In the light of the deaths of three young men recently (two I knew and one the son of a colleague), it made me think about how boys are often silent. Their deaths were the result of mental illness; something that is still a misunderstood disease. It is spoken about in terms that do not lend itself to understanding, therefore, people fall silent.
It is an issue that is not given a voice. Without a voice to speak, the sufferer is left mute.
In our Western society, traditional stereotypes of men are silent stereotypes. Their voices are limited to unctions of power and authority. Their actions reflect such notions, and this is what boys model their lives on.
Boys grow and mature into men who lack the language of feeling, empathy, understanding and vulnerability. They become silent because they do not have the vocabulary to express their emotions and because they have been taught to become so.
I can see this silence in some of the boys I teach (high school ages 13-18), an inability to understand and express their emotions in a way that their female peers find so easy to do.
So, how do boys and men discover the art and language of feeling, empathy, understanding and vulnerability?
Within the pages of a book (in this case, fiction).
A small percentage of boys read regularly and it becomes obvious they have a broader understanding of the world and their emotions. Their understanding of the world is deeper and they are more perceptive to their emotional states. The older boys get, the less they read (in terms of fiction).
- Fathers (and mothers), read to your sons.
- Grandfathers (and grandmothers), read to your grandchildren.
Make reading a subversive act of creativity.
An act of creativity to give boys an understanding of their emotions. An act to subvert the silent stereotype. To give boys, as they mature into men, the vocabulary to express their emotional state.
Make reading a creative conspiracy between you and your child.
A Subversive Act of Creativity Action Plan
- Read to them from a young age.
- Model reading by being seen with a book in your hands.
- Have them draw their favourite scene from the book.
- Talk to them about the characters and the decisions they make
- Ask them to express how they feel about characters’ actions
- Read the book with them and share the experience
- *insert your own ideas here*
Teach boys to understand feelings, empathy, understanding and vulnerability by examining and discussing the characters and their actions.
I count it a privilege as a male English teacher that I can model this understanding. We need more male English teachers.
Let’s help create men who understand their emotions and have the vocabulary to do so.