Henry* was one of six third grade boys in my minivan on the field trip. He was loud and wiggly like the rest of them, and I don't think he stopped talking during the twenty minute drive to the open space preserve. When we arrived and were divided into groups, Henry and I were together. He was still chattering a non-stop narrative on the names of the trees, their history, the buckeyes, what the native-American's used them for, and anything else that popped into his head. He was exhausting to listen to, but I was impressed at the accuracy and detail of the information he had memorized Each time the nature docent asked a question, Henry's hand shot up at the same time he shouted out an answer, which was usually right. The other kids were obviously used to him, and obviously annoyed, and the docent glanced around looking for someone to run interference. Henry noticed nothing. I moved over to Henry and put an arm around his shoulder (since my boys -- and my husband -- hear better when someone is touching them) and whispered, "Let's wait until he calls on you next time." Henry stiffened initially, but then relaxed and started bouncing slightly from one foot to another.
As we started to move off onto our hike, Henry's teacher trotted up behind me. "I'm so sorry I left you alone with him," she said. "His meds kick in around 10:00. The difference is amazing." She was right. Henry began the hike as an exuberant chatterbox, monopolizing the docent and talking over other kids, but as we moved along, he slowed down. His steps were shorter, he stopped swinging his arms, and he struggled to find the right words for what he was trying to say. Eventually, he stopped talking and sat down on a log. "Henry," his teacher said, "We're almost back to the Ohlone huts. You'll like this part. We'll have a snack when we get there."
Henry shook his head as if he was trying to wake himself. "I'm not hungry," he mumbled, but obediently got up and shuffled along side us. It was a completely different Henry, subdued, obedient, and creepy. Instead of his restless, manic engagement, he seemed foggy and detached. He stared vacantly around, paying little attention to the docent. On the ride home, he made a few comments, but mostly he looked out the window. It was tragic to watch the drug seep into his system and stupefy him.
Don't get me wrong, I love medication. I love every gram of fentanyl they shot into my arm while I was in labor. For the three years I was pregnant or nursing, I had a huge crush on the anesthesiologist who gave me my epidurals. If I had known how fabulous I felt on demerol, I might have sought out more illicit stuff when I was in my teens or twenties. But, medicating a child because his behavior is inconvenient is like pushing Rosa Parks off the bus. When my son Skyler (seen in the pictures above) was in third grade, his teacher wanted him to use a typing machine at his desk because his writing was messy. In other words, he didn't want to correct or decipher Skyler's writing, he wanted to circumvent the hassle of having to deal with it.
Boys are hassles. They are. They are stout-hearted, chest-beating, loyal, sensitive, rowdy, little cavemen and we are failing them. School is for girls. There are few, if any male teachers or role models, and those we do have are subject to unfounded scrutiny and suspicion. Academic assessment is not based on multi-modal learning styles. There are too many rules at recess and no real consequences. (Pick up trash, clean the desks, stack books -- make them DO something useful -- they love to feel useful.)
Everything boys do naturally can qualify as assault or harassment. They are SUPPOSED to wrestle, pester, brag, shout, climb, run, and throw things. It feeds their soul. Forcing them to do seat work at school, parking them in front of screens at home, overscheduling them with organized activities, micromanaging their social life, refusing to give them any freedom, and pumping them full of drugs to keep them docile sucks the life out of them. Should we wonder that so many of them are unmotivated and depressed?
Leonard Sax has some ideas in Boys Adrift. I don't know what the solution is, but I'm quite certain we cannot continue at status quo and have our boys grow into the kind of men they could be. Sometimes I think they're all born too late. A hundred years ago, they would make themselves a sling shot and a fishing pole and head out to the back forty once they'd finished their chores. Idealistic, I'm sure, but it sounds good when I'm explaining to the school secretary that I don't think rolling a pen across the floor during silent reading warrants a phone call home.
*Of course I changed his name!