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'90s FAMILY : Boy Trouble : Low self-esteem. Bias. Emotional problems. Sounds like the obstacles girls face in the classroom, right? Well, some experts say it's the young men who are losing out.

November 23, 1994|KRISTINA SAUERWEIN

Ken, 17, believed he had no choice but to belch loudly during a "mushy" classroom discussion on betrayed love, as depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter."

"I had to do something 'cause I was starting to freak," said Ken, remembering the "dumb day" last year in an English class at a Westside high school. "All that talk about love and feelings and commitment makes me feel weird, like I'm talking about something private. . . . That's why I feel like I had to interrupt."

Despite the teacher's public reprimand, detention and ultimately a bad grade, Ken said the burp was worth it. "School don't do me much good anyway."

Ken's attitude worries some educators, counselors and academics, who believe it illustrates the sorry state of boys in the classroom. Neglect and unfair treatment, they say, damage the education of boys in elementary and secondary schools in California and nationwide.

Two reports, released by the American Assn. of University Women in 1991 and 1992, have produced countless discussions and media stories about classroom bias against female students and the plummeting of teen-age girls' self-esteem.

And while few will completely dismiss girls' struggles, a handful of experts and forthcoming books argue that in recent years, girls have received too much attention and boys not enough.

"Boys are believed to have the educational opportunities" at the expense of girls, said Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education and a senior research scholar at New York University. "But many boys--boys of all (ethnic and economic) backgrounds--are angry and in trouble. Not many have connected this to the facts."

Facts, according to Ravitch and the U.S. Department of Education, such as: more adult men than women lack a high school diploma; young men have lower educational aspirations; boys consistently earn lower report card grades; they get in more trouble at school.

Young men also bring into the classroom emotional problems from outside the school fences, stemming from being what some have called "an endangered species."

Recent U.S. Department of Justice figures, for example, reveal that high school boys are four times more likely than girls to be murdered; they are more prone to abuse alcohol or drugs; boys 12 to 15 run double the risk faced by girls of becoming victims of a violent crime, and 82% of the nation's incarcerated youths 18 and under are male--a percentage that increases to an estimated 95% for adult men.

"Obviously, this hurts boys' academic performance and chance for success in life," said Thomas Glennon, a psychologist in Studio City and a consultant for a North Hollywood center for troubled youths. "I see many boys who have such a low self-esteem and tremendous amounts of anger. A lot can't handle life."

Statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that male California youths, ages 15 to 24, are four times more likely to commit suicide than girls in the same age group. But teen-age girls unsuccessfully attempt suicide about as often as teen-age boys, CDC epidemiologist Robin Ikeda said.

"Boys have everything stacked against them," said Lawrence Beymer, a counseling professor at Indiana State University and author of "Meeting the Guidance and Counseling Needs of Boys," published by the American Counseling Assn. in September. "The schools don't seem to notice. Everyone always seems to talk about the poor little girls with low self-esteem. Well that's screwy."

What's even more discouraging, said Larry Schryver, is that most people acknowledge boys' problems only when they are tied to their ethnicity, such as the high homicide rate among young African American men. Schryver is director of Camp Afflerbaugh, a Los Angeles County probation facility in La Verne, which houses about 115 male juvenile offenders between the ages of 16 and 18.

"People tend to view boys' problems as something that can be solved only with punishment. With girls, there's a feeling that they can be rehabilitated," said Schryver, pointing out that boys occupy 17 of the county's 18 probation centers. "This gives boys the idea that they don't matter, that they don't exist."

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Ian McCann, 15, said he feels confident about his personality and academic abilities. But the Fullerton High School student added: "Many of the guys I see (in classes) seem unmotivated, especially in English. They're usually timid and unsure of themselves. But the girls I see are very confident and very much able to succeed."

In Woodbridge, Va., a scheduling quirk placed only boys in Jean Ellerbe's ninth-grade English class last year. "At first, it was a mess," she said. "They were at-risk students who had reading difficulties and they looked like the type of boys who got in trouble."

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