A Vision For Boys
Christchurch school principal and father of two Mark Richardson has been active in working with young people through churches and youth organisations for the last 25 years. He shares his thoughts about what boys need.
What aspirations do I have for boys as they move through school? What would I like fathers and male role models to know about how to help boys in school?
This article is about my ideas on boys. It is a dream, a goal, my aim for my boys. If I get half way there
as a father, then I am heading in the right direction!
My biggest problem in recording these ideas is that it asks me to look closely at myself. It asks me to question what sort of husband I am, how I am going as a father.
It questions my priorities, and demands that I look at my character and my example. It leads me to put aside the issues of the past in my own life, learning from them but moving past them.
It asks me perhaps to change so that those that come after me, my boys, might have every chance of really making a go of it in a life that will challenge them at most turns.
I have a number of beliefs about boys. These come from reading about them but mostly from being an observer of the boys I work with day in and day out.
Boys are essentially sensitive and gentle but they don’t display this in the same way that girls do. Boys often develop a mask of aggression or toughness or bravado that covers the deep need to be handled gently.
When we respond to the tough exterior and miss the gentle nature that most boys have, we seem to reinforce the tough part and slowly, event by event, we plaster over the gentle nature that is in most of our young boys. Based on the gentle nature of boys, I have aspirations for what I think they can be.
In my role as a school leader, I long to see boys coming through our school who are developing a perfect balance.
By this I mean boys who can, in the same week totally enjoy a moving drama, who can revel in a great book and who can participate in a fast-pasted game of some sporting code.
To me, balance means they can stand in front of a painting or sculpture and feel moved or challenged by what the artist is expressing, but equally they can be consumed by the buzz of a great mountain bike ride or skate park experience.
Balance means that our boys can eat pizza on the floor with friends while watching an action movie but equally they know how to and do behave appropriately at a dinner party or in a restaurant.
Balance means that they can handle their natural tendency to compete or to enjoy boisterous physical play while at the same time being comfortable to treat their mothers and girl friends with complete respect and honour.
It means that they are learning how to laugh at what is actually funny, cry when they are hurt, stand up for those who are being put down, befriend and encourage those on the fringe or are marginalised while at the same time being able to talk about what they need in a constructive way.
And it means they are growing to be truly confident in who they were designed to be. To me, this is the challenge I carry as a father and a leader!
The power of role models
The world our boys live in is greatly affected by the people they live with, by those they call Mum and Dad and by the role models who take a place in their lives.
I am writing particularly to fathers.
Many of the boys we have in schools now don’t have ‘fathers’ as such who live with them but they do have male role models and the following applies equally to them.
If there are no male role models, then our boys will find them anyway but they will be outside the home and, often times, fabrications or illusions, ideas that live on a screen or disk but not in the real world. Our boys need males they can look to and follow.
The New Zealand Curriculum asks our schools to actively teach values to all the children who attend schools in New Zealand. This is a huge opportunity for communities to explore their shared values and determine the glue that holds them together.
As a school leader I know that our boys need to have so much more than a school based ‘values’ programme.
They need to see their dads or their significant male role models rising to the challenge of living out such things as courage, wisdom, honestly, integrity, faithfulness and stewardship in their homes week after week in front of their eyes if they are to grow up to live lives that reflect these sorts of values.
Boys need to watch dad struggle with life issues but choose to always make decisions with a consistent set of values. The role model is so powerful!
The foundations of Love
The role of the family and, in particular, dads or the significant male in our boys lives is to make sure that our boys know that they are totally loved – even when they (our boys) are hard to live with!
This love I am referring to is an action. It is kind (so teaches kindness), patient (modelling patience), not envious (so teaches contentment), not boastful or proud (so doesn’t teach arrogance), not rude or self seeking (so teaches manners and humility), not easily angered (so teaches self control) and it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs (so it teaches forgiveness).
Notice that this love is not ‘soft’! Because it goes against our natural tendencies, it is sometimes the hardest thing to live such love.
However, if this ‘love’ was fed consistently into the lives of each boy that comes through the school gate our communities would be quite a different place! Our boys need to see love in action so they can be challenged to love others in this way.
The New Zealand curriculum asks that all children are taught to participate and contribute in their communities and to be self managing individuals.
