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Role models: One of five reasons why boys are failing

Why are boys falling behind in school? Kate Hammer takes a look at video games, the education system, the boy code, developmental differences and a lack of role models in search of answers.

The way B. Lesley Cumberbatch sees it, his job at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute is to fill in the gaps. High school curricula, he argues, are written for kids from two-parent homes, and leave important gaps about basic personal, social and academic skills for parents to fill in. But many of the boys at the Toronto school, where Mr. Cumberbatch runs a leadership training program, have been raised by single mothers, and they're not alone: More than a quarter of Canadian families live in a lone-parent home and the vast majority of the time - about 80 per cent - that parent is female.

The result is a lot of lost boys with a lack of role models and a lot of questions. Mr. Cumberbatch works with about 15 boys at a time, and he gets questions about everything from sex to why students are expected to put the date at the top of their notes.

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"I get some very, very basic concerns, and I'll ask them, 'How long has that been weighing on your mind?' And they'll be like, 'A couple years now,' " he said. Many of the boys are starved for someone to speak to for advice, he added.

A recent report from the Vanier Institute of the Family suggests that a lack of male role models contributes to the fact that boys account for 90 per cent of juvenile alcohol and drug violations, that four of five suspects in juvenile crimes are boys and that boys commit suicide at a rate four times higher than girls.

Hip-hop artists, rap stars and professional athletes have stepped into the place where fathers and male teachers once stood.

"Part of why girls are really kicking boys' butts is it's become feminine to be smart, or it's become feminine to have a strong work ethic," Mr. Cumberbatch said. "And to counter, it's become masculine to be a bum or to be lazy or to not appreciate work."

With research from Carolyn Abraham, Rick Cash and Celia Donnelly

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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