Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Where are all the good men?

John Seery takes note of this long NYT article about the relative scarcity of academically successful young men in college. Lots of explanations are proffered. All strike me as at least somewhat plausible. I do see more male than female slackers, but am unsure as to the cause. Do they not take college seriously because it’s not, in their view, worth taking seriously? Perhaps. I’ve seen some slackers who blundered into law school and then did quite well. I’ve also seen some collegiate slackers who have been exceptionally successful in the business world. I’m not saying that "book learnin’" is a girl thing, but wouldn’t it be worth asking what other than "Grand Theft Auto" excites the passions of young men?

There are also maturity issues with some of them. Not made to shoulder any sort of responsibility, or insulated from responsibilities they don’t like, they don’t yet know what it means to be a man.

John, who is manly and gentle, which is to say gentlemanly, concludes in this way:

I don’t know whether it’s time to ring a bell to alert the country that colleges across the nation seem to be graduating a generation of wimpy, diffident, clueless, unmotivated men (see, I’m participating in that wimpiness by refraining from a manly call to arms). Maybe there’s no cause for alarm, and the emphasis should instead be on women’s gains, not men’s temporary setbacks. What I do know is that the story of gender in America has become more complicated.

I certainly don’t have a magic bullet, though I wonder if more collegiate talk about and study of manly men might not begin to light a few fires.

Discussions - 24 Comments

Joe, don’t underestimate the coolness of Grand Theft Auto.

I always do that! I hate that I can’t preview comments.

Sorry, please just delete the above block comment.

A few random thoughts.

(1) Boys are taught in K-12 that “school is for girls”. So, why are you surprised that they don’t take it too seriously? There are not going to win, why play hard?

(2) I wonder how skewed the numbers are due to women-only/centric majors in college. For example, Women’s/Gender Studies. Not any men there. Would you expect a Jew to sign up for a major in Hitler Youth? Unless a guy is filled with self-hate, they are not going near that major.

(3) I wonder how many “slackers” decide that they don’t need to deal with students and professors that hold opposing political views and get vicious & personal when confronted. Your choice is to go to class and hear stupidity being uttered from your fellow students, and sometimes the professor or learn on your own. (And by stupidity I mean unsubstantiated politically driven views, things that you should have learned in a 101 course being slowly explained in a 400 level course, etc. and my personal favourite a rant about how men are rapists … in a AdminLaw class.)

At some point to realize you are paying $100k for the degree and that you could have learned things just as easily from a set of books bought from Amazon (or in the law school case, the flashcards, outlines, and sometimes hornbooks in the library).

(Maybe I am just not impressed by professors because my father is one. I don’t have any illusions that professors are better human beings than anyone else.)

(4) Men seem to care more about ROI than women do. Men gravitate to hard science style classes where you essentially learn a trade. Now if you are ambitious and can afford it you don’t go to DeVry, because a real college degree means more money. But you spend that $100k on an engineering or business degree.

Unless you have a burning passion to be an academic, I just don’t understand why you would spend $100k on an English or History degree (for example). Note the key part of that sentence is “you would spend $100k”. I am not saying English and History aren’t useful. I fully believe they are. That isn’t the argument. But if you are not going to do something where the degree is required, why spend $100k when anyone with enough intelligence to get into college (I’d hope) can self-teach from the thousands of books out there? Unless you want to make your life’s work doing archeology in Egypt why spend $100k on a degree in it? If you’re going to get the degree (for $100k) and then become a car salesman, why not go straight to the car salesmen job and buy some books from Amazon and subscription to KMT? I just don’t get sinking $100k into a degree that gets you absolutely nothing, unless you then have another (graduate) degree on the same subject, unless it a burning calling to do it.
For $20k, I’ll get a liberal arts degree. Preferably a real one not some series of GenEd classes where they teach remedial high school liberal arts. But, now that college is in the $100k range, I need to learn a marketable skill, and as for liberal arts I have a lifetime to learn that.

Of course, K-12 has already turned off most students, and men, to liberal arts.

(5) College is viewed in the same way high school was 75 years ago (pre-1945). Now you need a college degree (any degree will do) to do what only required a high school degree 75 years ago. Why are we surprised that people treat it like high school? Graduate school is now the selective place college used to be.

(6) You are not loosing the men in college. You lose them in K-12. It is just that college is the first place where they are no longer required to be there.

wouldn’t it be worth asking what other than "Grand Theft Auto" excites the passions of young men?

Uh . . . girls.

If Matt is correct, then there ought to be a new influx of young men into the college classrooms to take advantage of opportunity, as a result of this type of article and publicity of the situation. That is, if young men are reading these days.

Julie Ponzi and I are commenting away down below on the blog about what it is to be a woman today. Her post was on Harvey Mansfield’s lecture at Hillsdale and our, especially her, comments relate to this topic.

