Boys Adrift or Boys Anchored? - Part 2


In his book, Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, discusses five factors that are driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men.  In Part 1 of our blog, we talked about video gaming. Another factor is Changes in School.

Over the past few decades, marked changes have occurred in teaching methods at many schools: the acceleration of early elementary education, the lack of “Kenntnis” (a German word which means to “know by experience”), the increase of “Wissenschaft” (a German word which means “to know about something”  - think being lectured “at”), and ways in which traditional schooling methods are unfriendly to boys.

Dr. Sax writes,

“…boys who have been deprived of time outdoors, who have spent more time interacting with screens rather than with the real world, sometimes have trouble grasping concepts that seem simple to us.” (Boys Adrift, pgs. 35, 36)   

If you ask a boy to read about the life cycle of a tadpole metamorphosing into a frog, but that boy has never touched a frog, never had the experience of jumping around in a pond in his bare feet chasing after a tadpole, he may not see the point.  The shift in the curriculum away from Kenntnis toward Wissenschaft has had the unintended consequence of diminishing the motivation of boys to study what they’re asked to learn.” (Boys Adrift, pgs. 38.39)  

Simply stated, most boys who are “lectured at” all day, look at screens continuously, and don’t go outside to play, begin to lose motivation.

Dr. Sax continues to discuss how this lack of motivation has also resulted in the lack of a desire to read.  

In order for kids to understand many of the topics we expect them to grasp, they have to be reading a wide range of material. Kids need to be reading in their spare time. Kid needs to read for fun.” (Boys Adrift, p. 47)  

Changes in education over the past three decades have created a negative attitude toward education among many boys.  Boys are less likely to read today simply because they don’t want to read.” (Boys Adrift, p. 48)  

Dr. Sax addresses more issues, throughout the “Changes in School” chapter, which contribute to the epidemic of unmotivated boys.  At the end of the book, the end result is discussed: young men that are described as “failure to thrive”. These are the young men, who are playing video games in their parents’ basements well into their 20s and 30s.   If you don’t know one personally, you can get to know their characteristics in Chapter 6 - where Dr. Sax cites many emotionally-filled email letters from parents who have “failure-to-thrive” sons. It is sadly astonishing.

But let’s not stay here at the bad news. As parents, how do we help our sons stay anchored in motivation?  How do we prevent them from being a boy adrift? Is there an educational solution to this mess?


Enter Ambleside School.

An Ambleside education offers:

  • Teaching methods which motivate students to learn.  Students are not lectured “at”, but are trained to listen, attend and comprehend from an array of living books.  Lessons are shorter, alternating between disciplinary and inspirational subjects. Outdoor time playing and running in the fresh air, revives their ability to use self-control in the classroom.  The teachers are trained to ask good questions, never taking away from that “a ha!” moment of discovery that inspires a child’s mind.

  • “Kenntnis” every day!   From indoor science lab experiments to outdoor nature studies, from hatching chickens in 1st grade to observing open heart surgery at Fairfax Hospital in 8th grade, our students are learning through experience.  Even during recess, “Kenntnis” is happening. Students  are allowed to pick up sticks and build forts, re-creating the battles they just learned about in history.

  • A love of reading great books.  In Literature, History, Read-Aloud, Poetry, Recitation, Citizenship, Bible, and Shakespeare, each student is introduced to a feast of ideas through reading from living books on these subjects. Their minds and spirits are cultivated to love good books and reading.

  • A place where harmful technology is not encouraged.  Classrooms for the younger students are technology-free, and the parent community is encouraged to set limits on screen time.   Students are not permitted to bring cell phones to class and a culture of community with real people and real experiences is created.

To end this two-part entry on Boys Adrift, picture one more scenario:

Three boys on a playdate.  Running inside and outside, playing loud Nerf gun battles.

Then building forts in the basement, and then, there’s quiet.

TOTAL quiet.

It is actually TOO quiet.  

Yes, this scenario is real…in my very own house.  Not a sound could be heard.

I wonder why on earth is my home so quiet when I have three rambunctious boys playing here? I look over to my sofa.  What a sight to behold! All three boys are reading quietly, fully engaged, each in his own book.

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I whispered a prayer, thanking God for Ambleside, a school that is cultivating a generation of boys that are motivated to play, to learn and to read. In that quiet moment, I was witness to boys anchored, not boys adrift.

-- Jessel Newton, Ambleside Parent and Debra Christenson, Ambleside Board Member

Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge are available at the Ambleside School office for $15 each.  If you send in a check, we’ll send the book home in your student’s backpack.