We’re Losing Our Boys. . . And Men

How I wish they’d been wrong—but they weren’t.

About twenty years ago, Newsweek did a cover story on boys, pointing out widespread concern about something scary that teachers were seeing in classrooms across the country: boys bailing out of the educational process at an ever earlier age.  Mesmerized by the pied pipers of the media and sports, boys were all but ceasing to read, write, or grow intellectually.  If this trend continued, pundits warned, boys will bail out of college and higher education as well—and that would have devastating consequences in terms of the future of our nation.

Ever since reading that study, I’ve been intensely aware of the problem whenever I’m in the presence of students, young or old.  I speak and read to elementary students quite often, and it’s almost always the same: girls are excited about authors, books, ideas, and growth; boys generally make little effort to stifle their yawns.  Of course, thank goodness, there are exceptions—but that’s what they are: exceptions to the norm.

I strongly suspect most parents don’t realize the price their children will pay during the rest of their lives for permitting the media center to replace the home library, the electronic tentacles of cyberspace to replace the daily story hour.  Studies reveal that if a child doesn’t fall in love with reading by the third grade, it’s not likely to ever take place at all.

As to the price we’re paying at this moment in history, just listen to David Brooks (The New York Times, Feb. 17, 2010):

“We’re looking at an extended period of above 8% unemployment.  The biggest impact is on men.  Over the past few decades, men have lagged behind women in acquiring education and skills.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at age 22, 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men [my italics].  Furthermore, men are concentrated in industries where employment is declining (manufacturing) or highly cyclical (construction).  So men have taken an especially heavy blow during this crisis.  The gap between the male and female unemployment rates has reached its highest level since the government began keeping such records.”

Brooks notes that “men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity.  Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. . . .  For decades, men have adopted poorly to the shifting demands of the service economy.  Now they are paying the price.  The working class is in danger of descending into underclass-style dysfunction.  For decades, young people have been living in a loose, under-institutionalized world.  Now they are moving back home in droves.  We need to redefine masculinity” [my italics].  For the first time in American history, women will be holding down the majority of our jobs—besides being the primary caregivers, as daughters, mothers, and wives.

At the rate we’re moving, it can only get worse for men—and for the women who depend on them.

I do have some answers, but they are long-term and will be anything but easy to achieve.  There can be no quick fix to a problem of this magnitude!

I shall continue the dialogue on this issue with next Wednesday’s blog.

Stay tuned.

“Now He Belongs to the Ages!”

So famously declared Secretary of State Edwin Stanton after our martyred sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, breathed his last.

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and CourageI have studied and researched Lincoln all my life, but it was not until recent years that I had the audacity to write a book on his life and legacy: Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2008). Before writing a single word, I studied 60 more books on Lincoln (many penned by those who actually knew him personally).

I had certain specific objectives:

• I wanted, in the process, to discover for myself whether or not Lincoln was all I had idealized him to be over the years. Since we all have feet of clay (human frailties, if you will), I was more than a little apprehensive about what I might find when I dug deep into his life.

• I wanted readers of the book to consider it a spiritual experience. To that effect, I daily prayed the Prayer of Solomon, asking God to grant me divine wisdom that day, that the words would be His, rather than mine.

• I wanted to write a book, not just for scholars (there are untold thousands of Lincoln books out there), but for the average person who takes one look at the blur of books about Lincoln on bookstore shelves, and sighs, “Never in a lifetime could I fully digest all that—I want to really get to know the man—in just one book.” I wanted my book to be that book.

• I wanted the book to be as unputdownable as I could make it.

• I wanted it to be that rarity among any author’s books: the one brainchild you love so much you go back to it again and again, never tiring of it.

• I wanted the reader to feel, at the end of it, that s/he now really understands the complex but fascinating world Lincoln lived in.

• I wanted history to really come alive.

• I wanted to feature one of the greatest ever compendiums of Lincoln quotations.

• I wanted to include some of the most moving stories about Lincoln.

• I wanted there to be plenty of Ah-hah’s, even among Lincoln scholars: I didn’t know that! You know, I’d never even thought of that before. Wait until I share this with ____!

• I wanted all age groups to love it.

• I wanted readers to return to it again and again.

• I wanted the book to meet such a special need in the hearts, minds, and souls of readers, that no one would want to see it die (go out of print).

• And I wanted to be able to honestly say, looking back at it later, “It was worth having lived—just to have written that one book.”

