where are the menFor years I’ve sat through anguished discussions about why more women than men are going to college. A lot more in fact. In most colleges and universities these days the numbers are at 60% women, sometimes creeping even higher. We used to think this was a phenomenon of the Christian campus, that parents wanted their daughters to attend a “safe” college. Little did we know that we were on the front edge of a massive culture shift. The trend has spread everywhere, with the exception perhaps of highly selective institutions, which may suggest it is easier to get into these schools if you are male.

For decades we engaged, as we should have, intense discussion about what it means to be a woman. Great positive strides were taken, and all of that is good. We now need to make an urgent cultural shift of focus on a new set of questions: What does it mean to be a man in our dynamic, ever-shifting world? What does work mean for men and for women? What does it mean to be a boy in school?  How do men need to adapt to a changed world?

In yesterday’s NY Times, David Brooks takes on these huge questions by quoting and commenting on a new book by Hanna Rosin called The End Of Men. Rosin has a new theory about all of this, says Brooks, that goes something like this:

It has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.

Here is more from Brooks:

Rosin is not saying that women are winners in a global gender war or that they are doing super simply because men are doing worse. She’s just saying women are adapting to today’s economy more flexibly and resiliently than men. There’s a lot of evidence to support her case.

And finally:

Forty years ago, men and women adhered to certain ideologies, what it meant to be a man or a woman. Young women today, Rosin argues, are more like clean slates, having abandoned both feminist and prefeminist preconceptions. Men still adhere to the masculinity rules, which limits their vision and their movement.

All very interesting. All very important discussion for our times. The point for our universities is not that we can dramatically change the percentages with more effort, try as we must. The point goes deeper than that, down into cultural patterns that must be understood and addressed. What’s going on here? How can we open and elevate this discussion broadly in our society?

There is one urgent need in all of this that should unite researchers, teachers, educators, and parents alike: We simply have to address what schools do to our boys. Our schools do not seem to be structured to meet the developmental temperaments of boys.

However we answer that question, we begin with new evidence that men are stuck with a vision of themselves that is not adapting well to a changing world.