Many of my ancestors, who were Black, were not afforded the opportunities that young people are given today, especially in the area of academics. This was particularly true for male members of families. They lived during adverse times when the livelihood of the family depended upon successful crop harvests on the family farm, or the meager earnings that were received from share cropping. Being able to attend school to obtain an education was considered a luxury, as it was expected of boys, as soon as they were old enough to work, to help out in the fields and perform other daily chores. However, some were blessed to learn how to read, write, and do basic arithmetic.
Although the times in which many of my ancestors lived would have been considered less than favorable, the unity of the family was strongly maintained. The family worked together, played together, ate meals together, worshipped together, and most of all, they prayed together. Their religion, and religious beliefs were the cornerstone of the foundation of their lives. Though the male members may not have been as educated as far as attending school was concerned, both males and females were equally educated in the school of life as they learned valuable life lessons from their mothers, fathers, and often, extended family members. They did not necessarily own great libraries, but one book that was common to all homes was the family Bible.
If my ancestors could return to view what is happening in families today, and the socioeconomic inadequacies that seem to plague the younger generation, especially the males, they would no doubt be among those who are bewildered and are earnestly wanting to know, “What happened?” “What went wrong?”
The Apparent Gender Gap
According to a recent Deseret News article, the think tank, “Third Way”, has recently revealed that girls and young women are far surpassing boys and young men “in four critical areas: education and skills acquisition, employment rates, job levels and real wage earnings.” “Third Way” ascertains that “this gap could be as much about social family structure as it is about economic forces like the demise of labor unions, globalization, and rapid changes in technology.” MIT Economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, members of the think tank, further claim in their treatise that “the decline in male achievement is almost exclusively reserved for males born into single-parent households; while females in single-parent households do OK, boys seem to suffer.”
In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school. The latest surveys show that American girls on average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.
The National Honor Society says that 64 percent of its members — outstanding high school students — are girls. Some colleges give special help to male applicants — yes, that’s affirmative action for white males — to avoid skewed sex ratios.
A report published by the Center of Education Policy, a national, independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools, affirms that the “most pressing issue related to gender gaps is the lagging performance of boys in reading.” This appears to be the trend in every state. The report found that 79 percent of the girls to 72 percent of the boys in elementary schools could read on a “proficient” level. Similar results were found among middle school and high school students.
Some Supporting Evidence in the Case
Richard Whitmire in his book titled Why Boys Fail has pointed out several reasons why the gender gaps exist:·
- The average high school grade point average is 3.09 for girls and 2.86 for boys. Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to repeat a grade.·
- Boys are twice as likely to get suspended as girls, and three times as likely to be expelled.
- Estimates of dropouts vary, but it seems that about one-quarter more boys drop out than girls.·
- Among whites, women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 62 percent of master’s degrees. Among blacks, the figures are 66 percent and 72 percent.·
- In federal writing tests, 32 percent of girls are considered “proficient” or better. For boys, the figure is 16 percent.
However, even given the above factors, it is of noteworthy interest that boys excel much further in mathematics than girls. In the high school class of 2009, for example, Kathleen Steinberg of the College Board reported that of the 10,052 who scored an 800 in the math section, 69 percent were boys.
It appears that the lag between genders is not an issue that is unique to the United States. Reports show that boys are also falling behind the girls in Scandinavia, Canada, Britain, and other places throughout the industrialized world.
Some say that the “boy problem” is just a problem for members of minorities. But “Why Boys Fail” says that at the end of high school, among white boys who have at least one parent who attended college, 23 percent score “below basic” in reading. Only 7 percent of their female counterparts score that low.
The Real Heart of the Problem
There are many theories which seem to suggest why there is a continuing downward spiral in the socioeconomic sphere among males, especially among those who do not attend college.
However, none tend to be projected at what may be the real heart of the problem, and that is, the number of children, in particular male children, who grow up in homes that do not have a male authority figure.
Boys look up to their fathers as role models and tend to emulate them in terms of learning what it is to be a real man.
In David Blankenhorn’s poignant words, off to one side we have “an emaciated fellow” we call the biological father, “filling out forms and agreeing to mail in child-support payments.” Off to the other side we find the guy identified as the social father, “wondering what to do next and whether he wants to do it.”
During the days of my ancestors, generations ago, young men were afforded many opportunities to learn from their fathers who helped shape them into the men that they should become as they worked beside them. They learned not only the basic skills taught in the traditional classroom (if they attended school), but they also learned first-hand and emulated the behaviors that were necessary for survival. Among the lessons that they learned were the importance of family, how to raise and care for a family, and the value and blessings of a hard day’s labor. This author is pleased to say that he was blessed to have a father that became his role model that helped shape him into the man that he is today.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, there seem to be too many males that want to participate in the procreation process, but are not willing to take on the responsibilities that follow as a result of their actions. They are indeed the biological fathers of their progeny, but they never assume the role of a true father. As a result, too many times, mothers are left to play a dual-role in the home, and the male children are left without anyone to emulate.
At a time when a coherent understanding of manhood and fatherhood has disappeared, active religiously conservative fathers have emerged as the neo-traditional ideal. And although often overlooked, it is religion that has had a significant role in enabling the vital contributions that men make to family life to be understood and experienced.
In the midst of all of the confusion that is swirling about, religion and religious beliefs tend to be key factors in helping to steer fathers in the right direction. The scriptures give this clear counsel to fathers, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). And this word of counsel is also given, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
Fathers play a vital role and have an awesome responsibility to fulfill. It is my prayer that God may grant them the wisdom and courage to be the men that they should be in all things, and that they will be the role models for the young men who will carry on after them.