Boys speak: 'We need role models, more attention'

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Martin Luther King High School in Philadelphia is exactly the type of large, urban high school where educators worry that boys lag significantly behind girls.

Many boys who attend the school agree there is a problem, and it is a serious one.

"Boys don't really try," says Julian Beaufort, a senior. "For boys, school is about how you dress and how you look and how popular you are. We don't have a sense of the future."

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Julian himself was held back one year and had to attend Saturday classes. As a result, he says, he began to take school more seriously, but that hasn't been the case for all his friends. "Girls see school as more important than we do. That may change for boys, but a lot of times it changes too late."

More male role models are needed, says Gary Dunlap, a junior. "Girls have more people talking to them, encouraging them," he says. Girls are often friendlier to teachers and other adults, he adds. "A boy doesn't open up to the same degree. If he's upset, he might just stop coming to classes."

But it doesn't mean, he points out, that he doesn't care.

School is an uncomfortable environment for many boys, says William Jefferson, a senior who, despite being identified by some of his teachers as one of the brightest students in the school, will not be graduating with his class. "When I got to high school I felt like a bull in a glass house," he says. "I wasn't sure what the right thing to do was. I would have appreciated if somebody would have talked to me more."

"We're not getting any attention," adds Christian Bailey. "In the '50s and '60s women were held back, but now it's males who are in danger." By 2050, he predicts, "Women will be running things, and we'll be in the dumps."

Better adult communication with boys is the key to the whole thing, says Charles Jenning, a junior. But he warns that it is the adults who will have to take the initiative.

"Somebody needs to go to the boys first," he says. "You can't wait for them to go to you."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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