my 11yo participated in a “completion” ceremony at his elementary school. I say this to the school’s credit, because there was no mention of graduation anywhere. There was no circumstance, and only a few ounces of pomp. Just a gymatorium lined with folding chairs, certificates printed on mid-grade card stock, and a maudlin slide show with a Phil Collins-saturated soundtrack.

Oh, yes. And speeches.

The principal said some things, some alumni said some more things, the teachers rephrased those previous things, and six students came up one by one to say things in a disarmingly precocious way.

I love the idea of inviting members of the grade to write a brief speech and then deliver it in front of a large crowd. Public speaking is an important skill that builds organized thought and feeds self-esteem, and anyone allowed to do so, especially at this young age, gets a strong leg up toward understanding how crucial it is to be able to present ideas cogently before an audience.

The thing is, they chose six kids to speak from the 53 in the class. And all six were girls.

I mentioned this to my son’s teacher, and she sheepishly replied that the boys’ speeches were all a little “scattered.” (At first I thought she said “scatological,” which made all kinds of sense.) But then I had to fight hard to keep it together when the large annoyance balloon burst in my head.

First of all, so what? I mean, I get that these speeches serve as marketing to the parents that “Look what a great job we did educating your kids!” But does every one of them have to read like Churchill during the blitz? Will the Earth wobble off its axis if a fifth-grader’s 200 words don’t have a taut throughline?

And even if most of the boys’ essays were lacking, was it too much trouble to sit down with a couple of the more promising authors and work with them to craft speeches that were more presentable? Are we teaching our kids, or merely evaluating them?

I’m surprised to realize how ticked off I still am about this, over a week after the fact. I think it sent a crappy message to the boys that they don’t measure up, and it’s put me on my guard to look for warning signs that either of my sons is becoming educationally discouraged.

Boys are having a hard enough time keeping up in an educational system that is failing them. Many of them don’t even have a male teacher until they’re teenagers. They’re learning that education is the girls’ thing, along with responsibility, nurturing, and other characteristics of adulthood, while males are more aligned with wreaking havoc and creating messes that the girls will clean up.

I’m not saying that stereotype isn’t true. But we’re doing everything we can to perpetuate it, and if we want it to stop, and help mold better men and better dads, where better to shift the perception than when the kids’ brains are young and squishy?


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