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Boys Will Be Boys

July 1, 2007

Conn Iggulden, who has one of the coolest combinations of first and last names I’ve seen in a while and is one of the co-authors of the Dangerous Book for Boys, writes an article on boyhood in the Washington Post. Besides his great use of the word grubby, he makes a great point: boys are different than girls, people are noticing this, and its high time we stopped pretending this wasn’t the case.

One of the great tragedies of our age has been the lie that men and women are exactly the same, save for a few physical differences, and that we should treat them as such.  One of the problems with this assumption is that it is not true.  The schools in much of the west have operated on this assumption of complete equality for a long time: this is why it is seen as a negative to go to an all boys school, or to participate in activities that were seen as “boys” activities.  By and large, the education approach that has been favored has been one that caters to girls.  This has to do with the influence of feminism, although more practically, I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that woman teachers outnumber the men, and that they ended up writing the curriculum that was to replace that of the boys.

As a result of all of this, we have a crisis on our hands: boys are doing badly in school, because we’ve taken their favorite parts out of it.

I thought this paragraph particularly insightful:

We began with everything we had done as kids, then added things we didn’t want to see forgotten. History today is taught as a feeble thing, with all the adventure taken out of it. We wanted stories of courage because boys love those. We wanted stories about men like Royal Air Force fighter pilot Douglas Bader, Scott of the Antarctic, the Wright Brothers — boys like to read about daring men, always with the question: Would I be as brave or as resourceful? I sometimes wonder why people make fun of boys going to science fiction conventions without realizing that it shows a love of stories. Does every high school offer a class on adventure tales? No — and then we complain that boys don’t read anymore.

Why don’t we tell more stories of daring men, men who have done something adventurous and unique?  The sad part is, most of the movers and shakers of history, those who have made the world what we know as today, had these types of stories.  Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls, Einstein had a life filled with an escape from Germany, followed by working on the Manhattan Project.  Columbus sailed the ocean to parts unknown, risking life and limb to figure out a new trade route to Orient, and instead found the Americas, publicizing them for the first time to the European world.  I’m currently reading about pirates in the 18th century, and they are every bit as interesting as the legends make them out to be.  Why don’t we tell history as stories, rather than a bunch of dates?

Finally, we chose our title — “The Dangerous Book for Boys.” It’s about remembering a time when danger wasn’t a dirty word. It’s safer to put a boy in front of a PlayStation for a while, but not in the long run. The irony of making boys’ lives too safe is that later they take worse risks on their own. You only have to push a baby boy hard on a swing and see his face light up. It’s not learned behavior — he’s hardwired to enjoy a little risk. Ask any man for a good memory from childhood and he’ll tell you about testing his courage or getting injured. No one wants to see a child get hurt, but we really did think the bumps and scratches were badges of honor, once.

I love summer camp, because some of this is still there.  Danger?  We’ve got that: try climbing up the climbing wall, or climbing down a slippery ravine with nothing on your feet but a pair of flip-flops.    We swing off of ropes, play around in mudpits, and even play with guns, bows, and arrows.  Even being the counselor, it is a lot of fun.

I love the idea of The Dangerous Book for Boys.  In fact, I’m half tempted to pick it up myself.  Strictly for the future, of course.  Although, we are doing a camping trip with extended family this year . . . plus, camp could always use a copy.

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