What Are Little Boys Made of? -- By: Christopher W. Cowan

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 13:2 (Winter 2008)
Article: What Are Little Boys Made of?
Author: Christopher W. Cowan


What Are Little Boys Made of?

Christopher W. Cowan*

A Review of Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift:
The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys
and Underachieving Young Men
. New York: Basic Books, 2007.

*Associate Editor, The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Adjunct Instructor of New Testament Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

Keen powers of cultural observation are not necessary for one to be aware of the phenomenon that Leonard Sax calls a “growing epidemic” in contemporary America—unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. More and more of today’s young males are disengaging from school, not pursuing vocation, and opting out of real-world pursuits. While Sax notes that not all boys and young men are affected with this malaise, it characterizes a considerable number. It is not uncommon for twenty- and thirty-something young men to leave college, get part-time jobs, move back in with their parents, and spend their considerable free time playing X-box. All the while, they are untroubled by their aimless circumstances and oblivious to the concerns of their parents and girlfriends. Sax is certainly not the first to observe this distressing trend of “boys adrift.” However, through his experience as a family physician and research psychologist, he contributes to the subject by identifying what he believes are the five factors driving this problem: changes at school, video games, medications for ADHD, endocrine disruptors, and the devaluation of masculinity.

By “changes at school,” Sax has in mind modifications in teaching methods in recent years. Studies of human brain development have shown differences in the developmental trajectories of boys compared with girls. Particularly, the language area of the brain in young girls develops earlier than in boys. Thus, in general, boys may not be developmentally ready to learn reading and writing at the same time that girls are ready. The problem, says Sax, is that recent decades have witnessed a gender blind acceleration in the pace of education. Today’s kindergarten curriculum resembles the first-grade curriculum of thirty years ago. While girls may be ready for this level of learning, the difference in readiness for boys between the ages of five and seven means that a boy’s first experience at school may be profoundly frustrating. Compounding the problem, Sax argues, is the curriculum shift away from experiential knowledge to solely theoretical knowledge. Cognitive-based educational strategies ignore the important question: what motivates kids to learn? Boys especially benefit from direct experience. According to Sax, if boys are challenged to learn something before being develo...

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