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Holdie Lewie

Oh, Lance ... That last line is going to light up your comments section. I agree with you that the emphasis on sports is harming boys. But that assertion is deeply threatening to a lot of men.

I'd like to throw out one other problem, which I see as related: video games. We don't have a video game console, but all of my 9-year-old son's friends all have them. A lot of his classmates have TVs with video game consoles in their bedrooms. I think this is disastrous.

I intuitively grasp a connection between sports culture and video games, but I don't know if I could articulate it. The combo is screwing up boys, big-time.

Ken

Interestingly though, more girls than ever are participating in sports, from preschool tee ball to Division 1 college sports and even as pros.

I would argue that sports doesn't have the cultural pull for boys these days that Mannion thinks it does (of course, I'm sure he'll be elaborating shortly).

Video games, though, are a different story. They hold a powerful place in the lives of young boys. And, I would say, virtually none of the heroes in these games give the player any guidance as to how to succeed in the real world. Or how to "be a man" in a way that isn't macho.

Of course, I am my own counter argument. I played video games extensively as a youth and still do as a 28 year old post-doctoral researcher.

Shakespeare's Sister

Looking forward to this series, Mannion.

FYI, in December, USAToday reported on a study that claims middle class white men are falling behind now, too. I've got a post on it here.

Lance

Ken, Holdie,

Give me space enough and time and I'll make the argument that the increased emphasis on sports among girls will eventually start having a negative effect on their academic achievements too.

But it's not the playing of sports that I'm going to attack. I'm all for kids playing sports. It's the culture of sports---the emphasis on winning at all costs, the hero-worship, the way schools and even whole communities build their identities around their sports teams---which I think is imposed upon kids by adults.

I think far too many parents would rather have a son who is a star quarterback for their podunk high school's team than one who wins a scholarship to MIT and they let their kids know that at an early age.

But then, Israel's article showcases a local school that is sending three girls to MIT, and no boys, and I'll bet the school itself and the community are prouder of the boys on the football team than of those three girls.

As for video games, everything depends on the games and the individual kids of course. But I do think they encourage a pleasure in unreal and meaningless achievements in place of real ones. Too many of them also promote an image of masculinity that's brutish, violent, amoral, and dumb.

One way I see the bad influence of sports being like that of video games arises out of the switch from emphasizing playing sports to watching them. Sports fans learn to take pleasure in vicarious achievements in place of real ones. Think of all the guys you know who act like they've accomplished something when their team has won a big game.

Kevin Wolf

Hoo, boy. I see a lot of discussion in your future, pal. It's funny but I just saw a PBS program about boys at risk, called Raising Cain. It looks at major issues including some you've touched on above: learned behavior, bad examples of masculinity, etc.

The program doesn't really discuss deeply the class and economic forces that have such a large impact on young men, though it at least mentions them and - because this is TV - it illustrates them. (Compare the teen in a depressed inner city neighborhood to the guys on the sports team in the affluent subburb. No need to spell it out.) Oddly, the show closes with that team playing its final football game before most of them move on to college, thereby giving in somewhat to the impulse to overstate the importance of team sports and the "life lessons" they impart.

I think the sports component is huge, Lance, as you do, and the attitudes engendered by this emphasis on team sports, many of which I think are just plain bad. But when the miniature version in schools is relentlessly reinforced by the larger culture's buying into the pro version - even to the tune of billions spent on salaries and stadiums - well, it's hard to know where to start in combatting this trend. (I also agree that sports per se is not a bad thing. But isn't the trend these days to save money by cutting gym?)

The TV show mentioned above does make clear the difference even one teacher - or really any one adult - can make to any boy. But these adults are puny in the face of the media and other forces. Still, mentoring is clearly important.

You've got a big job ahead of you. Take some time off after this series!

Exiled in NJ

Lance, rent 'Friday Night Lights.' In it is all that is wrong and right about high school sports. After you see it, put 'Last Picture Show' in the machine and check the difference in emphasis circa 1951-52.

You hit on one key element: playing versus spectating. Check out any Coors Light ad; young men are given this message that watching sports and belting down beer is just what every red-blooded young man should be doing with his time. If done right, he'll be a real party-hearty type. Funny I've never heard that expression used about women.

Adorable Girlfriend

Wonderful post Lance. Thank you for your well written break down. I look forward to the additional articles.

Jamie

My kid sister is in high school and is an athlete (made the varsity softball team her freshman year which is a big deal here in SoCal where every girl has played either softball or soccer since she was 6) and is also sports editor for her HS newspaper. She has told me that the major difference between girls and boys sports at her school is that the girl athletes, no matter how crucial to their team, still have to work hard to make good grades, whereas the boy athletes are given a pass by almost every teacher. She described one case in particular, a football player who she shares a class with, who is absent from class 4 out of 5 days, turns in his tests with half the questions blank, and somehow still has one of the highest averages in the class.

This, of course, is a HUGE disservice to the boys.

Of course, this is anctedotal evidence -- but it is a concrete way that the over-emphasis on winning creates a problem for boys academically.

coturnix

Have you seen this?

Jamison

Lance when your looking at the problem, also don't forget that the girls are being programmed to make the problem worse by the kinds of boys they are told to like by the media. Teenage girls inevitably want a stereotypical bad boy super jock, or some variation of that. Intelligence and earning potential are considered to be gross until a woman has grown out of that stage sometime in her twenties. But by that time the damage has been done. Boys shift their focus, consciously or unconsciously and you have a sort of devolution happening to achieve ideal sought by women. I wrote up an entire diatribe on the subject if your interested in reading. It's food for thought at least.

