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The war on boys: Young men losing ground in education, emotional health and jobs

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19 2012 11:00 p.m. MST

Above, Fabrizio Vicente, left, and Fernando Elizarraras compare biceps. Research says boys are at a crisis point in several aspects of their lives.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

This is part one in a two-part series.

This is Jared just days before his 15th birthday: He has mostly B's and C's on his report card, but the lone F is a parent-enraging reminder that math's not his thing. He doesn't get it and he's not receiving a lot of help. He likes basketball, video games and a girl named Libby, because she's "hot," though he can't tell you much about her or how she feels about things, including him. At school he is alternately bored and lost. He'd rather play God of War than study and it was that video game his parents used as a reward to get him to bring up his grades last semester, though he couldn't get the math mark to budge.

In eighth grade, he figured he'd go to college. By ninth grade, he was leaning more toward a technical school. And midway through 10th grade in his northern Utah high school, he shrugs and says he doesn't know. Maybe he'll get a job or join the military.

His mother doesn't understand his struggle. She thinks he needs something that he's not getting, but what?

Experts in child development say she's right. He's a boy — and boys across America are losing ground. It's a situation so dire that three dozen national experts have formed a bipartisan commission to bolster their proposal that President Obama establish a White House Council on Boys and Men. There's already one for females, focused on education, health and career.

The proposal and the research backing it say boys are at a crisis point in education, in physical and emotional health, in employment and in the lack of dads participating in their lives. Boys are losing ground in schools geared to how girls learn and too many are growing up without male mentors in either homes or classrooms. Name a daunting number — higher suicide rates, how many drop out of high school or graduate from college or even take medication for attention deficit — and girls fare better than boys.

It is not deliberate, but society seems to have declared a war on boys.

The slip-and-fall

"Boys are not performing at the level of girls any more kind of across the board," says Karen Rayne, a consultant and teacher in Texas who wrote "Unhushed, a book about adolescent sexuality." "There has been a big push to get girls into math and science. There's no similar push to get boys into social sciences or language. I'm delighted the focus on girls happened, but we really need to look at boys' needs as a gender-specific dynamic."

David Brooks, a youth development professional at the Midvale Boys and Girls Club, puts it simply: "They're losing their vision, their drive to succeed."

In "Why Boys Fail," Richard Whitmire notes multiple — and growing — disparities. The graduation rates for U.S. males is 50.1 percent, while for girls it's 56.4 percent. Look at bachelor's degrees or higher and females significantly outpace men on college campuses, notes Whitmire, a past board president of the National Education Writers Association.

Men retain their advantage in income based on how much schooling they've had, but that's changing. In 2007, men made significantly more than women at every level of educational attainment. Advanced degrees led to average earnings of $100,333 for men, only $58,707 for women.

But boys are losing actual ground in the classroom. It's not just girls catching up because herculean efforts to improve their education have worked. Boys are actively sliding down the mountain of educational achievement.

"It is the first time in U.S. history that sons have less education than their fathers," says Warren Farrell, author of "Why Men Are the Way They Are" and "Father-Child Reunion." He was a driving force behind formation of the commission to push for the boy/men council. "Whenever you have children with less education, then you have children that are dropping out, children that are not getting jobs, children that can't compete in the global economy." It also leads to national security vulnerability, he says.

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