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"The Wonder of Boys" Parent Education Evening with Nancy Blanning
A crowd of about 80 parents and teachers packed The Denver Waldorf School's Eurythmy Room on March 4th to hear from master Waldorf teacher, author and therapeutic consultant Nancy Blanning about "The Wonder of Boys."
Mrs. Blanning started the evening by explaining that she is not an expert on boys, but someone who loves boys.
She said this is a hot topic because of the perception that there are challenges with boys. For example,it is a distressing fact that there are more males who drop out of school and more males in the criminal justice system. Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and other attention disorders. Boys are also more likely to be referred for therapeutic work.
When Mrs. Blanning was a class teacher, she often found six-year-old boys the most challenging, exasperating and infuriating.
"If I could reach the six year old boys, I had the class!" she said.
Mrs. Blanning was careful to point out that she was not trying to reinforce the stereotypes educators are so eager to dispel about gender. However, there are truths imbedded in the stereotypes that help us to better understand one another in our gender differences.
“Recent thinking used to be that boys and girls are socialized differently and, therefore, behave differently,” she said. “However there is now recognition across many sectors that there are real biological, chemical and physical differences between boys and girls,” she said.
"The socialization argument is fallacious and really dangerous because it sets up unrealistic expectations," Mrs. Blanning said. "To ignore the differences in boys and girls does everyone a disservice. Mainstream research accepts that there are intrinsic, neurological differences between boys and girls."
This new way of looking at children and at one another compliment Waldorf pedagogy, which strives to see each other and each child as special and as individuals.
"Any expectation that they be different than who they are, is a rejection, a pushing aside of them that can lead to low self-esteem," Mrs. Blanning said.
The male incarnation lives in the physical body whereas girls are living more in their feeling life.
"If we maximize the chance for movement in the class within the lessons, we maximize the chance that the boys will receive what they need to stay in the class." she said.
Mrs. Blanning said new research suggests it’s not only a XY chromosome that creates maleness but surges of testosterone that form the brain and the genitalia.
"Boys will be more physical and seek rough-and-tumble play," she said. "That is just boy-ness."
"Because of our culture of violence, we’re really afraid when we see these inclinations in our children and so we squelch it. We have to accept the basic being-ness of boys and not say it’s wrong," she said, "We take that as a starting place and help guide toward how to manage these needs and energies that are healthy for everyone.”
Mrs. Blanning said there are also real differences between the male and female brain. It seems as though boys’ attention spans are shorter. One of the things about the male brain is that the stimulus and activity of the male brain seeks novel input. More boys are being described as ADHD. They move quickly in their environment. It’s part of the way they approach the world. "It’s just an is-ness. We don’t condemn it," she said. Boys also have an inclination to move quickly.
Boys have more activity in the right hemisphere of their brains, while females are more active in the verbal portion and left hemisphere of their brains.
"In our society today, we value people who can speak and articulate and explain… and do it quickly!" she said.
"This puts young boys at a real disadvantage. That’s not to say that boys can’t do these things, but they are just on a different timetable."
Boys and girls literally see the world differently; they have different concentrations of rods and cones in their eyes. Boys have more rods and are therefore better able to see motion. Their eyes are conditioned to respond and see those things. Their eyes are created in such a way that they are attracted to movement. Girls have more cones and are more attracted to colors, Mrs. Blanning explained.
"Boys and girls actually see and hear differently. Boys hear less finely. They focus on the sound that’s closest to them, so parents should be sure to speak respectfully and clearly into their ear," she said.
Importantly, Mrs. Blanning said that boys need male role model and they are looking for them all the time.
"Boys used to have the opportunity to do really big work. They were often escorted into learning by an adult male. They no longer have adult male role models. The absence of this is a terrible loss for our youth," she said.
"They need a feeling of 'you are contributing to the world.' They need that sense that they matter, that we see them," she said.
"American society has little appreciation for rituals. There are no more rites of passage, or apprenticeships." Mrs. Blanning said in India and in other cultures, boys and men had rites of passage to mark their manhood. In our Western culture, this has all but completely disappeared.
"Rituals are how children learn and adults flourish," Mrs. Blanning said.
Mrs. Blanning recommended giving boys big, important, heavy work to do so they feel a sense of satisfaction and self-confidence in themselves.
"That is what the Waldorf school is all about; we are allowing the children to have real practical experiences that contribute to their self-worth," she said.
"Think of what you can do that is 'real stuff.' Something with a purpose and destination. During the harvest festival the students physically turn the apple press. It’s hard work and they get the juice and see it and use it and taste it. Create a fire ring. Think in that direction,” she said. “Choose one thing that you don’t have to do in practical life in your home and do that. Build a flower box. Saw, hammer, drill. Build one for Grandma. Build 10. Do real things. It’s the activity that the boys crave. It must be practical, and be done as if it’s really urgent.”
This is a way we can help them develop a picture of themselves that is much more generous than watching TV or playing video games,” Mrs. Blanning said.
They need to explore in dirt sand and mud, and carry heavy things." she said.
Mrs. Blanning also said that boys’ experience of life is vertical; they must climb and jump. We learn through experience. When we protect too much, we deny them important experiences of coming into the body and learning how to direct and use it well. We deny them into coming into themselves and a true experience of who they are. We must do this with integrity and give them an opportunity for expression and not suppress them. We must ennoble whatever it is. "Allow them to be the hero," she said.
Mrs. Blanning also said boys need consistencies of boundaries. They like to see that adults can do something real, like catch a ball. Boys need to know who is boss. They don’t like the rules changing. Boys love stories about trucks and adventure. Because boys have different auditory processing, talk at a slower pace.
"We must restrain our speech around children. Be open and acknowledging. Be consistent. Give children opportunity to try and fail until they succeed. We tend to rush in and fix too quickly or talk and talk about the 'right' way to do it. Let them find their own way of successfully doing something," she said.
"Boys need clear and direct, matter-of-fact communication; we talk too much as parents to our
children; simplify, simplify, simplify your schedule, your speech, your environment for peace and
calm," she said.
Mrs. Blanning urged a strengthening of family life. Eating dinner together as a family gives the children an
anchor in the day, she said.
10 Things All Boys Need:
1) Nurturing parents and caregivers;
2) Lots of physical contact. Swaddling, wearing, hugging and holding is extremely important;
3) A clan or tribe. Girls move in pairs but boys move in packs (Gangs are an unhealthy example of a manifestation of that need for group belonging);
4) An acknowledgment of their spiritual life. This is why the Waldorf school and the festivals and rituals are so important for boys;
5) Important work. Boys need an important role in life so they know they are important to other people in a real way;
6) Mentors and role models – people who know how to do “real stuff;”
7) To know the rules, which helps them navigate the world;
8) To know how to lead and how to follow;
9) They love adventure and lots of games;
10) They, like every human being, need to know that it’s important they are here on this
earth and they need affirmation that their being here makes the world richer or better.