I propose that women have no place else to go in society except to colleges and the work force. They must excell there to know they can compete with men. , who, as the articles point out, still dominate the workplace. Given divorce rates in America, the marriage market is pretty dicey. Young women who find men who will keep them and allow them to raise children as a "career option" are few. The best option for young women in such a society as we have today is to get the best education they can so that they can stand alone if they need to do so. Statistically, it would appear that they must expect to do so at some future point I would not suggest that men alone are responsible for the current divorce rate. Surely the fact that a woman today could make it alone (though it IS tough) even with children, makes for more divorce. Yet for a young woman entering the wide world, the more feminine options are not open to them. They apparently see no choice but to get themselves into a position where they can raise the children they biologically and emotionally long to have, by themselves.

If the men they see in the classrooms are slackers, this would only spur those young women on. I am shocked at the capacity of intellectually capable young men to pour their mental energies into video games, comic books and graphic novels, sports, entertainment culture (especially music); different men, different options along those lines. I have read that young women are coming into a physical maturity at a younger age. Perhaps young men are not experiencing that same change, but are taking longer, instead? They are prolonging childhood with the diversions I mention? Or perhaps young men were always like this in college classrooms and merely appear slack in relation to competitively compelled young women.

Please, someone tell me how wrong I am. I am discouraging myself.

I have to yet fully think this measure out, but it is my supposition that much of what demotivates many young men at college is the clear lack of need to do well compounded by an education system void of challenge. That is to say, except for the rare occassion, anyone who shows up for a class and even minimally completes their work can skate through four years of school and easily maintain a B average.

Grade inflation is obvious to all college students. They know who they can take to get "good grades" without working hard. Men in particular are susceptible to the vice of skating through. Perhaps it is cultural (and I do think that the historical inopportunity explains much of why this does not affect women as much), but with few exceptions, men will not work hard in college if they don’t have to do so. Too often it is the case that they do not.

Kate is on to something -- the young women of today can’t count on the young men of today as a viable long term source of security and support. They have no choice but to provide for themselves first, then consider marriage and children as a secondary activity.

The young men of today know little of the notions of honor, integrity, sacrifice and chivalry ... they have never been taught it, it was never expected of them, it is generally not rewarded, and in large measure they do not need it. So in one sense Joe is correct when he asks whether men simply haven’t been taught how to be a man.

But the young women are contributing to this by being so sexually promiscuous that young men have no need to think about long term commitment. The concept of not valuing something you get for free is true -- as long as young ladies give away their sex so freely, young men will resist a committed relationship that hinders their access to variety.

We live in a completely messed-up society, one I fear has no real hope for redemption. Well, there is a redeemer, but He is not looked to in any meaningful way. Today’s "consumer Christianity" is utter devoid of merit, and can’t help this problem.

Different sheep same wolf suit.

I am inclined to blame feminism, the pill, and the law of unintended outcomes.
As to Dave’s "We lose ’em in K-12", I agree. Who now chooses secondary education for a career? In public schools, not our best and brightest, but drones with a necessarily unionized mindset. And the large majority are women, a species of which I’m fond but they have their limits.

I suppose I will invoke hell fire upon myself for quoting Atlas Schrugged... So I won’t do it... I am would take time to find the reference...and then I would be teaching...but I already know the gist. Franscico is reprimanded for not being in a library studying...what could he possible be doing in a junk yard? He claims that the junk yard is his library....experience is a good enough teacher... Perhaps the young men of today have rediscovered the Quaker aversion to book learnin’...but I would bet my last dollar this isn’t the accurate case.

If this was the case we could look foward to rebelious youth self-educating themselves a la Nathaniel Greene...but don’t cross your fingers on that one. Lord only knows what would happen if a Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox met up in a book would probably involve the corruption of a noble english family...not to mention the seeds for an entire revolution. I would agree with Evil Dave...but then I blew part of my 100k on a history minor...and the entire minor consisted of Dr. Moore fleshing out in one way or another perspectives on the dearth of manly men or the death of chivalry...If once again I wasn’t so lazy...I would write sentences that didn’t end with dots...or conversely I might even quote Burke for flourish. But I enjoy video games instead...but certainly there are some "manly" video Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion? It wouldn’t be a long walk to say that video games today are what comics books were yesterday...and if praise can be given to comic books why not video games also? But I digress enough.

I teach at a regionally highly rated college where the women outnumber the men by nearly 3 to 1. Female faculty slightly outnumber the males, and our Math department has only one male prof. Our Science Dept is still dominated a bit by males, but the rest of the College is not typical in its gender distribution.

I mention this because I have both read a great deal about gender and academic performance, and I have engaged in college profiles in order to assess the degree to which we conform to national norms. We keep assuming that our males will differ from the norm because they choose to attend a largely female college. As it turns out, more it may be that more males fail to attend female-dominated colleges simply because they had not thought of it, in time!

