Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
Most of the attention Dr. Leonard Sax gets is for his advocacy of single sex education for boys. In his first book, Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, Sax described the developmental and biological differences between the sexes and how contemporary early education puts boys at a disadvantage. In his follow up, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, Sax elaborates on the modern crisis of maleness.
Sax is interested in boys, and tends to ignore females except as counter-examples, which is fine because one cannot be all things to all people. Sax also, in spite of himself, writes about a certain class of white affluent suburban boys. He tries to allay critics on both of these counts, with sometimes hilarious results. In explaining how inclusive his work is of all cultures, Sax offers this compelling example:
“Emily (or Maria or Shaniqua) goes to college...Justin (or Carlos or Damian) may go to college...” I am still laughing. Maria, Shaniqua, Carlos, and Damian? Are we seriously playing a "Let’s think of Black- and Latino-sounding names" game? At least Sax is trying to fill the ethnic diversity requirement, even if he has a clunky way of showing it.
Regardless, the focus of Boys Adrift is the plight of affluent white boys living in American suburbs with a few generations of American living (read: consumerism and apathy?) pumping through their veins. “Damian” is actually not his concern. But whomever he is speaking about, Boys Adrift was written from Sax to parents.
From a hyper-academic kindergarten curriculum that favors females, to phlalates that leach into your Dr. Pepper and stunt mental development, Sax covers the basics of what we're talking about when we're talking about the modern crisis of manhood. He identified this crisis of boys as a “failure to launch,” an epidemic of fat, Halo-playing man-children who don't understand why everyone keeps telling them that they should move out of their parents house.
Gender issues aside, Boys Adrift would interest anyone seeking a comprehensive history of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and its treatments and the various, terrifying ways that environmental estrogen has infiltrated our bodies, wreaking physiological (early puberty in females) and societal (sexually mature girls in school alongside their prepubescent male peers) havoc on post-baby-boom generations.
The educational problems that Sax describes are applicable to kids of all kinds (even, dare I imagine, Shaniqua), and it's a little annoying to see them attributed to gender difference. Pegging problems like a struggle to pay attention and a failure to get decent grades to a condition of maleness might feel good to parents of a struggling boy, but to a female who failed similarly, it seems wholly unhelpful if not insulting.
There is a lot here, and Sax's work will comfort many parents, but the work is not without some contradictions. Early on in the narrative we learn that modern American schooling is not conducive to male brain and body development—it does not play to their strengths or their timetable. Later, Sax cites a statistically notable decline in boys’ intellect since the 1990s. The statistics rely on grades given in school. But if school works against boys, then their grades in school are not a fair or accurate measures of their intellect, so what use are they?
Recommended for those curious about education, gender, boys, men, and environmental estrogen.