Wednesday, September 28, 2005
from boyhood to manhood

For a bookworm like me, part of the "fun" of grad school has been the exposure to a number of interesting books related to education, schools, and child development. The most recent book I read, "Reaching up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America" by Geoffrey Canada has some excellent observations:

I see my attitude as a teenager reflected in the behavior and values of many boys today. They are lost in a wilderness of half-truths and throwaway values that are embraced one day, when it is convenient, and discarded the next when they get in the way of what they want. Boys are being taught early that the only things that is important is to achieve success and that you can do so by any means you can get away with, even as they are being preached at to be moral and to play by the rules.

And when adults focus on boys, it's typically on the outside - how they look, what their grades are, and how well they play sports - not on the inside. No one is gauging whether an internal moral compass is pointing them in a direction that leads to morality, honesty, and enlightenment. Indeed, when you talk to boys about what they feel about themselves and about the world, you often hear statements that are nihilistic. Many see the world as comprised of a series of obstacles to overcome and opportunities to exploit; they see no sense of universal truths. And many of them have no faith.

It may be an oversimplification to say these young men have no faith. Many have faith in things: cars, computers, guns for some. But they don't have faith that things will turn out all right. The kind of faith that leads to hope even when there seems to be no empirical evidence to support being hopeful. This kind of faith is essential for all of us, and many boys lose it very early in life. To me there is nothing more frightening than to look into the eyes of a nine-year-old and see no sign of hope, to see that at that tender age they have given up...

Boys who are not connected with a formal faith institution like a church, synagogue, or mosque often miss out on another important concept these institutions bring into our lives - the concept of forgiveness. Boys need to be forgiven when they have done things that they know are wrong. Someone who matters has to say, "I know you did a bad thing, but you are not a bad person." We have to realize that some boys do bad things over and over...

Children are most at risk when parents themselves have given up hope. We therefore have to make sure that there are always other people in a boy's life who haven't given up on him - a family member, a teacher, or a mentor. I know from experience that if adults hang in there, boys often do change. This doesn't mean that we suddenly become pushovers, that we allow boys to escape unpunished or undisciplined after wrongful acts. It does mean that we always give them the message of salvation and forgiveness with our chastisements. It is important that even when we are at our wits' end we don't say things like "There's no hope for you" or "I can tell you'll never change." We need to say - and - this is what many faith leaders are good at saying to young people - "I know you can change..."


Besides its requirements for academia, much of reading Canada's "Reaching Up for Manhood" has been a sort of personal reflection for me about my own life in those hard years after my father died. I sympathize with much of Canada's writings about his experiences growing up in a single parent family, his father absent for most of his life and especially his adolescence. And the fact that Canada is also non-white male, an African American, adds an additional layer to his story whose experiences mirrored mine growing up Chinese and male in a society that relegates men of color to the lowest possible rungs.

It's a great read for anybody interested in working young men, especially kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. While most of the problems and issues presented are familiar to most people, Canada writes about them in a way that is both honest and intensely personal, since he often laces his commentary about them with stories from his own boyhood and adolescence.


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in?scrip?tion (n-skrip-shun)n.
1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
2. Something, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
3. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33

the facts.
name. Gar AKA "that Chinese guy" "Sleepy.McSleeping"
ethnicity/nationality. Chinese/American, 4th gen.
location. Sea-Town, WA, USA Kawanishi, JAPAN
occupation. less-cynical poor grad student
age. younger than you think, older than you know



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