For instance, we recently found that our numbers were identical to those of a national survey on rape and sexual harrassment, even though the common view was that our numbers would be "better" than average.

I find little to disagree with on this post, but I might add a couple of observations. First, there may be an observer bias at work, meaning, if we are looking for "slackers," we will spend more time looking where we think we will see them, and less time looking where we think we will not.

The result of such a bias would be to feel confirmed by each observation of male "slacking," while at the same time remaining ignorant of multiple instances of female slacking.

At my college, this cannot (or should not) happen. My experience is that I have equal proportions of male and female slackers, late-submitters of homework, violaters of academic integrity, and sufferers of deceased grandparent syndrome.

Another observation: We conducted a study on campus a few years ago, and found that females were not very realistic regarding their goals. They planned on obtaining a Master’s, earning singly what their parents had earned together, being effective at-home moms, having children while they pursued their advanced degrees., and engaging in significant service to their communities.

What actually happens is something different. Many of our graduates become teachers in an Education program where grade inflation finds a comfortable home. They return to a graduate program in Education where grade inflation is raised to an art, then they teach in a mediocre fashion, while they blame their students problems on parents who don’t care.

As Kate observed, there is no where for women to go but through college and the work force. Is that, however, less true for men? Is it any more, or less, unfortunate a fact of life for women than it is for men?

I would submit that both young men and young women have been offered a fantasy, that they can easily and naturally obtain the "good life" that their parents have provided. As they age, and gradually enter the adult world, they very gradually begin to understand (a) how hard their parents actually had to work to give them their PS II and their cell phones, and (2) how little chance they actually have in this economy of achieving the same without cheating or winning the lotto. And so, they engage in behaviors that are more immediately and more effectively reinforced. Play, cheat, slack, fantasize.

Tom Tom, let the teachers have real authority in the classroom, and things can improve a lot, even without other reforms. Too many teachers these days are bascially forced to put up with regular crap from the minority of kids who ruin it for everyone. "Discipline reform" should be the mantra of conservatives regarding education just as much, if not more, than "vouchers." Reform the law codes, and let schools and districts kick out the 20-plus referral cases OUT. For GOOD--"sorry, son, no more citizen-funded education for you." And yes, as someone who knows, your "drones" comment is keenly resented, and you likely haven’t a CLUE just how "necessary" most teachers are driven to regard their unions, and how useless it is for conservatives to act as if union-activity per se, and not the particular unions we have, is the problem.

End of ex-secondary teacher rant. Terrence Moore’s articles in the Claremont Review explained this issue of present-day male indifference as well as anything I’ve seen since, although it remains something of a mystery, and Moore’s answers can’t be the whole story. But they are answers. The main article is "Wimps and Barabarians", from there you can link to the one which concentrates on modern females and their necessary role in reforming males, "Heather’s Compromise." Don’t miss out.

There is, I believe, in the heart of young men a sense of the "rightness" of honor, integrity, civility and courage. It is an inherent quality of manhood, though no longer fostered or encouraged by today’s families or schools.

Do you remember the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Suddenly there was this groundswell of deep respect and admiration, even by liberals, for the qualities exhibited by the fireman and soldiers -- dedication, honor, sacrifice. It didn’t last long ... by 2004 John Kerry’s "metrosexual" nonsense was being touted as the model of maleness.

But the need lives on in men, which is why the Marines have little trouble filling their ranks. Their advertisement, "The few, the proud, the Marines," strikes directly at the theme many men harbor in their hearts.

A few years ago, there was a show on TV that chronicled the life of a Marine recruitment class as they went through their 13 weeks of basic training. They arrived the sloppy, unmotivated boys mentioned by Joe in his post. The program showed how over those 13 weeks the Marines instilled in the recruits a sense of honor, integrity, and sacrifice. Upon graduation, the drill sergeant went down the line telling the recruits, "Today you are a marine." Tears streamed down the faces of the recruits, as they stood at attention and knew that finally they knew what it meant to be a man.

20-plus is too indulgent. Make it 7 referrals, and you’re transferred to another school, 13, and bye-bye, GED for you.

This may seem harsh, but those who know the situtation in the public schools know I’m right.

Not everyone deserves to go to college. We need to change the focus from educating to the lowest common denominator to promoting the top 10-15% of our 7-12 students to go to college. As for the rest? Devry or the like will give them the basic training to create software (to improve upon the idiotic games of today) or practice another trade. Imagine more of our teenagers not thinking that they are too good to become a carpenter, mason, or landscaper. Might have an impact on the illegal immigration issue as well.

I would submit that both young men and young women have been offered a fantasy, that they can easily and naturally obtain the "good life" that their parents have provided.

