Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, was a featured speaker at the National Association of Independent Schools convention last week. I haven’t read any of his books so I can’t comment or recommend one way or another (I admit I’m put off by the “clever” title of this one). However, blogger Jamie Baker reported on his list of “12 tips for teaching boys” and it makes some interesting reading.
One thing that comes up clearly is that boys, even little guys who still play with Matchbox cars, have some surprisingly consistent and man-like attitudes about the school experience. “Why is this relevant? Don’t waste my time telling me what I already know. Go ahead, impress me — earn my respect. ” How many times have I thought the same thing in school or business situations? We’ve found you can still treat your sons with respect, as young men, while adapting your language and content to an age-appropriate level.
One distinction Thompson draws between boys and men is that boys just aren’t very future-oriented. He says that it’s not that effective to emphasize future cost of failure with younger boys; it’s better to focus on goals and dreams they do comprehend (“You’ll need to understand math if you want to design airplanes”) rather than abstractions like, “You’ll never be a success if life if you don’t shape up.” He says it’s counterproductive to try and shame or embarrass boys into better classroom performance; they are likely to become defensive or dismissive to protect their pride.
I’m not sure about that last point. I’ve taken my share of chiding in “public” on a football field or in a band rehearsal, and it sure encouraged me to get my act together. On the other hand, those were activities that I valued at the time and volunteered for; I might have felt differently if it was public humiliation in a place I didn’t want to be, anyway – like fourth-grade – so maybe the point is true for the classroom situation. He was talking to an audience of schoolteachers and principals, after all.