While the reasons for homeschooling are as unique as the children and families, one theme I have encountered time and again over the years are mothers who are often very worried about their sons struggling in traditional education. They may not have a word for what’s happening but I do.
I drink a lot of coffee. Going out for coffee with women who are considering homeschooling or who are homeschooling but struggling has become a “thing” for me the last fifteen years. I usually get a Facebook message from someone I don’t know or a friend will introduce me to their friend and a few days later we are chatting over coffee at the local Panera and discussing homeschooling as a potential option for her children. Having the freedom to do this is one of my favorite things about this season of my life. While the reasons for struggling in homeschooling are as unique as the children, one theme has emerged. Mothers, very worried about their sons. They may not have a word for what’s happening but I do.
Lost boys... I meet a lot of these boys and I have raised a couple of would-be Lost Boys myself. Given the challenges traditional schooling presents for boys, I don’t know who my sons would be had I not chosen to homeschool them. Boys are often just big ole problems in school. They don’t concentrate well. They don’t have the attention span; they struggle with rote memory. Their handwriting is abysmal and being cooped up in a classroom all day can lead to discipline issues. They get mouthy with teachers, get physical with peers. Learning is a minefield of obstacles. I know, as surely as I know my own name, the problem isn't the boys. It's the system. It's the method, it is the limitations of a traditional learning environment.
The System Is Built For Girls
We have gone to great lengths in recent years to level the playing field, (artificially level in many ways) to give girls a better standing in higher education and specifically in the Science, Technology and Mathematical fields. In doing so we have marginalized boys in some troubling ways. The classroom is four-fifths language based. Boys generally do not operate well in language saturated environments. Visual, hands on, tactile learning is best for them and yet they are swimming in a sea of conversation. Boys in traditional school are surrounded by women. Most teachers, 77% according to the National Center for Education are female. The male teachers accounted for in the remaining 23% are often teaching in high school so our youngest boys have limited access to male teachers. Teachers sometimes prefer female students to boys with ants in their pants. I don’t fault them for this, we all want our job to be more manageable. In some ways girls are just easier. They like sitting at tables and working quietly. Writing, reading, coloring is all natural to them. They are cooperative and less busy-bodied, generally speaking, of course. Believe me I’ve had plenty of chats about girls who are lost in the system as well because they behave like the boys, if your lost child is a girl, then just insert girl for boy for the duration of this article.
Boys Have "Bad" Thoughts
Boys think about wars and tanks. Boys think about (prepare to gasp) guns and blowing stuff up. Boys look at things and think about climbing them. They look at other things and think about breaking them open to see what’s inside. They have rich, fantastical imaginations involving aliens, trucks, superheroes, and aliens that appear as trucks but transform into superheroes. Teachers, mothers teaching at home, women and even society as a whole these days seems incredible troubled by the interior life of boys. We judge them for it and we try our best to drum their natural inclinations out of them, that they might better conform to the classroom
standards we have established.
"Too often, we disapprove of what's in boys' minds, both in school and at home. Boys' mothers and female teachers find some of their favorite thoughts, like 'good guys making the world safe by killing bad guys,' disturbing. Afraid that these thoughts indicate a worrisome propensity to violence, adults try to prohibit these thoughts and the toys that represent them, although boys see images all around them encouraging the fantasies and recommending the toys. Prohibited from the physical activity they need, criticized for the content of their minds, and required to do work they cannot do as well as the little girls around them, it is not surprising that some of these boys get off to a bad start, giving up before they have begun." - Jane Katch, M.S. T
And That’s How They Get Lost
From the very beginning of their school experience they begin to give up. Their performance is often attributed laziness. When given written work they take forever to complete it. Their handwriting as we previously mentioned is poor. They take shortcuts, or seem to have no desire to really try. They take no pride in their bookwork. If you talk with them about it they say it’s dumb or worse they shut down and don’t want to discuss it all.
These are not lazy boys. These are Lost Boys. Boys who are wired to be men in a world that doesn’t understand men anymore. What the world does understand, it wants to undo. Oftentimes, these Lost Boys are doing nothing more than being precisely what they were designed to be by our Father in Heaven. They want to hunt for things. They want to seek, search, track down things. Whether it’s the right pieces to build a Lego man or following the tracks of a rabbit up a hill. They live for the hunt. They love to gather tools and collections. It might be every Nerf gun ever made or every kind of dinosaur in a set. They like to have all the "things" and they love to hunt and gather them. They love to work with their hands, to build something, to sweat, to think, and solve problems. Unleash them on a pile of scrap wood and throw in some boxes, duct tape and bungee cords and they will give you a fort or a clubhouse and they won’t bother you all day- until they’re hungry. They love to solve problems. Not problems like how did Jane’s words make Mary feel and what can Jane do to make Mary feel better – problems. No. They want to figure out how to cross that creek or how to make the broken vacuum cleaner into a Ghostbuster Proton Pack.
