How can we help struggling boys and young men do better in school and the labor market?
In celebration of my return to commenting on Slow Boring, here's some thoughts from me, a former male teacher who left teaching after 3 years and has no intention to ever return.
1) Probably the biggest issue for a young male teacher is the social environment at work is legitimately awful. I mean, it's already kind of hard for a young person to break into any professional job where most of your direct colleagues will be vastly older than you and in a much different place in life. However, this is turned up to 11 when you've got a 22 year old man whose only social options are women who are largely all married mothers. I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that having work friends makes getting through the day a lot more pleasant. And that's not to say anything negative about the mostly wonderful ladies I worked with! It's just a fairly banal factual claim that men in their early 20s would prefer to socialize with a different demographic than you find at school. This is a sort of critical mass problem where it only gets better after a substantial number of male teachers are hired, but one reason your male teachers don't stick around is that they feel isolated and misunderstood.
2) I do think there is something about the general decline of both general discipline and social cohesion in schools that frustrates male teachers in particular. I personally felt for each year I was in the job that the social and emotional labor I was performing kept increasing as a share of my total work. I don't mind trying to get kids excited or motivated or get them to behave or get them to put their phone away or help them navigate some interpersonal crisis etc., but I find it to be by far the least pleasant and most exhausting part of the job by quite a large margin because my personality is not well suited to the affectionate, loving manner teachers are supposed to conduct themselves with in these situations.
3) I taught English 2 years and CS for 1. The English classes were very annoying, because my team set the readings we were doing and, see point #1, they had very different interests than me (or, I suspect, most boys). If it were up to me I would've put at least one of the mid-century science fiction classics (maybe Asimov) in our segment on American literature in 12th grade English, but instead we mostly read the usual suspects. Note that (in Florida) this is not because of some mandate that we must read certain books in schools. It is entirely because the sorts of novels that men tend to disproportionately enjoy are at best seen as uninteresting by other teachers and at worst derided as un-serious or not-literary. CS was a lot better because I got to control my own curriculum, but I do not think American schools are really hurting for a shortage of male CS teachers. It's more the male everything-else teachers.
4) This one is sort of unfortunate but true: if you are a young man, becoming a teacher in many states is a terrible idea if you want a sort of traditional dating life and family experience etc. First of all, I received quite a lot more interest from women after I switched jobs into the tech industry (and nothing else about me had really changed besides the fact that I now had a higher-status and more highly-paid job). We have decent evidence that (many, certainly not all!) women prefer to date men who are better-paid and have higher-status jobs than we do, and that this effect does not really seem to exist in the other direction. Secondly, wage compression in teaching is quite bad outside of a handful of states with insanely powerful unions. So if your hope is to be making two or three times as much by 40 as you were at 25 (to support kids, pay for family vacations, etc.) teaching is a bad idea, and separate from that it just makes you feel like you are stagnating or not working toward any great achievement.
5) A smaller piece that makes all this worse: a good male teacher gets tapped for admin/discipline/etc. roles VERY quickly after they begin your career, for basically all the reasons you think that having good male admins would be a school priority, but that just makes it even harder to solve #1-3
One thing that’s true about male teachers is schools want us. There’s a huge pipeline problem in that the certification system is designed for someone who knew they wanted to teach when they were 17.
If you haven’t been pursuing it it’s a huge hassle and doesn’t have much to do with actually being good at teaching.
The Biden Administration, from March, 2022: "Biden Harris Administration Announces Commitments to Advance Pay Equity and Support Women’s Economic Security". https://tinyurl.com/2f2h7bj5
I understand Matt's desire to avoid this as a culture war battle. However, the current situation is the result of 50 years of messaging like the one referenced above. The statement even includes the canard that women are paid 83 cents for every dollar paid to their "average male counterpart", which has been disproven time after time. Seriously, read the whole thing to see how the message is all about division and excluding men from the list of "good people".
