End of the boy culture? (5×8 – 7/6/12)

Where boys don’t fit in, why do you do this, the smoking ban report card, the medal hunter, and just sing the song.

New to 5×8? It’s five themes, not necessarily in order of importance and not necessarily the top news of the day, worth considering and discussing. So discuss, already!


If something special is being accomplished in school these days, the chances are it’s not being accomplished by a boy. It’s time to acknowledge, columnist David Brooks writes today, that boys don’t fit into our education system. The advantage boys once had in math and science is nearly gone, he says.

But the big story here is cultural and moral. If schools want to re-engage Henry, they can’t pretend they can turn him into a reflective Hamlet just by feeding him his meds and hoping he’ll sit quietly at story time. If schools want to educate a fiercely rambunctious girl, they can’t pretend they will successfully tame her by assigning some of those exquisitely sensitive Newbery award-winning novellas. Social engineering is just not that easy.

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

Brooks mentions the Aspen Ideas Festival on raising boys, held last week. Here’s some audio from that panel.


Writer Lane Wallace, who created “No Map, No Guide, No Limits” (which you should be reading regularly, by the way), wrote a piece last year on those things we do despite all the reasons in our heads not to do them…

In truth, part of the answer is simply that I don’t know–indeed, can’t know–when I make the decision to take road “A” instead of road “B,” just how difficult that choice is going to turn out to be. I suspect that if you asked most explorers, entrepreneurs, inventors, or passionate pursuers of justice, world change, or other bold ideas whether they would have chosen those roads if they could have seen, in advance, just how long and hard the effort was going to be … they’d say no. But then, most parents would probably say the same thing about parenting.

It’s a category that spawned infrequent essays by contributors answering the same question, “why do I do this?”

Today, she features Milli Chennell, a young woman from Oregon who’s in the Peace Corps, and finishing up two years in Fiji.

This is what I want to leave these people: the empowerment to do what they want to do and the knowledge that they can do it themselves if they want to. I want to build the capacity of the women in the village so that they have the space, the resources, and the mindset to reach for their goals. But-man-sometimes I want to quit. Sometimes I go straight home from a frustrating meeting where I only half understood what was going on, but it was clear that NOBODY got what I was saying. I shut the door, flop on the bed and try to convince myself that it doesn’t matter. I’m not the one who decides, it’s not my project, it’s not my village, it’s not my life. For the most part, it works. It’s how I’m able to keep doing this-keep waking up and going to work. Because if you feel like giving up, what you have to do is give up your expectations, give up your attachment to the end result, but don’t give up trying.

It’s delightful reading, and perhaps it might even inspire you to share why you do what you do.

You may be interested in hearing more from Ms. Wallace. Here’s a 2009 interview on Kerri Miller’s show.


Wisconsin’s smoking ban turned two yesterday, and — surprise — people didn’t abandon the state’s bars and restaurants, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports today. Or did they? A hospitality association says spending in restaurants is up about 1 percent but business at bars and taverns is off 4 percent. Four percent. In Wisconsin.

Although Pete Madland, executive director for the Tavern League of Wisconsin, agrees that public sentiment favors the ban, he’s still concerned that it contributed to the group’s declining membership.

“Our membership is down about 250 over the last two years, and we attribute a lot of that to places that have just gone out of business,” Madland said.

Madland said it’s not just the smoking ban (after all, it took effect in the midst of a recession), but the law was definitely “a contributing factor” to many bars closing their doors.

Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of SmokeFree Wisconsin, disputed that as anecdotal.

“The economic numbers don’t match that,” she countered.


Zachariah Fike, a Vermont Army National Guard captain finds old military medals for sale in antique stores and on the Internet. But Zac doesn’t keep the medals for himself. He tracks down the rightful owners and gives them back.


If people singing the National Anthem or God Bless America at sporting events would just sing the songs the way the rest of us do, instead of showing off their musical chops by hitting new notes, this wouldn’t happen.

It happened the other night at the Twins-Tigers game. (Link)

Bonus I: A conversation with my 20-year-old-self:

Bonus II: Topic: Air conditioning: Your air conditioner may be making a racket for your neighbors. And why some people don’t use air conditioning and make you feel guilty that you do.

