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Boys Who Are More Than Alright: Deconstructing the Traditional Model of Masculinity

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Stories, know-how, and guidance from the experts in educating boys.

Kristen Kerwin

Boys Who Are More Than Alright: Deconstructing the Traditional Model of Masculinity

There has been some talk in the press recently about boys; more specifically, that our boys are broken. As the mother of three boys myself, my knee-jerk reaction to the defective label slapped on my kiddos is to quickly fix them up and send them off to be worthy contributors to an idealistic utopia. Fortunately, for their sake, I don't have to look too far to see example after example of boys who are NOT broken; in fact, these young men have tapped into deep parts of themselves—showing immense courage in their vulnerability. Because of these students, I stand reassured that the future for boys is promising.

How to Make A Boy Feel Worthy Enough To Be Himself

Only when a boy can feel confident in his own skin will he be able to build on his innate gifts and aspirations. It's crucial to procure an environment where a boy can fail and then feel supported enough to get back up and either continue on or find another path to explore. Masculinity isn't about proving to be better than anyone: being a man at Avon Old Farms, the CT private school for boys, means "showing integrity, honoring wisdom, justice, inclusion, service, and the pursuit of truth" (as per the school mission statement). Students are taught to genuinely show empathy for one another as they strive to discover their personal measure of manhood. 

Simply put, these boys are just too busy finding new ways to be awesome (trying different sports, winning art awards, writing music, leading community service events, etc.) to worry about exercising power over others to validate their manhood. What is the result of intentionally building a safe place for boys to grow into who they are? The outcome is a firmly bonded brotherhood: a band of individual men who have the power to look past each others' weaknesses and can feel the genuine pride in each others' successes. In his New York Times article, The Boys Are Not Alright, Michael Ian Black states, "Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others." While this may be the case for numerous boys out there, it's encouraging to see that many young men want to see their fellow brothers excel.

Deconstructing the Traditional Model of Masculinity

In order to raise a boy who fully comprehends that being a man doesn't mean he has to be a force of solitude or a bulwark of machismo, that boy needs to experience a nurturing space to express himself. It's no longer sufficient to allow a boy to grow without a viable outlet to communicate both what disheartens and inspires him. There needs to be a strategic platform for a boy to seek out new touchpoints to his soul—to expand himself for his, and for his society's, betterment.

Kenneth LaRocque, the Headmaster at Avon Old Farms School, the New England boarding school for boys, states:

"People concerned about the state of boys in our society would be well-advised to consider the culture of Avon Old Farms in which we exploded the traditional model of masculinity decades ago and have encouraged each boy to develop the model of masculinity which fits him best. By offering abundant programs and adult role models in the arts and humanities, community service, athletics, and academics, boys are able to explore their human potential fully and begin forging their adult identity honoring the values and pursuing the passions that inspire them. The result is that Avonians like Max Ravech can at once be a Deans List student, captain of our championship-winning varsity soccer team, president of our community service programming, and a singer in our elite acapella singing group (which performed at Carnegie Hall last February). Avonians don’t want to be put in a box that defines them narrowly, they want to be men for all seasons."

Boys That Inspire Us

These boys—boys who are definitely more than "alright"—will go on from our school and out into the world to teach others what it means to be this growth-seeking and empathetic species of man. Here's a smattering of boys who are brave enough to be open to both strength and vulnerability:

Boon Bhakdibhumi '18

About Boon: "Boon can always be counted on to do the right thing. That is why he is the Head Dorm Monitor of the school’s largest dorm. Given the chance, Boon will not choose the path of least resistance. He challenges himself and those around him. Boon is one of only six seniors who competed on three varsity sports in his senior year! Everyone who knows him knows that he will live a full and successful life."

- Major John Bourgault '80, Director of Athletics, Boon's Advisor


Nick Keroack '18

About Nick: "Nick is the Renaissance Man. He excels in the classroom, plays two varsity sports, and sings at the highest level choir—the Riddlers. He is an impressive young man with impeccable character, rock-solid leadership and a great role model for all students. 

- Mike Symes '81, Assistant Dean of Students, Science Teacher, Nick's Advisor


Sean Dube '18

About Sean: "Sean holds himself to a high standard in every area of life at Avon. He's a diligent student who is consistently on the Headmaster's List, he pushes himself athletically and was a captain and All-State member of our soccer program, and he is a leader and role model on campus. Sean also gives of himself. He is an Eagle Scout whose service project brought soccer equipment to a school in Zimbabwe and an Admission Ambassador who works with prospective families here on campus."

- Joe Martinez, English Teacher, Varsity Soccer Coach, Sean's Advisor


Max Ravech '18

About Max: "Student success should be measured not just by individual accomplishment, but should include the extent to which they contribute to their community. With that in mind, Max is one of our most successful students at Avon Old Farms. Max is not only earning much for himself as a high achieving student, impressive performing artist, and outstanding athlete, but also he is making a number of significant contributions to our community. He is the president of our community service organization, is an admission ambassador, and is a monitor in our residential life program.  Put simply, Max does it all. He has represented Avon as a singer with our Riddlers at Carnegie Hall, as the varsity soccer starting goalie and captain in the New England playoffs, and as a community service leader at local charities. Good leaders turn vision into reality, but also make the people around them better.  Max instinctively does this each day at Avon Old Farms."

- Rob Dowling '91, Provost, Max's Advisor

Key Takeaway

Boyhood can be a treasureland of discovery. Along the way, boys learn from role models, hone their skills, and drive their ambitions to life. When an institution guides students by core values that breed integrity and compassion, a different type—a positive force—of male power emerges. This male strength is rooted in brotherhood, service, and acquisition of knowledge: this power is undeniable for the ultimate good of society. Brené Brown, author and vulnerability researcher, states, "If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues, like attendance or standardized test scores, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It underpins everything." Avon Old Farms understands that boys learn differently, and more importantly, the school cultivates an environment where boys learn to be men who truly care for others. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristen Kerwin

 KRISTEN KERWIN

 Associate Director of Marketing and Communications

 kerwink@avonoldfarms.com