Yes, actual policy proposals are important. But it is also important to push back against the prevailing analytical framework that the world is all about victims and oppressors. The victim/oppressor framework is ubiquitous in academia, in politics, in newspapers and in activist circles. For 50 years, this framework for analyzing the world has been used to tell the following people they are victims of oppression: Women, Black people, LGBTQI+, Native Americans, Hispanics, people of color (all groups cited in the White House communique above). Hmmm...who does that leave as the oppressors of those groups?
Messages sent are usually received. And the evidence shows this particular message has been received.
At the risk of coming across as reactionary, I do think there are probably some Discourse Magic that would help on the margins of the male teacher imbalance.
The professional environment in teaching generally and the educational environment at teachers colleges in particular seems somewhat hostile to masculinity and males. Similar to how there has been an effort to adjust the culture of STEM schools and workplaces, you could emphasize making teaching spaces more inviting and accepting of men.
Entirely anecdotal, but having worked around STEM groups for years I’d say that the culture shift has been as impactful as any top down quota policy in encouraging more women to work in the field. An underrated amount of effort has been made there (again, not in all workplaces, but in lots) and it has been largely successful.
I think overall your points are good, I have two sons who I think about constantly in this context because they're disabled and that puts them at a long term disadvantage in all of this. I think it's important to give them the basic skills to succeed at school.
However, at the end when you point out that married men live longer, healthier lives and it's important for them to be successful, there's more going on there than simply boosting education. Women who are married don't live as long or as healthfully as their single counterparts because married women take on a lot of their partners unpaid domestic labor, and the point you made about being a partner that knows how to equally share when women are now often breadwinners and /or equally working outside the home is critical for men to have a long happy marriage to have that longer, healthy life. School and education is important for getting married, but sharing work is important for staying married. "Fair Play" and Eve Rodsky are a good place for the skills a lot of men aren't taught and/or rewiring women as the default caregiver and home manager, it would be awesome to hear you talk more about the later part of this.
Also - what up with the Peterson stans and "women really have gone too far" in the comments today? That's not typical of the group here, the hostility only contributes to the lack of women showing up in this space.
Thank you for the review of the book, Matt. As the father of two elementary school-aged boys, this is a subject of some interest to me. That said, I found the slam on Christina Hoff Summers for being "antifeminist" rather offputting given that Hoff Summers has always been very clear that she considers herself a feminist and she clearly can't be categorized as a cultural conservative by American standards. Further, it seems like if anything Hoff Summers' points from "The War Against Boys" (originally published in 2000) and "Who Stole Feminism?" (originally published in 1994) have been confirmed by developments of the past few years.
Does the book mention if there are benefits to attending all-boys’ schools? I went to Catholic school, so I switched from coed to all-boys between grades 8 and 9, and there was a marked difference in teaching styles that seemed helpful enough.
In particular, the (mostly but not all male) teachers were better able to maintain order in the classroom through a stricter application of decorum and discipline than might have been acceptable in a coed class. That was helpful (in the long run, I mean) to low-performers, but it was also helpful for the less disruptive students, who were less disrupted.
There was also a liberal application of sports and car metaphors to all academic subjects, which I didn’t appreciate or need and kinda resented at the time, but probably helped on the margins.
I also had a great English teacher who bragged to us that he was a smart guy who worked hard, owned a bunch of Italian ice franchises, lived in a nice house, drove a nice car, and had a hot wife, which I thought was obnoxious at the time, but per Matt’s conclusion sounds like a compelling argument to young men who don’t feel motivated!
As a man who considered at various times becoming a teacher, but ultimately didn't, I feel like I have an interesting perspective here.
To me, the main thing that stopped me wasn't money really (though probably that should have been enough) but the massive amounts of bullshit around teaching. I was not interested in going back to school for X years just to be a teacher, and despite being a smart guy with relevant degrees, there was no straightforward way to get some practical training and jump in. Aside from that, I heard a lot of horror stories at the amount of bullshit teachers are expected to just put up with. Bullshit from administrators, bullshit from school boards, bullshit from parents, and bullshit from regulators. It seemed like the primary skill leading to success for the modern educator was a willingness to tolerate massive amounts of bullshit.
