Trying to Be Masculine

Currently, our society does not help raise men, it raises boys and lets the rest happen to chance.

This is because, I think, as old paradigms of masculinity were taken apart to make room for female empowerment, nothing was put back together to take their place.  Essentially, a vacuum of masculinity was left.  Yet, there has not been nearly as much effort put into filling that gap in society as has been simply letting boys remain boys.  There was no level of expectation to meet anymore and we, as a society, need to bring that back for males.

One way to do that, which appeals to me, is to bring back the concept of honor.  What if we could actually be ashamed of ourselves for our actions instead of simply being able to brush it off as “natural” or “I couldn’t control myself”? How would that change things if one could be shamed for failing at getting to a certain level of character?

“Стыд и позор” was a phrase used by my Russian teacher at times if we did poorly in class (not in making mistakes but in not trying to be better); it means “shame and disgrace.” At the time, honestly, those words meant nothing to me.  Not because they were in Russian but, because I never had learned what pride and grace were.  It meant that I could not understand the opposites of shame and disgrace either.

Why in the world would we want to bring something so archaic like honor back though?  Well, for one, rebuilding a masculine ideal to be achieved would greatly help self-esteem of boys and men; having an ideal which can be aimed at, some sort of goal, especially an ideal which knows how/when to ask for help.  Think of how many male suicides that may help to prevent.

Next, having a sense of honor for males that requires proper participation in society, has high expectations for how to act and has certain expectations that are beneficial to society (performing acts of service, for example) could potentially help to improve our community life.

Finally, one of the most interesting things that I have noticed is that some of the most empowered and strong women I have met find some of the most traditional male traits attractive: assertiveness being the one I note mostly (due to my lack thereof).  But also, a certain level of fitness, confidence, goal orientation etc.  They do not seem to find any problem with having their own goals and having a slightly more typical “masculine” partner, why do we not try to raise men of that sort?  Those that also support equality but also can be confident in themselves too?

 

 

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Teaching To Excellence

I had been thinking about such a topic before but, conveniently, there is an article tapping into a similar idea (at points) here.

Ignore the gender gap bit, that is a different conversation.  Instead, focus on this paragraph:

SMPY and numerous other studies have provided large-sample evidence that appropriate acceleration benefits the vast majority of gifted children. In a comparison of grade-skipping students with a control group of equally smart students who stayed with their age groups, the grade-skippers were more than twice as likely to earn a Ph.D. in science, math, or engineering, and had more patents and publications at mid-career. Even modest interventions, such as access to Advanced Placement courses or self-paced instruction, give students demonstrable advantages that continue through college and into the workplace. Conversely, exceptionally gifted students who remain with their age peers typically underachieve and experience negative effects on motivation, self-esteem, and anxiety.

“…exceptionally gifted students who remain with their age peers typically underachieve and experience negative effects on motivation, self-esteem, and anxiety.” Yet, we continue to make these gifted students sit in these classes that they can sleep through and still pass with flying colors.  Meaning that they lose motivation and disengage while waiting for those who are not as gifted to come along.

What sort of situation does this put the teachers in too?  How does one teach to a class of 20-30 students of a similar age group but with say, a 5 year difference in abilities?  They can either spend time on the higher end and keep going or, in order to make sure standardized test scores are met, spend all of their time on the lower end while receiving pressure from those doing better.  I had to do this for a single sort of project with only 7 students and I was stressed out by it, doing something like that day in and day out for years sounds impossible.

So, what if we did bring “grade-skipping” back or, started separating classes into different levels by ability and NOT by age solely?  Sure, sounds like we are becoming elitist but, is it really elitist to simply try to make sure everyone can achieve their best at their best level?  Instead of relying on huge amounts of statistics that say “generally, a student at age 10 can do x,” and operating off of that assumption only, what if we started to use the “local data” of the individual student and adjusting accordingly so that they can be taught to the level of excellence that they are capable of handling.

Also, think about how much better every student would be able to do surrounded by peers at their own level and who they can connect with and with a teacher who can devote the time required to help them.  Next, how about the potential of building an “advancement” type of carrot system too into education, instead of moving forward inevitably happening simply due to the passing of time, a reward system of achievement could be built in.  Something like Boy Scouts, only by reaching a certain level do doors open  up which can let the boy do some of the cooler stuff, that may help inspire some students (especially in a much more supportive classroom environment) to reach further than they usually would and achieve more than they seem capable of.

The other side of this would be to not hold those “higher achievers” up so much.  Separating by ability not by physical age would then mean that these higher achievers end up being “average” by the standards they are surrounded in, probably a humbling experience for them and helpful because that means that instead of constantly being held in the limelight and receiving all of the awards those in other groups will not feel so disconnected so, separate from those.  This would also end up working against the culture of “everyone receives a trophy.”