We Need Lost Boys These Lost Boys are men who can innovate, they are the men you would want on your crew in a zombie apocalypse (which they have planned for in incredible detail). These are men who will strike out on their own in business because they have their own ideas. These Lost Boys grow up to be the men who can build your house, fix your car, upgrade your computer, hunt for supper, or explain why your wiring keeps blowing the breakers. Say what you want about these men, but other men respect them. The world needs them to keep the world functioning. Mike Rowe, former host of Dirty Jobs, has done a great service to our country by showcasing and bringing a sense of pride back to this type of work which is often, though not exclusively, done by men. According to the Department of Labor there are currently 5.6 million jobs open in this country that aren’t being filled because, while they do not require an education, they require what we grossly lack in this country - skills. Our vocation and trade schools, our apprenticeships once abundant in this country have dried up as our education system pushes a narrative that tells every student a college degree is essential to life and success.
It’s not. These boys are lost. Lost in a system that has been retooled to a more feminine friendly model. Lost on a four-year, college track train, where they will struggle and fail. We desperately need them. We need them to fill those 5.6 million jobs. Jobs they are built to do. Jobs that will bring them financial stability. Work that will instill a foundation of pride and accomplishment. Work that restores their dignity.
What Are We Doing At Home?
These ideas about boys and learning are firmly entrenched in our education system and even when we opt out we tend to model what we know. And that’s why I drink a lot of coffee. More and more parents are recognizing the writing on the wall and they are pulling their sons out of the environment that sets them up to fail.
More parents are rejecting the negative, self serving labels being slapped on their sons. They are rejecting medications that alter them and they are rejecting the notion that their son is the problem. They are finding their sons, bringing them home for learning.
But let’s be real, while plenty of us are opting out and creating better opportunities for our sons, many are still languishing and lost even in homeschool. Leaving the store, the other day two young men in their early twenties were holding signs panhandling at the stop sign. They were dressed slovenly and they were wearing those big goofy knit hats with long, braided ties that came almost to their waste. They looked ridiculous. These were men. Men their age have fought and won wars. Men their age built a railroad that connect the United States. Nowadays we have grown men dressing as childlike, mental patients shuffling around our communities panhandling as a career or to meet the needs of their addictions. We need a healthcare system that allows adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26 years old because they aren’t able to find good jobs and become self sustaining until they are almost 30. Young adults are rebounding home to live in the parents’ basements, buried in student loans without any direction in life.
They fail to launch. According to the Pew Research Center for the first time in 130 years adults between the ages of 18-34 are more likely to live with their parents than in any other living situation. 32.1% of adults in that age group live at home.
It’s time to recognize our Lost Boys before they are lost for good. Nothing is harder for me than trying to help a mother who didn’t connect the dots sooner. Her son is 14 and he is angry. Withdrawn. Unmotivated. Getting into trouble, violent, and full of bitterness and rage. Unraveling the mess is more complicated and the chances of success lower, the longer we wait. All those years of feeling like a failure break a spirit. He doesn’t care about anything or anyone. He has no passion or pride, no self-esteem rooted in having discovered how capable and smart he is. He often hides in the only place in the whole world where he feels successful. A video game. Mothers can’t understand how their sons can play a game for 10-16 hours a day. I understand. Inside that world, they are brave and successful. Their online gaming friends need them; they are part of a crew. They belong. The entire universe inside the game is designed to make their brain light up with excitement. It is possible to walk your son out of that darkness and into the light but the longer they are lost the harder they are to find. We must abandon, and I mean dump, the agendas and ideas that are crippling our sons.
Trash them. Burn them to the ground.
Lost At Home We must become advocates for our sons. We must realize that these boys can get lost even at home. When our homeschooling methods mirror the system that is failing them, all we have done is relocated the problem, we haven’t addressed it. If you are struggling with a son who isn’t completing work, if you are fighting with him everyday and he would rather be playing Minecraft or World of Warcraft than doing anything else, even though you are homeschooling, your son might be getting lost. Acknowledge that. It’s the first step.
Recognize that this school model isn’t working. Maybe you already know and you’re thinking, “I get it, he’s Lost! Now what?” That’s what Just Relax Homeschooler is all about. Alternative, out of the box ways to love and explore learning for boys and girls, but also giving boys the opportunities to learn as men. Join me in my Facebook Community, Just Relax Homeschooler. Message me, post and share. I’m inviting you to “virtual” coffee and I would love to hear what’s on your heart that we might piece together resources for your Lost Boys (or girls certainly girls can get lost too.) We must find these Lost Boys and lead them home.