This week marks a year since the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh for the open seat as a United States Supreme Court Justice.The confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh and the testimony of Dr. Ford certainly highlighted the political divide in this country. And the politics of gender were on full display. This was not just the story, which many women know all too well, about what it means to be a 15 year old girl in America, but also what it means to be a 17 year old boy.
The now infamous calendar of Brett Kavanaugh went from committee evidence to oddity to full on cultural iconic status in the following weeks. And, as I watched the hearings, the calendar was very familiar to me in a particular sort of way that only someone who has been in education and school leadership might understand and recognize.
In many years of having to contend with students and their behavioral issues, everything from interactions with peers to bullying to academic dishonesty to expellable offenses, one trope rings true, particularly for boys. If a young man is excelling in school, we somehow believe everything else must be just terrific as well.
To me, Brett Kavanaugh’s calendar looked like a road map, outlining the vast gulf between outward appearances of the seemingly well put together school boy and the dark gender expectations for young men in our country.
Kavanaugh continually tried to defend himself by saying that he, “busted his butt in school,” and, there was this constant mantra regarding his physical workouts, his dedication to sports teams, and weight lifting. In an angry and outraged tone, as if he deserved to be treated like some piece of precious glass, he implied that all of the checked boxes, all of the outward appearances of a wonderful young man were there. “See, just look at my calendar. I jumped through all the hoops, how dare you question my integrity.”
But the calendar actually revealed what I have seen way too often with young men.
There have been several occasions where, as an administrator in charge of making the final call, I have had to tell the academic rockstar, Mr. Campus, the guy on top of the world, that he is no longer part of our school community. That he has done something so egregious on our campus that he has been expelled. The shock does not come from the student as much as it comes from the parents.
“He’s your best student. How can you do this?”
“You should be grateful to have our son on your campus.”
“We had no idea. He was doing so well in school. How could this be happening?”
The reasons for expulsion? They can range from running an on campus cheating business, bullying, selling drugs, and yes, sexual harassment. The fact that a number of people have come forward during the confirmation hearings and even a year later, describing his habits of black out drinking and inebriation, is neither shocking or surprising. In 30 years of being in schools, I have witnessed three former male valedictorians enter drug and alcohol rehab programs. And, these are the ones I know of.
So what do these parents miss along the way? Mainly, that a hard working student needs to work equally as hard on his character. That just like grades are evidence, mostly, of high academic achievement, parents should demand evidence of an outstanding person (Kavanaugh’s calendar was obvious of two very different narratives) and that excellence in school gives no child privilege to be out of control in other areas of his life.
And, for no reason should you think that I am suggesting that this phenomenon is just with our boys. The pressures of school for high achievers, the social ramifications, just lead many girls through a different avenue of subterfuge. They can end up turning inward, toward high degrees of anxiety, eating disorders, depression, self harm, and even suicide. While young women’s damaging behaviors mostly turn inward, boys’ destructive energies can turn to outward expressions of rage, constant ever ratcheting expressions of proving manhood (out of control drinking and drug abuse) and, yes, hostility and aggression toward women, toward people of varying sexual orientation, and commiting acts of sexual abuse.
While the pressures of school and growing up can look the same, the expressions of them need to be put into the context of how we shape our young people’s gender experiences. To me, Brett Kavanaugh’s calendar looked like a road map, outlining the vast gulf between outward appearances of the seemingly well put together school boy and the dark gender expectations for young men in our country. Awesome in school does not equal awesome in life.