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Boys’ Schools Know Boys

Boys’ Schools Know Boys

by Damon Bradley, head of Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland

Consider the possible merits of an institution like mine,
a school designed for boys to the very core of its being.

Boys’ schools specialize in boys. Unlike mixed classes, a classroom of boys does not exhibit an uneven spectrum of maturity; the boys are reasonably at the same level of receptiveness to instruction. Teachers of boys have consciously elected that calling, and know very well how to challenge boys academically and how to engage them in productive discussion. They do not come to their profession reluctantly. In a boys’ school, the teachers are more likely to be male, thereby possessing an innate memory of boyhood, and serving as powerful role models. An effective teacher of boys retains something of his own boyishness, approaches the boys non-judgmentally, and fully appreciates the issues they face. He not only instructs them in the classroom, he coaches them on the athletic field and advises them during free periods. For these very reasons, the relationship between a boy and his teacher is most likely amicable, respectful and courteous and almost never adversarial or hostile.

Boys’ schools have also proven themselves to be fertile ground for inculcating core values and setting high ethical standards. Some forty years ago, the boys in my school proposed an “Honor Code” as the criterion of trustworthiness by which each member of the community would be judged. Personal integrity is assumed, and lying, cheating and stealing are under no circumstances tolerated. We routinely talk of civility, perseverance, teamwork, and fair play as goals to which each boy should aspire in his own life. In this male setting, we teach that virtue is to be valued more than brute force. While I would not be so presumptuous as to suggest that these goals cannot be embraced by other than boys’ schools, I do believe that there is something uniquely masculine about espousing lofty standards that beckon a young man toward a higher paradigm. Boys’ schools seek to shape rambunctious boys into gentle-men, who discover in their raw virility a more generous, a more compassionate manliness. I maintain that these qualities are difficult, if not impossible, to teach to boys in the presence of girls.

Some may think that an obvious shortcoming of a single-sex school is the lack of exposure to the opposite sex. And some may argue that such a school offers a sterile environment for exploring gender and sex-related issues. Quite to the contrary! A strong case can be made that boys’ schools provide an atmosphere in which issues of this nature can be discussed openly without the normal shyness and embarrassment that commonly accompany such candid discussions. Because of the mentoring relationship boys have with their teachers, they can talk about ticklish topics with fewer misgivings and greater openness. And what better place than a boys’ school to learn about the gender issues that have come to the fore in the last decade or so! A well-informed, enlightened man can teach boys about the right relationship to girls and to women without appearing to have an agenda to advance or to be caught up too emotionally in the discussion. A man can more effectively teach boys of such things precisely because he is a man.

The friendships formed among boys at a boys’ school are qualitatively different from the relationships that boys have with other boys in a coed setting, and the difference is increasingly noticeable as boys’ progress to upper school. When girls are around, and a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of “hooking up” (to use the modern parlance) with one of them, then other boys are automatically viewed as rivals, potential suitors for the same young lady’s attentions. Not so in an all-boy’ school. In this setting, other boys are more inclined to be viewed as kinsmen, as brothers, who are not merely adversaries to be bested. I am not suggesting that a boy in a boys’ school necessarily likes all other boys, but when girls are not part of the mix, at least one major obstacle to authentic friendship is removed.

Boys’ schools tend to produce lifelong teammates, who remain in close touch with one another years after their graduation, who stand ready to run interference for a classmate in need, or to come to the aid of a fellow alumnus who has fallen by the wayside.

There is an extraordinary depth of friendship and personal loyalty among graduates of boys’ schools. Is it crass to point out that the alumni of boys’ schools tend to support their alma maters financially in higher percentages and more generously than graduates of other schools? The skeptic may contend that this elevated level of support is due primarily to the higher compensation men still receive in our society. Perhaps that is a factor. However, absent pride in one’s school or loyalty to its mission, significant largesse alone will not produce such generous charitable support. Just as the friendships of boys to boys are significantly deepened and enhanced in a single-sex environment, so too is the relationship an alumnus has with the school that enabled and fostered such uncommon camaraderie.

A conspicuous mark of single-sex boys’ education: Those to whom it seems alien have a difficult time imagining its advantages; however, those who have experienced it are utterly convinced of its worth. Alumni concur. The vast majority of our graduates leave a boys’ school knowing that they have been part of something very special. They entered a school as bumbling little boys and departed as accomplished young men who had been extended academically, challenged physically, stimulated artistically and sensitized to the needs of others. They have learned along the way that their most valued possession is not anything material but rather their own good name, their honest word, their undeviating integrity. They have come to like and respect each other as schoolmates whose friendship as grown men will only swell and deepen with time.

Among our graduates, you will most surely encounter well-educated, thoughtful, kind and high-minded men. You will discover exceptional models for any young boy to emulate; and you will find the kind of human beings you’d like your own son to become.

Excerpts taken from the  INTERNATIONAL BOYS’ SCHOOL COALITION E-NEWS, Volume 6, Issue 1, September 2002