Even with all the efforts, though, Thompson sees a wide swath of misperception wreaking havoc on educational outcomes for boys.
"The teachers in school sometimes start to treat the boys as if they're always failing the standard — and the standard is the way the girls act," he says. "I talk about this as the girls being the gold standard and the boys always being seen as being defective girls. ...
"We can't still keep thinking that it's always girls who get the short end of the stick. Girls passed boys academically in 1982 and pulled even in math and science in 2003," says Thompson, who is one of the experts pushing for the White House Council on Boys and Men. He is annoyed that the president set up a council for girls and women "and it never occurred to him to do one on men. "I'm in favor of more specific attention to boy underachievement in schools, the problems of male unemployment in this country and a whole number of health issues."
Boys are being given one advantage when it comes to an education system essentially designed for girls: They are held to a lower threshold of college readiness than their female counterparts for admission to the same universities, author Kindlon says. It's an interesting and unintended consequence of educational disparities. He suggests affirmative action practices are already being used to make sure the 60/40 ratio of college degrees for women and men, respectively, don't skew even further toward females.
Bring dad back home
Change always needs a starting point. Putting dads back into families is where experts like Farrell, the author and one of the commission's founders, would start.
Men are essential to the development of healthy boys. A lack of male role models, mentors and fathers is devastating to child development. But more than 24 million children — 1 in 3 — live in homes without fathers. And almost 40 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock, according to National Vital Statistics Reports. That nearly always means little or no father involvement.
Dad is important for a lot of reasons. The proposal sent to President Obama notes that infants whose dad lived at home were as much as six months ahead in personal and social development. Premature babies go home sooner when dad visits the hospital regularly. Time with dad more than anything else predicts empathy in adulthood. His involvement reduces the likelihood that a child will need ADHD medication or professional help for behavioral or emotional problems or depression. His presence improves school performance; his absence increases the likelihood a child will drop out. Most gang members come from homes without dads. No dad around increases the likelihood of criminal activity and dad is the single-biggest factor in preventing drug abuse.
"Dads tend to encourage children to solve problems on their own. A new longitudinal study of children from infancy to age 3 discovers that this approach increases children's ability to focus, be attentive and achieve goals. It also helps with impulse control and memory and enhances a child's ability to respond effectively to new or ambiguous situations, for boys and girls," says Farrell.
He would enforce hard rules to govern what happens to children when their parents' marriage or relationship founders. Unless there's abuse or molestation, children should always be involved with both parents. No moving away to start over if it means depriving kids of their father. Start over where you are.
In a divorce, a child needs three things to have "almost as good a chance as an intact family": About equal time with mom and with dad. They should stay geographically close enough to each other that the children don't have to give up friends or activities to see the other parent. And parents must not bad mouth each other, including rolling the eyes, being defensive or other signs of disrespect.
The report is careful to note that "None of this implies that men are better as dads than women are as moms." Both are essential.
Just visiting doesn't have the same beneficial impact on kids. Dads have to be a real, regular, interactive factor in their children's lives.
Tomorrow: Boys and sex, media, violence
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