Manhood and Boys Schools

Good morning.

Three articles — as they used to say in those old Law and Order episodes —“ripped from today’s headlines.”

First, Lawrence Taylor, arguably the most disruptive defensive player in the history of the National Football League, was arrested on allegations that he raped a 16-year old girl last week. “LT” is no stranger to the police; this Hall of Famer has failed drug tests before and his rap sheet covers everything from call girls to crack-cocaine.

Second, the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Rothlisberger, is on the cover of this week’s “Sports Illustrated” and not because of anything he’s done on the gridiron. “Big Ben” – like “LT” has had a number of run-ins with the law, the most recent of which was an accusation of sexually assaulting a 20-year old female in a restroom. SI reports that, when he’s been confronted about inappropriate behavior in the past, Rothlisberger has been able to avoid consequences by asking that endearingly personal question, “Do you know who I am?” (And Ben wasn’t doing credit card commercials, though I fear that part of his problem does relate to the question, “What’s in your wallet?”)

Third, last week George Hugely, a 22 year old University of Virginia lacrosse player was accused of killing his ex girlfriend, the poetically named Yeardley Love. Hugely has also had previous run ins with the police, and last Monday he admitted to breaking into Love’s room, grabbing her, and pounding her head repeatedly against a wall.

George Hugely’s story is an especially painful kick in the gut for me because it strikes close to home. George attended the same all boys elementary school that my own sons attended in Maryland, and he went on to Landon School, another all boys school that, with its great emphasis on academic, artistic, and athletic excellence reminds me quite a bit of a boys school on Lonsdale Road.

This third case forces us to take a long hard look  — not just at George Hugely, a product of 12 years of boys’ schooling – but at ourselves. We have to ask, “What went wrong?” Landon is so similar in so many ways to UCC, and what happened at UVA could very well have taken place at the U of T, Western, or Queens.

We know that there are a lot of people out there who don’t like boys schools, especially schools like UCC because they see us as a bastion of elitism and privilege. This issue came up  just last week at a meeting for Prep parents, where a number of them mentioned that, before sending their sons here, they had misgivings. They were worried that their boys might become arrogant. These particular parents were pleased to report that, even after spending a year or more with us, their sons were still pleasantly and almost surprisingly down to earth.

But for many others, someone like George Hugely — bright, talented, wealthy, and athletic, serves as the poster boy for all that is wrong with boys private schools, especially because of the perception that our schools worship at the altar of athletics. Many critics have a particular distaste for jocks because they believe that athletes have always been indulged and given a special status at schools. (My sense is that this is less of an issue at Canadian schools.)

I wonder, though, if at times schools don’t inadvertently reinforce this notion of athletic privilege? I have spent most of my life in boys schools, and I have never had a crying student tell me that it was the debating team that had tormented him in the locker room or that it was the Glee Club who had harassed non-singers in the hallway. There is a danger in stereotyping, but there remains the perception that in today’s world high-powered athletes have too way much swagger and far too much sway.

I need to nuance this a bit because there is a fine line between friendship and exclusion, between esprit de corps and elitism. And sometimes a band of brothers can become just another posse of privilege. I think we do a good job of understanding that difference, but George Hugely reminds us that we can’t take anything for granted.

Two years ago, Joe Ehrman spoke to us at assembly about what he called, “Three Myths of Masculinity.” They are:

First, the more athletic boys start to marginalize their peers as early as grade two. The myth is that masculinity is defined by athleticism.

Second, in high school some boys start to view and treat females as if they are simply objects of gratification. The myth is that masculinity is about objectifying and using women.

Third, in later life, the myth is that financial success and social status define men, implying that only the best dressed and best heeled among us are truly masculine.

Ehrman, a former NFL star himself, pointed out that professional athletes embody these myth because they enjoy athletic superiority, the adulation of women, and stunning financial rewards

In the face of these myths, Ehrman defines the essence of manhood as having the capacity and inclination to care for others. His organization, “Men for Others” tries to point out the dangers of our culture’s misguided views of masculinity.I hope that as you continue on your trek to manhood, you’ll be able to grasp a more elevated and robust sense of masculinity – one that is neither exploitive nor patronizing. While “Men For Others” may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of LT, Big Ben, or George Hugely, it is something I hope we’ll all hold as a goal for ourselves.

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3 Responses to “Manhood and Boys Schools”

  1. Ann Says:

    It had nothing to do with private schools. It’s his family life more than anything. He had a stepfather. He could have been mentally abused. that will put anger in you. Step families are not good. People should stay married and BOTH of them raise their children together.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    The school has pulled aside dance-goers after assemblies to address issues like this in the past, telling them to act right that upcoming night. Every year, though, there is a new set of 16 year olds.. it seems they all need to learn by doing at first.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Jim, As I read your blog I could not help but observe that these 3 men had something else in common besides being elite athletes, namely, that over the years their definition of “what is right” had somehow been redefined to something that is now very wrong. Some would say these guys thought they could act ‘above the law’. I would simply say they acted before asking themselves ‘what is right?’. Although I don’t know the backgrounds of the first two, I suspect they didn’t attend the same kind of elite prep school that the third one did. So, it’s probably safe to say that the root source of their very wrong definition of what is ‘right’ did not just come from where they attended school in earlier years. What strikes me so strongly about Joe Ehrman’s view about masculinity is that, when our UCC boys face a choice about how to behave when the temptations associated with one of the myths presents itself to them in the future is, they merely need to choose to “do the right thing”. That will be their best guide. Which brings me to the dance on Saturday night. I’ve heard about the girl who had passed out at the dance. Assuming it was alcohol related (I know it could have been some kind of legitimate medical issue) I suppose one narrow view would be: “thankfully it wasn’t one of our boys”.My guess is that that’s not what Joe Ehrman would say. No, I think what he would say is “what were the UCC boys who were at the pre-party with her before the dance doing to prevent this girl from ending up in the sad state she ended up in?”. That’s what he’d be saying. He’d say that is the best test of masculinity at this stage in their young lives. To be man enough to step forward and say “what she’s doing in excess isn’t right and I’m going to do something about it”. Maybe I’m a straight and narrow old guy who thinks that kind of thing doesn’t happen in this day and age. But if I stop believing that it sometimes happens then I might as well stop believing in the boys themselves. I’m not so naive as to think that drinking doesn’t go on before these dances and I realize the school needs to take the hard line that anyone who does so will not be admitted to the dance. I also realize that to ask all boys to stand up on a soap box at a pre-party to admonish someone who is drinking would be social suicide. But I don’t think it precludes them from caring enough about another person to tactfully say “you’ve had enough”.Perhaps before the next dance the school could verbally ask, in amongst articulating the long list of rules and regulations about their behaviour before and during the dance, that above all else they are expected to act the ‘right way’. And by extension to be responsible for, and be guiding the behaviour of, their dates to act the same ‘right way’ without condoning the consumption of alcohol. I think that’s what Joe would ask them to do and so would I.

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