May 22, 2007

Movie Highlight: Raising Cain

I watched the movie last night Raising Cain: Boys in Focus and I was AMAZED at some of the things I saw and learned. This movie talked about many issues facing boys and young men from censorship of violent stories at school, an education system that does not understand how to teach this complex gender, peer pressure to conform to others to fit in, to how being fatherless or impoverished can affect our young men. If you have sons, are an educator, or work with boys, this movie is a must see. Even my husband found a lot of the information helpful, even if he did keep telling me I told you so.

The main focus of this movie is that we are not raising violent men by allowing violent writing and violent play. Boys who pretend to be cops and robbers, Sir Lancelot, Luke Skywalker, or a sub-machine gun wielding robot DO NOT turn into violent men. In fact a child is more likely to be permanently damaged by being told he cannot play these natural types of games. This carries into writing and reading as well and this is where the most profound quote hit home.


"Boys lag behind girls in literacy because schools discourage the things that they are interested in".

This was said by Thomas Newkirk, who wrote the book Misreading Masculinity as he was explaining how the public school system is failing our boys by discouraging books that may interest them, or disallowing full creativity of stories that may be offensive to others. He goes on to say that boys should be allowed to write about things like death, or murder, as long as the subject of that story is not a classmate.

They showed an example of a young boy named Seth, who was in a pre-school or kindergarten where the teacher would sit down with each student and they would write a short story. At the end of the session the teacher would read the stories out loud to the other students in circle and they would discuss it. Seth wrote a little story about a unicorn and a horse, and a mean man killing the horse, so the unicorn turned around and killed the mean man. The girls were all very upset over this story, as horses should not be killed they said. Seth seemed heartbroken and they made a rule that stories could not be about dying, just fainting. The next day Seth could not focus during writing time and the teacher said the boy who normally would come to her with a story in mind without hesitation, suddenly had writers block and had a hard time coming up with anything to say. So the teacher talked to the children once more and they all agreed that it was OK for them to write about 'bad guys' dying, or getting killed; just not the 'good guys'. Seth seemed pleased with this answer and his writers block cleared.

Now, imagine if your own 5 yr old is told to censor his writing, and that he cannot play with weapons, and he cannot ready books about magic and dragons because they are too violent. And this continues through age 6, 7, 8 and so on. Your child is told in order to get a passing grade in school they have to read from an approved list of books that are on things like horses, or living on a prairie, or the trials and tribulations of first grade, when they really want to be reading about knights and dragons, shark attacks and hacking and slashing through piles of venomous snakes to find the lost treasure. Can you see how through time they may lose their interest in education all together?

Boy are also active, where schools want you to sit down, stay still, and listen. Active boys need active play in order to keep their mind focused. When the movie talked about how schools are lessening or taking away recess time and how this is causing boys to have a harder time focusing, it made me think of Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer, who is always preaching that in order to calm the mind, you must exercise the mind. I think this is true for children too, and when we take away games such as tag, or football at recess, or take away recess all together, you are setting boys up for failure in school. It is no wonder when boys are asked their favorite subject in school they respond Gym, Lunch or Recess.

This year, Austin was fortunate enough to be in an all boys classroom, taught by a male teacher who focused on boy centered learning. The school has seen increased test scores from this program and Austin has seen grades higher than he has ever achieved before, from some B's, but mostly A's. I think this is a direct result of boy centered learning and I really look forward to when Christopher will also get to be in this same class.

Anyways, please go see this movie, either borrow it from the library, Netflix it, or even buy it. The wealth of information received from this documentary has been invaluable, and reassuring that I can be a good mom to these sensitive young boys in a world where public education and society is failing our sons.

1 comment:

Terri said...

Interesting food for thought. Thanks!