The responses so far have been —– oh, to tell you the truth, I’d far rather hear your responses.

“Washington was a typical American, Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country – bigger than all the presidents together.

We are still too near his greatness, but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.”
                                        – Leo Tolstoy


Please visit our web site for more details on the book, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage.

That Love is All There Is

“That love is all there is
             Is all we know of love.”
                          – Emily Dickinson

             Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, so let’s think about love for a few moments.  Love – I never cease to be fascinated by it.  No matter where we travel around the world, we see it evidenced everywhere.

            Especially am I moved by “that look” – that glow that comes but once in life on a woman’s face and in her eyes.  That first-time awareness that she is loved totally, that she is his all in all, can be blinding.  I saw it once in church.  The bride was beautiful in her long white dress – but far more beautiful yet was that glow, that radiance, and the look of utter adoration in her eyes as she saw him waiting there at the altar for her – indeed, it was so intense, I almost felt it a sacrilege to have seen it.

            As a long-time professor, I’ve seen it come in so many ways.  In fact, once I attempted to capture some of them in a poem:

                        “Love comes not the same for all;
                        Circuitous can be its approach. 
                        For some it comes on soft Indian moccasins
                        So gently not a whisper of moving grass is heard.
                        Till suddenly you turn – and lo, it is too late.

                        For some it begins merely as a shared journey,
                                    two among many;
                        The years pass and they sit side by side
                                    in the carriage,
                        Together yet alone,
                        Till one day they discover that the wheel tracks
                        Have etched their grooves in stone
                        And no further exits can there be.

                        For some it dances tantalizing choreography –
                        Now breathtakingly close, now far away in the mist –
                        On gossamer wings it flits its erratic way
                        Till it is captured by the marriage net
                        There to wither in the noon-day sun. 

                        For some it is born in beauty
                        So glorious that you cry;
                        So tender your heart breaks – just to see 
                        Their vain attempts to wall out the world. 

                        For some it is born in hurricane winds
                        When torrents drown the sun
                        And lightning spears the sky;
                        Their Heathcliffian passion inundates and annihilates
                                   whatever bars the way.

                         No tape or container can measure it;
                        It cannot be understood or analyzed.
                        Love can only be
                                    — Or it can cease to be.” 

                                                –“Love Comes Not the Same”
                                                            –Joseph Leininger Wheeler

Toyota Whodunit: Might It Be Malevolence?

First of all, my family will tell you I have one of the world’s most unmechanical brains – nevertheless, I’m fairly adequate in reasoning from cause to effect.

Something about this unprecedented shut-down of the world’s largest auto-maker rouses my suspicious mind.  In short, I smell a rat.  I’ll be very surprised if when Toyota finally does find the root problem; and fixes it (most likely a rogue computer chip), that will be but the beginning.  Then they’ll call in someone like Agatha Christie in order to track down the perpetrator. 

Furthermore, my gut instinct tells me that the “new and improved” gas pedal and brake pedal override will fail to address the root problem: the mysterious and inexplicable speed-surges.

It used to be that when our car misbehaved I would take it to the corner mechanic, and he’d tinker until he found the problem.  Not any more – today it takes someone armed with inside data on computerized software.

Now, granted I am just speculating, but let’s say that some insidious bundle of malevolence (a twisted acid-filled combination of Svengali and Uriah Heep) with an agenda, decides to deliberately pull off the crime of the century, a crime that could be valued in the trillions – wouldn’t this be it?  I don’t know much about how computer chips work – I only know that when I’m stupid enough to go into a casino, I do so knowing full well that casino management has already foredoomed me by programming the slot machines to randomly excite me with many jackpot double-sevens but almost never three of them at once.

Well – why couldn’t a malevolent mastermind do the same?  It could be anyone: an acid-filled hacker living anywhere in the world, a terrorist, a disgruntled employee, a star-crossed lover seeking revenge, a member of a competing corporation teetering on the edge of bankruptcy – oh, it could be anyone!  All s/he would have to do would be to gain access to the inner-workings of a certain core computer chip and program it to insert an extremely infrequent random surge, one that would occur so rarely that most testing wouldn’t pick it up, and voila!  A recipe for disaster on a global scale!  And how could such a fiend ever be tracked down?

Furthermore, might not strapped-for-cash auto corporations be a bit lax in protecting such things as lowly computer-chips?  Who would even imagine someone doing such a thing? 

Well . . . forgive me, but I’m imagining it..

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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