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Snips, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails

What are little boys made of? Snips, and snails, and puppy dog tails. That’s what little boys are made of.

Recently an article came over my Facebook feed from a fellow homeschooling mother. (You can find it here.) It was a mock poem from a little boy begging his teachers to let him keep his recess because he was jittery enough in class and had a hard time focusing. Needless to say, this boy was one that had been diagnosed with ADHD.

He is, sadly, one of thousands. And the number of boys medicated into “submission” is growing by the day.

It is another blight on our public school system that no one talks about nor do they truly wish to fix. The result – we are losing generations of not only boys, but young men. And we wonder why they play video games in their 30s, don’t get jobs, nor do they marry.

A lot of this problem is because of a rupture between our modern world (I mean 1965ish and backward) and the thousands of years before that to the beginning of time. Our grandparents back and beyond would be shocked senseless at the pressure placed on boys today to sit still and listen for hours on end. The idea would have been ridiculous to them and considered, frankly, a form of child abuse.

By their nature, boys are busier than girls. Their energy level is not only higher for longer periods of time, but they are more physical with that energy in a way that girls are not. They are harder on themselves physically, they do things that elicit small amounts of pain but label their perseverance as manly, they wrestle each other, the family dog, and even the fence post. They are wired for competition, and they push themselves to excel physically today beyond what they did yesterday or even a moment ago. Because of their energy level and their need to subdue the world around him, boys roamed the woods, worked on the farm with the animals, practiced shooting rifles and bows and arrows, worked the crops in the fields, and fished in the streams. More recently they climbed trees, built treehouses out of scrap lumber, fought pirates in cardboard ships, and played ball with the neighborhood kids in the empty lot down the street.

And the whole time they are conquering the world around them, their minds are wandering, planning, pondering. Want to get a boy, even a teen, to talk to you? To think through a problem? Shoot hoops with him. Shove a walking stick in his hand, a dog’s leash in the other, and go for a walk. Don’t try to sit him on the couch in his fuzzy pajamas, a cup of cocoa between you, and try to chat. Boys think best while they are doing, and most cannot even think straight or clear when they are forced to sit still unless they have tired their bodies so they can focus their minds. That’s why, in a classroom, the pencils tap the desk and the feet slide along the floor.

All of this physical activity while working and playing was, of course, preparing them for manhood. After all, until fairly recently, men were hunters and gatherers. They needed to stalk the elk, deer, or buffalo. They entered into a competition with nature for the survival of their families. They had to work hours in the field tilling and harvesting the crops, or endure the heat of the forge if they were a blacksmith, or ride for hours in a saddle roping cattle.

Many grew up and went to war, and the foes they fought changed.

To our destruction and theirs, the world today tries to pigeonhole boys into a sort of modern day box that says they have to sit still for hours every day and listen to someone else talk about stuff that is not really interesting and that they will forget the next day. And when they cannot do it, what do we do? We don’t provide them with meaningful outdoor exercises or excursions to tire their bodies. We don’t schedule more recess during the day. We don’t shorten the school day so they can have more outdoor play time.

No, we medicate them into being quiet and still.

The travesty is that so many of these boys do not have ADHD. They are just being boys as they were meant to be, and they have become victims of a school system run largely by women who would prefer to teach girls because, to put it bluntly, and honestly, girls are easier to teach.

I was there. I know.

Generations before us understood the calling of a man to protect and provide for his family, so they allowed their boys their rough and tumble pursuits in order to prepare them for the physically demanding work of leading and tending families. And sure, today most boys are not going to grow up and hunt to put meat on the table, nor fight Indians, nor work in the fields. But many men still work at physically exacting jobs, and even those who do not have to learn to harness all that energy into a desk job. A boy cannot learn to harness anything while medicated. That is something that takes time and patience, and lots of physically exhausting play.

It is a common mantra among college educated, working females that they cannot find suitable marriage partners. They complain the men have no drive nor desire for responsibility. They play video games all day even as they age through their 20s and 30s. The raw truth, which is not being faced by schools or society, is that boys who are medicated into being good are going to grow up with severe self-esteem issues. And these boys are not only NOT going to go to college, they are not going to seek marriages, especially with driven, college-educated females.

I will close with a story. When I first started teaching twenty five years go (that dates me, and I haven’t taught in public schools in 18 years), an older teacher told me that when she first taught school years before and the boys would get antsy, the teachers would point to the back door (in those days schools had been built in the 50s and had two doors that opened into a walkway on each side of the building) and tell the boys See that oak tree way over there? The boys would squint their eyes and point and say Yes mam (because a boy can still be respectful even with pent up energy). The teacher would then say Run to it, around it, and back to here. And the boys would smile wide and take off. By the time they came back (because that oak was a pasture length from the school) they were ready to sit still and listen again. This was in addition to two recesses a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Now, some schools do not have recess at all, and physical education class is not recess. It is controlled play that is graded by the teacher.

Of course, not all schools were located by pastures, nor did they have the ability to send their boys on quick runs. The story does, however, point to the fact that teachers, including women teachers, understood the need a boy had to run off his energy if he was going to listen and ultimately learn. As with so much of our modern world, this knowledge has been lost.

I am not sure how we will ever gain it back. I fear for our boys, and men, if we do not.


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