If our boys were living in an atmosphere of such love as described above they would be well on the journey to being able to be constructive members of their community and to affect the world they live in. Living such love is a real challenge to me as a father!
The wisdom to listen
I have come to appreciate the wisdom of cultures where children are encouraged (and expected) to respect and listen to their ‘elders’.
There is wisdom in respecting and seeking the advise of those that have been around the block a few times.
Boys who are learning to appreciate history and the wisdom of elders are learning a valuable life lesson. We dismiss the past and the lessons from the past at our peril and yet each generation appears to enjoy the idea that enlightenment comes from being the latest generation to face particular issues – which have been around for centuries.
The courage to stand
It seems to me that most of our boys in schools do not want to stand out! I’m not sure I have an answer for why this is.
What this ends up meaning is that generally girls get the awards for service, citizenship, and often leadership.
As a school leader, I love to see boys who are confident to stand tall among their peers and take the initiative, look after others, serve the communities that they are in and do this without the need for constant reward.
The New Zealand Curriculum sets out a vision for the young people of New Zealand. It seeks to have a community of young people who are growing up to be confident, connected, actively involved and life long learners. I see a particular need for our boys to be challenged and motivated to be ‘confident’ and ‘actively involved’ in their communities.
To be actively involved means standing out from the crowd at times and this sort of action usually grows from a personal confidence to stand out.
The love of reading
Dads need to read! The significant males in our boys’ lives need to both read to their boys, read with their boys and read for themselves as a role model for their boys.
Because the ability to read opens the doors of choice. Reading opens doors to worlds that can be dreamed about. In a generation that is increasingly information orientated, even if it is on a screen, there is the undeniable need to be able to read and interpret the information.
Boys who are able to read well have the advantage of many more options in terms of recreation, enjoyment, occupation and relaxation than boys who cannot or do not read.
Boys learn to read best by reading. Schools can teach boys the techniques of reading, they can move them through the levels of reading but they can only go some of the way to instilling a love of reading – but dads (and mums) hold a key to helping their boys love reading.
It is a very powerful message for a boy when he sees his dad (who should be his hero) sit down with a book, magazine, the paper and spend time reading. It is an even more powerful message when a boy’s hero sits with him and they enjoy a book, magazine, website, comic – together!
The New Zealand Curriculum asks schools to help in teaching young people to be ‘life long learners’. It also asks that schools develop the ability in children to interpret ‘language, symbols and texts’. Reading is a foundational tool to being a life long learner.
Schools rely on the home to be an active part of a partnership in leading children to love reading and being good at it. Older males show younger males how it can be done. If you are a significant male in a boy’s life – do not underestimate the power of your example.
The enjoyment of being male
As a school leader, I look for boys who know how to play, be adventurous, and who know what it means to rise to a challenge. Boys who know how to handle the need for competition, enjoy it yet respect those they compete with, are on the way to being confident in who they are.
Once upon a time boys enjoyed being parts of bike gangs that roamed the streets doing jumps off gutters and home made ramps, building huts in the neighbours gardens, fishing by the stream and catching all manner of insects.
As our living world becomes smaller and the perception of danger becomes greater many of these ‘boy’ things are disappearing to be replaced with inactivity and computers. But boys need to move, be active, enjoy adventure and challenge themselves with risk.
Parents and particularly dads and other males have a big role to play in helping their sons or the boys in their lives explore what it means to be male and to learn to enjoy it and relish it. The great thing about this is that it is an invitation to men to continue to play, to give time to their boys in the form of doing things together.
It often seems that out of such quality (and quantity) time, the real discussions of life evolve.
For the school, a boy who has this constant input from home generally is developing the skills to be effective as a learner and confident to take on the opportunities that schools offer.
Boys need to have purpose
I have come to realise that our boys innately want to have an affect in the world they live in while at the same time being affected greatly by the world they live in.
Parents who are powerful role models, living a life of active love, teaching their boys the wisdom of listening, the courage to stand, fostering a love of reading and giving their boys a chance to express what it means to be a boy, are going a very long way to setting their child up to do well in life and at school.
Parents, who instil in their boys the sense that they have a purpose greater than themselves and that they have what it takes to achieve that purpose, open a world of challenge that may well lead their child to see the challenge – and rise to it.