gumdrops and vanilla cake. It won’t happen.

Here are the facts. The boys have to be educated, and have to be made into true Christian men. Those are absolutes. They do not admit of compromise. Nothing we do will have complete success. But we can do much better, and have done much better, than we do now. Time to re-build.

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.



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