Fung, you’ve gone and done it again! Another post with which I agree--at least in significant parts. I part company with you where you state that they have "little chance" of "achieving the same [as their parents] in this economy." (But that’s another story.) You are SO RIGHT however in suggesting that young people (including this person at one time) thought that the "good life" could be obtained easily. And I should have known better (and upon the slap with reality and much reflection, I did) because my parents came by what they have the VERY HARD way. On the other hand, they did it. And I see no reason why I and my children can’t--with the same perserverance and industry--achieve the same. The tricky part is disabusing oneself of the idea that "college degrees will get you more money." They don’t. But then, I sort of knew that when I decided to major in politics and history!

College degrees are nothing if there is no education or character to back them up. Everything is still on you. You have to have learned something worthwhile. You have to have the fortitude to stick to a thing and the imagination to find the right thing. There are no short cuts in this life but--thank God--there are no real limits on our possibilities in this country other than the ones we put on ourselves. We can complain all day about the "economy" or "government regulations" or whatever real or imagined impediment you want to come up with from the Left or the Right. The bottom line is this: if you’re good enough there will always be a place for you or you can make one for yourself. Your job is to make yourself good enough and to hell with the rest of it.

And that kind of talk is the real thing that’s missing from our schools. Finally, I have to say that I admire the heck out of EvilDave and find much to recommend in his comments. But I think he would have loved, as much as I did, an education in the Ashbrook program--even if it did cost him $100K. It was worth far more to me. Could I have done that on my own? Churchill did it, but I doubt I could have done it without the guidance of better students (i.e., teachers) than myself.

In line with Fung’s very sensible comments, might I suggest that it’s more difficult for male faculty to identify female slackers than males? I’ve noticed that the female students who underperform often try to charm their male professors into overlooking that fact. If that doesn’t work, some of them cry. Most males realize that they can’t pull this off, so their slacking seems more obvious.

Touche John! And I have to say that that does not work with female professors--as it did not with me. I probably had an equal number of male and female slackers. But I had an infinitely higher number of female whiners when I was teaching. The males, at least, had the dignity to stick to their "devil may care" attitude and did not seem to care what I thought of them either. The girls still wanted me to think well of them even as they weasled out of assignments and due dates.

"’ve noticed that the female students who underperform often try to charm their male professors into overlooking that fact."

"The males, at least, had the dignity to stick to their "devil may care" attitude and did not seem to care what I thought of them either."

I have had very similar experiences. Perhaps this also contributes to the observation of gender differences in slacking. At least the females appear to care more about the consequences. Not about taking personal responsibility, but at least about making the extra effort to manipulate faculty.

Our wonderings suggest an interesting 2 X 2 study design: Whining differences by gender of student and gender of faculty!

Very few 18 year olds know what careers they want to get into. Some, mostly boys, I think, want to make what they think of, at the time, as a ton of money, buy fancy things and impress people. They can do allot with a grand a month take home. Never mind the fact that they won’t be making much more than that 20 years from now, they can go to college and get something better later.... Or not.

Others, of both genders, go to college to try to find themselves, stumble around taking courses that sound good, finding out they don’t like them and doing the bare minimum to get by. Some of those find subjects they really enjoy and excel in. They continue to do the bare minimum in required courses they don’t like.

Others, a very few perhaps, know exactly what they want out of college, a specific degree. They do the bare minimum necessary to get what they want.

Some others are simply so well disciplined and so sharp that they excel in everything.

Then there are the ones who go to college for the sheer joy of learning. I’m trying to remember what they call those types of students....Oh, yeah. Professors.

kind of reminds me of the "Friends" episode in which Professor Geller is about to flunk a male slacker student who responds; "Dude, you can’t. I’m in love you." I would have to say that situation would be very awkward to say the least. From a high school teacher’s perspective it would be interesting to compare my slackers to those found at the collegiate level.

The trades, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, housepainters, landscapers; these are all jobs that men can do more efficiently than women can. The competitive advantage to men in these jobs does not bar women from them, but does make them less appealing as employment to women. I know many small businessmen without college degrees who make a very good living at these things. Those who do best are the ones who begin by doing the work themselves and then expand the business until they are working in a managerial capacity. They did not need business degrees, to succeed in business. But you can not be a slacker and make a living doing these things. As Julie says, character makes all the difference.

Interestingly, many of the men I know who begin doing such things as vocation, have intellectual pursuits as avocations. Amateur astronomers(who will invest in the latest telescopic equipment), historians (do not forget the re-enactors who can tell you about their favorite war in staggering detail), botanists, inventors and look at the blog world; political scientists and even authors. These men and even women studying for the sheer joy of learning. Oh, even as college professors do.

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Liberal, opinionated, intolerant instructors tend to produce wimpy, diffident, clueless students.

As long as faculty is dominated by this type of instructor, you will have vapid, unmotivated graduates.

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