Archive for the ‘Educating Boys’ Category


The debate on whether to hold boys back in school for me started in 1991. Because my son was a June baby, the principal at the school where he would eventually be enrolled recommended that he be held back. She told me a story about a child who wasn’t held back, became valedictorian of his graduating class – but because he was the last in his class to get his driver’s license, to this day, she still felt he should have been held back.

My son could already read. When I interviewed the kindergarten teachers about how they would sustain his reading skill, they looked at me like I was a freaky over-achieving mother pushing her child way to0 hard. That was the early ’90s – times have certainly changed.

My response? Iff being the last student in his graduating class to get his driver’s license was going to be the straw that broke him, then I wasn’t a very good mom.

I homeschooled him that year, put him in a social program 2 days a week and he entered first grade the following year. Throughout his high school career, his teacher’s always thought he was the oldest in the class. I was told over and over again “He was born an old man.” In a lot of ways, he was, but he was the youngest in his class.

  • Academics: When it came time for my second son to enter school, he was a lot like his mama. He was a late bloomer. We held him back. In the early years, yes, he needed the time to bloom, but once the reading kicked off, he was ready to fly.  There was no opportunity to regain that lost year, no opportunity to graduate “on-schedule.”
  • Social Maturity: Struggling academically early on seasons the student, adds a little maturity (not responsibility – just maturity). Late bloomers gain  maturity through the struggle, so tire earlier of the drama through the 6tgh, 7th and 8th grade – and the same is true of their junior senior year.
  • Sports: The additional year is amazing – in the 7th and 8th grade. Such an advantage of development ability often gives students varisty opportunities their Freshman year of  high school. I have seen too many players get “the big head” that Freshman year, leading to prima dona behavior leaving the coach with a big attitude, “cruising on reputation” attitude, and reduced team-player attitude. College scouts looking for players, walk away from talent at the first whiff of attitude. The benefits early on are not worth the price at the end.
  • Independence Delayed: Young men chafe from being “Held back” from independence, being on their own, being man of their own life. Oh, I get it, though. If they are so grown up, they should handle the responsibility of staying in school and completing their education. Right? Try that with a teen who desperately wants to exit the nest. That senior year, well, it becomes a battle ground between the parent wanting the student to stay in school and the student wanting to get out.

Ask your sons to define independence (not just American, but how they define being independent). Independence delayed can create a problem for parents and teachers in classrooms full of young men who want nothing more than to “be a man” which really means on their own, in charge of their destiny, out of the nest – and not answerable to teachers and parents. Frustratingly, it often means “no school.” Secondary school teachers do not have the same ability as college students to just tell a student to get out. College students are there by choice; high school students are there by law. As such, the high school becomes like a prison exuding students with prisoner mentality.

In a country that wants desk jobs for everyone via college degrees, they are really missing out on the fact that some young men are not philosophical learners (scholars – i.e. – give me the facts and through those facts I will make an educated decision – meaning college is the way for me). Some are hands-on learners who need to experience the workplace, experience responsibility, experience life to learn the cost and needs of that. Arguments mean nothing. Experience means everything.

Try playing chess or checkers with your son or daughter, regardless of the age.  One player-type thinks ahead; the other just thinks about the move in front of him. That’s the same with life. Some only learn to think ahead through experience.

About a decade ago, I read an article about the “lost year of high school” – the senior year. Schools have tried to correct that by offering college courses for credit. My oldest son left high school with six hours college credit. Those six hours packed a bunch of Freshman confidence. After a discussion with a principal this year about opportunities for high school students held back to regain that year, she talked about a program that will allow seniors to take college courses and even live on campus. That opportunity, though, is for the “coachable” student” – the one content for the moment to be a student.

Yet, what about the “lost year” for the students who ultimately need a few years of independence before they see the need of that additional education? Is there not a way for them to move onward – out of the holding pen? An 18 year old wants to be master of his life, but ownership of that life does not really begin until graduation.

At age 18, a student can check themselves out of high school. Then, if he checks himself out too many times, well, then he doesn’t graduate with the coveted diploma. Parents and principals have no authority to keep them in school.

And as such, a problem is created.  The student held back for various reasons, (whether it is just recommended because he’s a boy, or because he’s a late bloomer, or to gain an extra year for sports) now risks not graduating at all.

I have never seen any statistics about the graduation rate of boys held back. I am sure they are out there. It is just a shame that the first K-4 of education does not find a way for the late bloomer to regain lost time. 

Standing there, looking at your 4, 5 or 6-year-old, wrestling with the decision to hold back another year. Just keep in mind that, 4, 5 and 6 year-olds are more biddable than an 18-year-old.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a wonderful essay called, “The American Scholar” where he defines the 3 types of education: academic, experience and observation. Keep in mind that academic means “scholar” – a lover of books, ideas, theories. However, some excel at experience – skirting scholarly theories creating real innovations. How many life-changing inventions were created by hands-on experience with a side-order of education? Or no college education at all? Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Richard Trevithick and so many more.

“The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth. It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts. It came to him, business; it went from him, poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing”(Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”)

“Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books”(Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”). – This is one of my very favorite quotes.

Note 3 of my 5 sons started late due to various reasons (one’s birthday literally snuggled up to the cut-off). However, now I know how to better plan for the potential problems this will cause in high school.

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(The following are thought-streams about art, work, needs with an uncurrent about what I see as innate eduational needs of boys prompted by a local Walk with the Arts for elementary school children)

My littlest guy went for a Walk with the Arts. Art – that’s what they called it. But, not so long ago, it was not art. 

Today’s product development engineer was yesterdays blacksmith.

Today’s textile scientists and manufacturing engineers were yesterday’s weaver.

Pixar’s animated cartoons grew out of story-telling and puppeteering.

Thermo Scientific Nalgene Labware and Lab Bottles grew out of the potter’s hands.

And, well, music was not bought, it was either made in the home or visited in the community.

Rubbermaid baskets grew out of hand-woven baskets from backyard grape vine.

A walk with the arts – 100 years ago, these boys would be getting ready to leave the classroom to apprentice, spending years training to become a master.  Working with their hands – creating transportation, furniture, utensils for work and home, planting and harvesting – basic jobs available for everyman – today’s art.  Yesterday’s necessity.

Today, my boys grow frustrated in classrooms where nobody explains how math works in the workplace.  How reading and writing work in the workplace. How understanding different cultures and history allows people to neogitate differnces with more skill.

Today, education is like holding a basket at a Easter Egg Hunt – waiting for the whistle to blow, so egg-hunters can run and find the eggs – students waiting for the whistle to blow, wanting to create, to work their hands, to put to work what they learn.

But they cannot. 

So they wait in the classrooms.

Waiting to live with their hands

Waiting to make life’s necessities that will later become art.

14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
       that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
       for as many years as we have seen trouble.

 16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
       your splendor to their children.

 17 May the favor [b] of the Lord our God rest upon us;
       establish the work of our hands for us—
       yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:14-17).


 “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun— all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecc. 9:9-10)

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