Jennifer

"Real men are intellectually incurious, disdainful of good grades and the work necessary to earn them, and generally anti-everything that would help them succeed in school."

And as we have found out, real men who live by their guts not their brains become President.

Jim

Great post on an important subject. I was waiting for this paragraph:
"They're mostly the result of hyper-masculization, ...being smart, being academically ambitious, being studious, being conscientious, being successful at school nerdy, geeky---girly. Real men are intellectually incurious, disdainful of good grades and the work necessary to earn them"
Anyone care to connect the dots from here to national politics and the political media?

This is the same case a lot of black education activist make: Studying is acting white. Anti-intellectualism is a huge problem coming from not just the sports culture. or popular culture, but the politicized relgiose right as well. It's small wonder our students measure poorly against other countries' on those standardized test results that apear a few times a year. Toyota just picked a Canadian site for a new plant because the better-educated workforce outweighed the low tax, low regulation advantages of Alabama.

As to ExiledinNJ's point about the "partyhearty" image being restricted to young men, I'm guessing you're over 50...? When I was in college twenty years ago there was already a strong "boy can that girl drink" ethos, and from what I can see, it's only gotten stronger. If I can share one off-color anecdote, I did a study abroad program that included a girl from UT, from a wealthy and well-connected family (she liked to tell people that she had interned for Lloyd Bentsen "even though" he was a Democrat); she was a raging and proud alchoholic who liked to brag on Mondays that she had gotten "drunk off my pussy" the weekend before. I'm sure she went on to join the junior league and to head up the "W is for Women" club in a tony Dallas suburb.

Mickle

I think you are spot on that boys are being hurt academically by pressures to be hyper-masculine. Seems to me video games should fit in there with sports, considering how many more boys play them than girls do. While one can certainly argue that video games can require and encourage more creative thinking than many sports, it's not necessarily the type of creative thinking that schools recognize. Unlike reading, which girls do more of in their lesiure time than boys do, even if it's just Cosmo (yuck!).

The Heretik

Imagine what could be done with the time men spend watching sports. Oy. Or don't imagine. Watch less, do more.

Linkmeister

Heretik, I've swapped watching football for reading blogs. Is that ok? ;)

Joaquin

My view of this is that the problem described here is not exactly sports but the media. Sports in the media is certainly a big part of the problem. The mass media is leading us, particularly men and boys, inexolerably, to a "least common denominator". Perhaps it is women that will save the world after all; bless them. BTW TV and Video games are banned at my house.

"THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal...Nobody was smarter than anybody else." - Kurt Vonnegut from "Harrison Bergeron"

Gray Lensman

Maybe this is part of a plan to produce hypermasculine cannon fodder for the endless war of the neocons.

Mickle

Gray - ya think?

Earl Bockenfeld

I have two anecdotal experiences that might shed some light, maybe not. My son, long gradated, had always had high scores in every class. We were surprised to see a note from his teacher that he was failing Spanish. We first told him to work harder and bring that grade up. He blurted out that the teacher was no good, and he was not going to do what the teacher demanded. The teacher had a theory that each student could not learn Spanish unless they practiced spelling each vocabulary word 25 times, and wanted this practice work turned in as homework. My son wrote each word, as many times as he needed to remember it, and felt if he passed vocabulary tests then he had practiced enough. We went to school and talked to the teacher, supporting our son because his test scores indicated to us he was learning Spanish. At least, as a partial result of our visit, the teacher made a new rule that no one could take a test, and would receive a zero grade, unless they had turned in their completed home work.

We then told our son, that we completely agreed with him, and that the teacher was being unfair and we would not say anything again to him about the Spanish grade. However as wrong as the teacher was, the teacher was in control of the class and could do anything he wanted. And he would find other teachers later in school who were poorly prepared and unfair, and he would be wise to try to work around this, but whatever he did it would be his decision.

We feel that if we had blindly supported the teacher, this could have turned him off to school. So I would say that part of the educational problem, is that the school can't do all the teaching, and the child only do the learning, like you fillup your car at the gas station. Many successful learners are self-starters, who the school don't do too much damage as a roadblock to learning.

My second anecdotal experience is my gradson. With the major increase of homework, a bigdeal of learning is keeping track of homework assignments, managing time for homework, and turning in assignments on time. He was getting decent grades on tests, but missed and late homework was dragging him down, and he hated the homework cutting into personal time. His mother, found his classes internet site, which had assignments, and grades, etc. So his mother knew more about his classwork assignments than he did, and then there was a battle royal for the rest of the year. And he did complete assignments on time, so he was clearly able to do the work under duress.

The next year a magical thing happened. He took driver's ed, got a license to drive, and his folks got him a car with the understanding that he would be the designated driver for his after-school sports and the driver for his younger brother. AND unless he could come up with $800 yearly car insurance payments, he would have to maintain a B average for his parent's insurance discount. Also he would be on his own about homework, there would be no checking and no pressure about assignments. It's B average on every marking period, or no car - and what a difference that kind of motivation produced.

As I said these stories are anecdotal and I don't know how much they apply to the gender gap or the falling achievements of male students. I do think sports, TV and computer games are distractions that don't help the situation.

john

this is sexist. i meane im a boy and i am more strong than girls.

belle soto

why do peopel date boys if they are dumb

belle soto

why do boys date

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