Bonus III: Away from the fireworks…

July 4th Visit to our team captain from Kurt Philion on Vimeo. (MPR story)


Two public figures, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and R&B singer Frank Ocean, made statements about their sexuality recently. Anderson said he is gay, while Ocean wrote that his first love was a man. Today’s Question: What’s your reaction when public figures reveal information about their sexual orientation?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: This week on the Friday Roundtable, our panelists discuss the voter ID amendment, the racial unemployment gap in the Twin Cities, and whether Chief Justice John Roberts changed his vote on healthcare reform.

Second hour: Martin Rees, author of “From Here to Infinity.” He is Master of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of cosmology and physics at the University of Cambridge.

Third hour: What you should do with injured and orphaned animals.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): NPR’s TED Radio Hour “Where Ideas Come From.”

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – Physicists have discovered the Higgs boson, or at least that’s what they think they’ve found. Ira Flatow looks at why the tiny particle is so important.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Some call it “conversion therapy.” Critics call it “pray away the gay.” Now, the largest group that’s promoted conversion therapy calls the practice wrong. Some Christian evangelicals take a new look at homosexuality. NPR will report.

  • Paul

    On Brooks:

    Well based on my experience w/ the Minneapolis Public system… I don’t see anything he is mentioning. I see a system that is both underfunded and not always using it’s current funding wisely. A system where teachers are struggling to control classrooms (due to size and mixture of student backgrounds) to the point that their ability to teach is compromised some days.

    And as for the boys (father of 2 daughters here) I’m not seeing any difference from when I was in grade school.

    So I’m guessing Brooks’ sample might be a tad biased…

  • Robert Moffitt

    Re #3, we saw the same thing here in Minnesota. While the bar lobby says the sky is falling, the tax data tells a much different story.

    I’d put my money on what the tax data tells us.

    I have a few theories why membership in the Tavern League of Wisconsin has declined. 1) Your organization very loudly and openly fought againt a law that most people wanted. 2) You failed to learn the lesson from MN and other states that smoking ban opponents almost always fail, especially when they counter valid health concerns with arguments based on private property rights and personal freedom. 3) Once seen as a nearly unbeatable lobby, your organization has fought on the wrong side of public and legal opinions on drunk driving and smoking in indoor workplace. Why should your members pay dues to support a lobby that picks the wrong fights, and then loses badly?

  • jon


    It’s been a strange and missed fact that women in the US are quickly becomming better educated then men in the US… though it hasn’t yet turned the tide of the conversation back from “We need to educate girls!” to “We need educated boys!” or to the eventual “We need to educate all of our children regardless of race, color, gender, or creed!” (the last one clearly not usable as a chant in a protest, thus much harder to get the public on board with.)

    While I think the previous comment was probably accurate, that not much has changed in how schools are designed for boys, things have changed for how they are designed for girls, and it’s working, and we aren’t changing them for boys, and that is leading to exactly the lack of change you’d expect.

    That being said.

    Government needs release their death grip on the class room. While there are some basic concepts that all students should learn, elected officials aren’t the ones to decide how informed the electorate of the future should be (it’s a conflict of interest) lets leave that up to the educators who supposedly went to school for this, who supposedly passed the government certification courses, and supposed we pay (very supposedly) to do this sort of things. Binding the hands of teachers is the greatest dis-service that the government has done to this country in my life time.

    Very few people go into elementary education for the money, most of them have a passion, most of them have a drive, most of them are burnt out by the lack of funds, and the “course requirements” that get longer each year for what students leaving their class need to know, and how they are to teach it.

    Let teachers teach, let them be a little human instead of government programmed robots. Kids will react better to humans then they will to robots, they will likely learn more from people who have made their own mistakes, and had their own experiences.

  • Roger

    Air Conditioning. I am definitely a cool weather guy. Give me winter over summer most any time. I can always put on a sweater, put on a blanket, or turn on a space heater. But summer heat and humidity makes me claustrophobic, panicky almost – I need my air conditioning. I do think the “we don’t-use-air-conditioning” folks think they are a little superior. Now, if she also NEVER turns on the furnace in the winter, then she is most definitely superior in every way. 🙂

  • L Sims

    Why are we disappointed that boys no longer have “an advantage” in math and science? Why can’t all kids do well, despite their gender? And where are those girls who are supposedly doing well in math and science once one gets to college?

    The fact of the matter is that virtually nobody fits into our current educational system. But we only notice when boys don’t fit.