What Works: Introduction

A Book About Raising Boys, Engaging Guys, and Educating Men

What Works book cover

David Granger, Editor-In-Chief, Esquire

At Esquire Magazine, we write a lot about being men. I mean, Esquire was the very first magazine for men and an important part of our mission is to make suggestions on how a man can live his life better. Plus, we actually like being men and take great satisfaction in sharing the things that give us joy and a sense of fulfillment.

Another part of Esquire's mission is to consider the world we live in and to publish stories that illuminate the challenges by which our society is confronted. In 2006, we published a story by Tom Chiarella that I still see as having drawn a line in the sand. It was called "The Problem With Boys." For months, Tom and I had been talking about the alarming state of young men in America. The indicators were obvious, if you paid attention: Only 40% of the people in college were male; the percentage of men coming out of professional schools was even smaller. But, even more telling: If you were a boy in 2006, you were twice as likely as a girl to be diagnosed with an attention-deficit or learning disorder. You were likely to score worse on standardized reading and writing tests. You were more likely to be held back in school and more likely to drop out. If you did graduate, you were less likely to go to college. If you did go to college, you got lower grades and, once again, were less likely to graduate. You were twice as likely to abuse alcohol, and until you were twenty-four, you were five times as likely to kill yourself. And, of course, boys were more than sixteen times as likely to go to prison. This wasn't a phenomenon that was restricted to one ethnic or geographic or demographic segment of the population. It was a problem with boys.

If it had been any group of American citizens other than boys, this would have been seen as an epidemic that required radical action. But boys, and men, and their roles in society are taken for granted. Men were the dominant gender for centuries and, over the second half of the 20th century, men's role in the culture has been rapidly morphing. Men began to be seen as the problem. Men were lumped together into one big roiling, oppressive, brutish mass. And seeing as how men had historically helped to define women's role as one of secondary importance, that characterization was largely fair. But it has changed and that change led to fundamental societal improvements. Because of the concerted actions we as a society undertook over the last four decades, women and men are now as equal as they've ever been.

In fact, in many telling areas, women have flown past men. As Chiarella's story pointed out, young women have long been better educated and better prepared for success than young men in America. This was a necessary corrective, and it has worked. But recent research makes it ever clearer that the gender gap is widening, and to the detriment of men. In 2013, single, childless, full-time working women under the age of 30 earn more than men of the same age in nearly every U. S. city. With nearly 60 percent of college graduates being women and the majority of advanced-degree earners also being women, the gap is going to widen for the foreseeable future.

The pendulum must begin to swing in the other direction. Imbalance is always a destructive force for any society and the history of our nation has been a long succession of inequities righted. A world in which a large percentage of men are falling behind, going to prison, dropping out will be as devastating for women as for men. It's time for us, as a culture, to be more attentive to the needs of boys and young men. Our education system needs to stop treating boys as problems that must be medicated or punished into submission. Law enforcement needs to do all it can to help boys keep out of courts and out of the penal system. Otherwise, the imbalance will cripple our culture. Educational reforms like those that enabled girls and young women to get the upper hand now need to be tailored to enable young men. We have to nurture boys and young men as we have girls and young women.

Advocating for boys and men, however, is simply not done. The idea that men have untold societal advantages is so firmly ingrained in the American psyche that to suggest otherwise is seen as offensive. But the time has come when we-men and women together-need to draw up a blueprint that encourages boys to become good and productive and successful men. This book, a collection of pieces by people on the front lines of the issue, is a place to begin.

David Granger, Editor in Chief, Esquire MagazineDavid Granger (B.A. University of Tennessee; M.A. University of Virginia) was named Editor-in-Chief of Esquire Magazine in June 1997. Between 1998 and 2011, Esquire won 15 National Magazine Awards, including the award for General Excellence in 2006.

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