I typically hear complaints about that sort of idea how everyone gets an award for participating instead of actually receiving awards for excellence and capability.  Separating out by abilities can help to limit that and promote healthy competition between competitors who are actually equal.  Those who would always receive recognition would be put into a cohort of similar people and not constantly receive recognition when compared to others of a similar level, while those who would suffer low self-esteem due to no recognition might actually achieve a level of recognition since they are also with a group similar to themselves and be able to outshine them in some aspect.  But, since they are being compared to a similar group those peers can feel like they might make it some day too because they identify with the recognized individual.

In short, what if we taught to the highest abilities of all students instead of only the lowest common denominator?  Teaching towards excellence for everyone with high expectations at their level instead of teaching towards everyone getting above a minimum hurdle.  Set the bar high enough to be met but outside of comfort zone, I bet all students would start doing better.

Small Town Talent

Small towns are generally trying to figure out how to get and keep leadership, promote entrepreneurship, innovation, etc.   Yet, all their “talent” leaves town and never really comes back to stay.  No one really seems to ask why though, they just simply sit and wait for some new people to come by then pass the buck onto them, whoever they may be.  Those of us in that position get frustrated and, well, leave too. Why?

Perhaps one thing for people in these small towns to consider is how (un)reliable they are; this even extends into life in university for those who leave but then come back.  I say this regarding three entirely separate cases of small, rural towns that I have had to deal with and one consistent problem in all of them: communication.  More specifically, the lack thereof.

For example: trying to contact one single individual through email, text messages and phone calls and still never getting any response after several days; this sort of culture is the antithesis to accomplishing anything or trying to make improvements which then limits these small towns, leads to frustration and moving away.

Another example: many times, when trying to put on an event of any sort, there is complaints of not many people coming or only the same people coming.  One thing one never really sees online in any format or physically throughout the town is advertisements for different things.  How is a newcomer or someone outside of the usual circle to know that there is a benefit dinner happening this Friday if it is not actually announced?  I must say, it is pretty amazing how many people turn out for something if signs are put up everywhere a month in advance of the event, in my experience anyway.  Also, the internet is a thing; small towns could leverage that a lot more than they generally do.

Next, some personal responsibility would help a lot.  I mean this on an individual basis and a societal one for these small towns.  Instead of simply complaining about how “the state/federal government does not send us any money to do x.” Try using the internet to find some grants for the project or, as is the case for older farming communities, recognize that money you are sitting on will not follow you to the grave and maybe spend some of it.  In a less offensive word: recognize that in order to get something out of an investment, you usually have to put something into it too.  Spend some time working on making the community a place you want to live, it will probably help convince other people to live there too.  Also, maybe, just maybe, release some farm land for a new farmer to buy and use, perhaps consider that the world has changed even if it is not easily visible in these towns, it has.  People want different things in life now and have different expectations and different types of jobs: figure out how to welcome those types of things and people may follow.  Responsibility, if cultivated and supported for all citizens in the town would help, in all of these small towns there is a small cadre of movers-and-shakers who are, essentially, trying to drag the rest of the several hundreds or thousands along.  That much effort for so few gains leads to burn-out, but, many hands makes light work, if you would take responsibility for your own community and for answering your phone and then carrying out whatever task you agree to, these small towns could make leaps and bounds.

These are just two of the major areas I have seen in my experience of small towns, it has been two of my own personal issues too partially stemming from growing up in such an environment.  If small town leadership and small town individuals would start working on trying to improve these two spots, I think it would greatly improve their ability to get/keep younger people who are able to start changes and actually improving the region(s) they are in.  But, this would take a level of commitment to self-improvement across individuals and the town; something not generally supported anymore in these areas.

Asking the Right Questions

That idea, asking the right questions, needs to become a research topic for social sciences/business/government/anything that uses statistics (meaning: everything).

As an example, I am working with an organization that is attached to a national level organization.  The national level has a survey for the individual organizations to fill out which asks about various aspects of the organization.  Filling out this little survey though gives the specific organization I am a part of a pretty bad grade though because this survey fails to ask whether the organization has it’s own building, where the organization is geographically in reference to military and/or minority groups.  Pretty important things that will not be taken into account when filing the paperwork I am sure.

Take a look at grant reports for development work world-wide too;  they bring to mind a phrase I heard once, “Development projects never fail.” None of the grants will ever report a failure although, if you return to those project sites maybe a year later, it will be awfully difficult to find a success.  Take a closer look at the reports though and the things they ask for are “how many individuals are taught x?”; “how many x were built?”; “how much money was made through x-technique?” All factors in a successful development project but certainly not the final factors and, I suspect, not even the most important factors.

This was the strength of journalism: helping show the details lost in the statistics; but, we all know where that discussion goes at the moment.

