On a balmy November afternoon, in a building that had just been renovated, a few dozen boys, some wearing black shirts and dark shorts, stood at a whiteboard.
They had a few questions about their new school.
Some were about the architecture.
Others were about how they would be taught.
The answers ranged from the simple to the complex.
Some wanted to know about the science of school.
“Why do boys need to be the world?” one asked.
Others wanted to understand why some boys, including some who had been kicked out of their homes, had turned to gangs to feed their needs.
“The problem is we don’t have a school to help us,” one boy said.
The answer seemed obvious: Boys have always needed to be taught how to be men.
Boys are different than girls.
Boys and girls are not the same, even though they are the same biological sex.
Boys were born with different needs.
The same brain circuits that make us capable of language and language comprehension also help us to understand the world around us.
Boys learn by imitation, by showing their parents that they can do things they can’t do.
Girls learn by learning.
Girls are taught by being encouraged by others.
And the very structure of the world makes us different from each other.
This isn’t just the world boys make.
It’s the world we make.
As much as boys are taught to be more men, boys are also taught to learn more about themselves.
Boys have long been taught that their best opportunities for social and emotional growth come in childhood.
When they grow up, they need to develop a sense of self-worth and confidence.
They need to become good leaders.
And they need help from other boys who are like them.
But in many ways, this self-confidence has been hard to cultivate.
Boys often have trouble finding boys who like them and who respect them.
They can be seen as weak or stupid or, as one boy put it, “a bunch of boys.”
The boys I spoke to all agreed that they were insecure and, at times, bullied for their looks.
One boy, whose name I cannot disclose, told me that the boys he met in his first year of elementary school had a lot of difficulty fitting in.
They would constantly be teased and mocked.
“They don’t like you.
They think you’re stupid,” he said.
“But they want to be friends with you because you’re a girl.”
As a child, the idea of being a girl, he said, was “a lot of pain and discomfort.”
Boys often are not allowed to play outside in the street, he explained.
They have been encouraged to take the street by peers, teachers, parents.
And even though the street is a safe space, there is no such thing as boys’ play.
Boys, he continued, are not welcome in the parks.
The playground is not for them.
And, most importantly, when it comes to social interactions, the boys I talked to were too shy to go into the cafeteria or the school’s cafeteria, which is a public space where other boys gather to socialize and share meals.
And when they do go into a public place, they often feel unwelcome and isolated.
The boys who spoke to me described the feeling of being isolated, even in the most secure of settings.
When a girl is in the hallways, or when a boy is in a room with a female classmate, it feels like she is the only one in the room.
And because she is a girl they think she can’t fit in.
When I asked the boys if they had ever felt like they had to choose between being a man or a girl because they were “different,” they all seemed confused.
Boys who identify as girls may identify as a boy, but they are still boys.
Boys’ differences are invisible to them, they said.
They cannot feel confident in their masculinity or in their feminine characteristics.
When boys are in the boys’ room, they have to be careful not to make eye contact with girls or to ask them to sit next to them.
When it comes time for lunch, they are expected to wear skirts and flip-flops.
And if the boys want to talk to a girl and have lunch together, they must wait until they are alone in the cafeteria.
And so, as a young boy, I found myself staring at a blank white board and not knowing what I was looking at.
When girls are in my class, they look at me and I see myself.
When the boys are with me, I see them and I wonder if they will be like me.
And I wonder how I can change.
It turns out that boys’ socialization at school can be difficult.
The classroom environment can be hostile.
And boys often find it difficult to learn how to relate to other boys.
But when the boys feel like they have been ignored, it is often the girls who take the blame.
Boys need support