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  • Kenton E. Biffert

Engaging Boys in Education II: Long-term Strategies.

Immediate engagement strategies are good, but poor engagement can be symptomatic of a deeper issue. It is this that I hope to address in this post, to wit, strategies that are long-term, take more of a commitment, reach deeper into the heart of a boy, and in the end produce greater results.

Here are some strategies that are tough and take time, but we are doing them with our boys are seeing results.

  1. Beauty for Beauty’s Sake

We have often heard the question asked, “Why do I have to learn this?” A fair question. We’ve been taught to answer the question with “Well, we go to school to be able to go to university so that we can make money so that we can buy lots of stuff.” Unfortunately, (or rather fortunately) this does not ring true with the heart of a boy. Stuff will never fulfill the abyss in the heart of a boy.

I suggest answer the following answer: We learn (this particular subject) because it is beautiful. Simple.

Every boy longs for beauty and desires it. We see this in man’s infatuation with God’s greatest creation: Woman. As parents, we need to form this boy’s heart to seek true beauty and to protect it. If we don’t do this, the boy may grow to be a man that wants to use beauty for his own pleasure, exploits beauty, and abuses it. The heart of boy is powerful and needs to be formed, so we begin with his education.

Not only do we need to respond that we learn (ie: math) because it is useful, but because there is an intrinsic beauty to it.

Here are a few strategies to help nurture this in your son:

  1. Point out beauty when you observe it – in nature, whilst driving, during sports &c.

  2. Engage your son in doing things for beauty’s sake. Eg: setting the table perfectly for the simple fact that it is more beautiful.

  3. Spend more time in nature and less in front of a screen.

  4. Have the men and boys in the family dress in a tie for Mass.

  5. Get rid of books that are an example of poor literature and read only books with beautiful language and illustrations.

  6. Attend a beautiful Mass at a beautiful cathedral on a regular basis.

  7. Have your son spend time regularly in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

  8. Learn an instrument.

The final result is that a boy will desire to learn for beauty’s sake. They’ll become self-motivated to learn simply because they recognize the beauty in it.

We’ve been doing this for 2 years now with our four boys. It is a joy to hear my sons point out flowers that are beautiful when we hike, or notice a sunset, or recognize beautiful literature.

The kicker with all of this is that all beauty comes from the Author of all beauty, who is Beauty itself: God. If a boy is taught to pursue beauty, to recognize true beauty, and to protect beauty, he will be led naturally to the Source of beauty.

2. Virtue Goal Setting

Every January, we sit down with the children and discuss the next virtue that they will be working on in their life. Together, we decide on a virtue and then together we work towards it.

For example: this year the boys and we decided on the virtue of perseverance. We talk about it, we read about it, we point it out, we point out when it lacks and we discipline in an effort to help them be successful in building the habit (the virtue) of perseverance in their lives.

How is this a strategy for engaging boys in education?

The foundation of engagement for a boy is self-discipline. Building virtues is key to self-discipline. Setting virtue goals is key to building them.

3. Rite of Passage

Every enduring culture in the world has had a rite of passage for a boy to become a man. Western culture does not.

A boy in Western culture believes he becomes a man at 18 years old, or when he gets drunk for the first time, or has intimate relations. This is because our culture provides him nothing to the contrary. Thus, us fathers need to develop a rite of passage for our sons or our neighbours sons (if need be).

For an example of a rite of passage see:

How does a rite of passage increase engagement in learning?

When a boy completes his rite, he leaves childhood behind and begins his journey of manhood. He is now becoming a man. The bar is raised. He is expected to take responsibility for his actions. His education is now his responsibility.

4. Male Role Models

We need to undo the popular media driven idea of masculinity:

  • Homer Simpson: men are idiots

  • Men drink a lot

  • James Bond: a man unable to ‘bond’ or commit to any relationship,

And replace them with two things:

  1. Stories of great men like Shackleton, St. John Bosco, St. Thomas Moore, St. Athanasius, St. Maximilian Kolbe and so forth. There is a great list of great men throughout history, with great virtue, that have sacrificed their lives for others in various ways. Know them, read them, emulate them.

  2. Actively recruit great men into your son’s life. What does this look like? We, spent 4 years in Austria at the International Theological Institute and came across great young men (and women) whom we decided must be a part of our children’s lives. So, we recruited them to teach a skill, to spend time with our boys weekly, and to join us weekly for a home cooked meal.

“Choose activities where your boy can interact with other men, where he can have opportunities to see how they live, relax, and serve their families and communities.” – Dr. Leonard Sax

I think it is obvious how this is a strategy for engaging boys in education.

5. Consider an All-Boys School

Dr. Leonard Sax reports that boys that were placed on ADHD drugs in schools, were able to get off the drugs when placed in an all boys school.

Why? It could be that at that school there is a male culture that is positive, healthy and academic.

Check out: St. Gregory the Great Academy in Scranton, PA for an example of this.

6. Know your Son’s Limits and Push them Further

This is a strategy that is constantly available. Another way of putting it is: Don’t let your son get comfortable.

Constantly be edging and pushing and directing your son to great virtue, to perseverance, to higher levels of achievement.

Don’t accept mediocrity! Even if the education system accepts a 60%, do not. 60% is not mastery and is mediocre at best. Push for mastery.

This takes courage and a strong will for the boy naturally wants things to be easier and to coast and to be served life on a platter. He will fight this. So be it. Fight back and win and he will thank you someday.

Give the gift of discipline and push him to be his best.

Semper Fidelis.

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