So, if these questions are unfair, asking the wrong questions or not actually help improve what is going on, it would seem that we need to learn how ask questions properly.  What these questions are, I am not sure yet.  I will state that the questions are not nearly as easy to ask or measure though looks like we might have to step back from our love affair with numbers or, at least, recognize that they are representations of a much more complicated world.  Maybe the first question to ask, what is the specific situation of x in comparison to other places we are measuring?

Growing Up A Boy

What if our society worked to raise men, instead of just boys?

What if boys were also given truly positive role models for what to try to become and were allowed to be boys?

Coming from a position of the generally “nice guy,” you know, the one that finishes last all the time, I know having to sort all of this out relatively alone and without any reference sucks.

Where I am right now highly esteems sports across the board so I will be referencing that since I am somewhat lazy like that.  Imagine being a boy in such a world that focuses on sports of all sorts for males: football, basketball, baseball, hockey.  All the while going through a school system that ends up having “introduce a girl to engineering,” “women in STEM,” etc. (interestingly no one does a “introduce a boy to art/dance/reading” the more female dominated side) programming, girls being the leaders of various organizations because of wanting to empower them/they can do it since the boys are too busy being preened for sports.  All of this, it would seem, begins to tell the boy(s) that they are not really useful for anything except for sports and/or playing video games.

Then, look at our sports figures and video games; I challenge you to find positive role models.  Mix this with being in a single-parent home for a good portion of boys: I foresee some issues in the future especially if the boy does not fit the mold of being a good all-around athlete.  That would leave video games as the main place to learn about things which, I think, most everyone generally agrees probably is not the best place to go.  Where else do they have though?  Boy Scouts is losing membership, (2014 annual report claims 885,000 boys 11-17, 2015 claims 840,654 while back in 1997 there was over 1 million ) and, well, there is no other program specifically targeted at boys that I can think of or really find from a brief online search.  There are combined programs yes but, I am willing to bet that those programs are going to generally be led and geared towards girls still.  Yet, there seems to be some confusion as to why boys are not growing up, participating in society and in general, not seeming to be adjusting well.  Perhaps teaching to the whole boy just like we try to teach to the whole girl could be beneficial?

 

Reading Questions

I am currently reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, one of the more important political/economic treatises since World War II I think.  (It is certainly up there if not that high.)  In the book, Mr. Hayek is arguing against socialism of the era in the form of an entirely or mostly planned economy which he saw coming to power in England and already holding power in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia.

Essentially, planned economies take away individual liberty according to his argument.  I am not here to analyze that part though. Instead, what if we are going towards a planned economy regardless of our politics through something that Hayek may not have foreseen?  The new thing is technology and this advent of big data and wearable technology etc.  We are slowly gaining the ability to get data on practically every moment of our days.  I do not think that Hayek foresaw such an occurrence while writing and I wonder what he would have to say.

In short: are we building ourselves into a planned society without even intending it?

Regardless of what we do economically/politically, technology is becoming wearable, mobile and ubiquitous.  Ubiquitous technology generally tends towards ubiquitous data as can be seen with our “Big Data” issue coming up and as the smart city movement gains momentum towards measuring everything.

The problem with all of this is it is data from measurable things only, technology cannot make value judgments it can only take in what it is told to take in and focus on that information in whatever measurable way it is told.  There are severe limitations in that.  This ability to change values was one of the strengths of money, an individual could use their money in ways that aligned with their individual values (thanks, Hayek!),  instead of being limited to what was deemed “worthy” money could be used in multiple different ways by different individuals because the money earned did not already have a value judgment built into it and was not limited in measuring like data is when it is being gathered. Technology and data, instead can only focus on view things and generally that information is used to increase “efficiency.”  So, the information gathered, especially in reference to time, can generally be used to increase productivity but it becomes harder to use it in other ways.

So, in essence, technology measures productivity and nothing else.

The problem is, as humans, sometimes the lack of productivity is the most productive thing to do.  Meditation as a contemporary example, the day of rest as a biblical one, sleep as a fact of life one. Also, productivity, as we all know is NOT necessarily quality.  Producing millions of cheap plastic chairs may be producing “more” in a measurable way but it is not the same as a craftsman finding wood, carving it and putting it together into a rocking chair on their own.  Money helps us show that difference through the different price tags I believe.  But, our data, as compared to time, would still probably find it more “efficient” to produce the plastic chairs instead and that would lead to a higher profit margin.  I would argue that, as technology becomes more ubiquitous, these sorts of value judgments are going to end up happening without us necessarily realizing it.  Meaning we could end up with a planned society based on efficiency without ever actually intending it.  Especially as we slowly let our human ability to decide value languish thanks to those decisions being made outside of ourselves.

I simply wonder, what does Hayek have to say in response to this?