My guess is that, in a patriarchal world, women are exposed to more bullshit on an everyday basis, and are therefore better equipped to deal with that bullshit. And also due to patriarchy, the bullshit gap between the education world and the regular world is probably less - not because they don't have to put up with education bullshit, but because they'd have to put up with a lot of bullshit anywhere else just for being a woman, and at least in education the bullshit is well-documented and applied equally to all.
A final piece is that I think that education leans towards stability over dynamism and flexibility. Going into education means you have a pretty structured way to go find a job, there's well-defined credentials you can pursue to advance upwards, and you can probably find work most places. This probably appeals temperamentally to young women more than it does to young men.
So overall, if you're a smart young guy with other good options and a preference for a more dynamic, less structured sort of environment, education is just a pretty terrible fit right now.
The section about whether we should frame the problem as a ‘boys problem’ is very interesting. It’s somewhat reminiscent of similar questions regarding whether we should address racial disparities directly or via class based redistribution - except this seems to be the first time it’s being applied where those disadvantaged aren’t a traditional ‘minority’ group.
It’s kind of sad how much Matt goes on about ‘trolling’ and ‘culture war’ here. As if this info would be irrelevant if presented by a guy with a frog avatar, and not ‘in good faith’. Heartbreaking: policy makers need to consider information even if the messenger has a shit eating grin on their face.
“ Women’s average scores on the SAT have always been lower than men’s—even though they receive higher average grades in all courses in high school and college.”
Is it possible that “school” has increased the amount of administrative detail that favors women? A college example might be the move from having a midterm and a final as the only graded work to having well over a dozen of graded assignments.
Hillary Clinton deserved to lose the election for saying “the future is female.” When she said this, women had longer life expectancies and lower incarceration rates than men. They were more likely to graduate from high school and college. If you go to a pickleball court or a restaurant in my home town on a weekday morning, the non-retired leisure class is overwhelmingly female. Women have more control over avoiding unwanted parenthood than men. Women are less likely to have high status jobs, but are much less likely to fail catastrophically or never get married.
Many “female” problems are knock on effects of male problems. Black women struggle to find quality partners because the dating market is still largely segregated, a third of black men have prison records and there are two black female college grads for every black male college graduate. Plenty of classy, attractive, educated, women of color wind up on their own because there are so few plausible men that those who exist can play the field deep into their 40s without having to commit. In fact, being a black male with a college degree, no prison record and a good job is a pretty good gig precisely because the dating market inevitably grades on a curve and so many black men flunk out at a young age.
If you haven't heard Jonah Goldberg's interview with Richard Reeves, it's worth a listen. One point Richard brings up is that it's normal for boys to engage in a certain amount of physical roughhousing and most schools don't allow that and that this problem is not made better by the lack of male teachers in education. There's a (relatively) low income middle school I used to sub at and I'm friends with one of the (male) teachers there. There's one wing of the building where for some accidental reason, most of the male teachers are. My friend pointed out, and I can confirm, fewer fights break out in that wing. That wing just has a different vibe to it that I can't exactly quantify. It reminds me of a news story recently where a tough school in Louisiana brought in some of the kids' dads to patrol the halls throughout the day. After this almost no fights broke out. On top of that, the kids who were MOST happy about this arrangement were the girls. Girls don't want to be in a school with a bunch of boys fighting either. I can't remember where I was going with this. Anyways, yeah I agree that more male teachers would be a good thing, as well as maybe more time for boys to be outside playing. They might get more out of class if they are able to do that.
Throw away comment, but I think the push to bring back manufacturing to the United States as part of the reset of our supply pipeline which broke down during Covid will help.
Whether redshirting works or more male teachers help, unless we figure out where and what people are going to do for jobs, it will continue to be an issue.
Also, I will throw it out there. Video games really really have distracted many men from life.
Andrew Sullivan just interviewed Reeves on his podcast "Dischcast," and it was very illuminating. I think it helped me understand this review, in fact.
In my experience, there are many more male teachers at the high school level than middle school or elementary and the overwhelming majority were also coaches of the various team sports (including my dad). Therefore my (not actually serious) proposal is to add competitive school sports at the elementary school level so when schools need to add coaches, they hire more male teachers.