J. KARL MILLER: Why can't boys simply be allowed to be boys?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

All too often, I feel like Rip Van Winkle. Except, unlike Mr. Winkle, who slept for 20 years, it seems I have slumbered for 50 years or more.

One of the sequences I appear to have dozed through has been an unwelcome metamorphosis in the development of boys.

I am not certain where or when it began, but I seldom see boys engaging in pickup baseball, football, soccer games they organized themselves. Other than basketball, which requires a minimum of players and organization, youngsters of today are content to wait for adults to organize, supervise and often take the fun out of sports.

I understand that I am from a different era, at least two generations removed from the youth of today. Nevertheless, what has happened to transform boys into couch potatoes, video game players, tweeters and texters — preferring activities that require little or no effort whatsoever?

Boys were always expected to be boys, rambunctious adventure seekers. They climbed trees, built forts and clubhouses (no girls allowed), engaged in sports that were both physical and exhausting — the rites of passage from boy to man.

Yes, there were scrapes, bumps and even a few fractures accompanying this high-spirited roughhousing, but, in the end, it was a magical experience and a lot of fun.

It is no secret that our schools and society as a whole are hostile to what was once considered the natural development of boys into manhood. This stifling may not be readily apparent to today's parents and school officials who may not have noticed a gradual shift to the "gender-norming" experience.

Perhaps the increasing mobility of women into occupations and fields once monopolized by men, and the "I am woman, hear me roar" attitude, has caused an imbalance of what was once normal. Woefully, I have both experienced and noticed a decline in the courtesy and deference shown to women, largely because it is no longer expected and often not desired.

I miss my generation's standing to give a lady a seat, opening doors, walking to the outside — my father would always touch the brim of his hat or cap to acknowledge a lady's presence. Sadly, these courtesies seem to be disciplines of bygone days.

Change does not occur in a vacuum. I have long been troubled by punishment  awarded to youngsters for activities so normal as to be unnoticed when I was a student.

I have written of these before. However, I am outraged at the recent treatment of a 5-year-old boy who brought a cap pistol to school to show to a friend who had apparently brought a water pistol the day before.

The youngster, a Dowell Elementary School kindergartner in Lusby, Md., was interrogated for two hours by school officials who called his mother only after the boy wet himself, according to a report in the Washington Post. In an earlier column, I wrote of a 7-year-old who was suspended for biting his pop tart into the shape of a gun.

Other such "criminal acts" include an Arizona student suspended for a picture of a gun on his computer, a 6-year-old South Carolinian for taking a small, transparent toy gun to school for show and tell and a 5-year-old in Massachusetts who faced suspension for building a toy gun out of Legos.

The concern over firearms in schools is warranted, but it is an utterly ridiculous overkill to browbeat, frighten and punish boys in grades K-4 for incidents involving toy guns. School officials who are so misinformed about small boys playing cowboys and indians, cops and robbers and soldier should be subjects for remedial childhood instruction.

For crying out loud, cap guns were standard accessories, along with pocket knives, tops and yo-yos for boys in the schools I remember. Playing with toy guns usually lasted through the fifth grade, the time of life when girls are suddenly more interesting than Black Bart, Geronimo or enemy soldiers.

Additionally, not one in my circle of cap gun desperadoes grew up to be gun-toting criminals of any stripe.

Sadly, it is probably too late to overturn, or even modify, the too-rigid "rules of engagement" concerning toy guns for boys (and girls) in grades K-4. The overreactions that are all too normal tend to teach impressionable youngsters that all firearms are forbidden fruits and, rather than turning them off, may actually increase  their natural curiosity, a dangerous omen indeed.

In my memory, playing the cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians games in the schoolyard, the good guys always won and the bad guys always got up to play again. Significantly, that is seldom the case in today's movies and video games where people are blown away in wild abandon by gunfire, rockets, bombs and in car chases.

I suppose I am doomed to disappointment in longing for a society in which one size does not fit all, that boys permitted to be boys and girls are permitted to be either, until grades 3 or 4.

However, a school official who cannot substitute judgment and common sense for "by-the-book" rules and regulations in dealing with individual students should be required to seek employment elsewhere.

J. Karl Miller is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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Ellis Smith June 5, 2013 | 6:58 a.m.

Karl: One aspect that seems necessary to achieve our Brave (and pathetic) New World is that human society must become more "unisexual." Adult males, after all, have a number of bad habits, including engaging in war, committing violent crimes (more often than females), and sometimes (or frequently) neglecting to shave and/or use deodorant. You know, stuff like that.

Obviously, the best way to reduce these problems is to start early, meaning with boys before they become men.

Also, some advocates of this course may be overly influenced in their thinking by some guy named Freud. You know, Freud's famous theory of "penis envy." It strikes me that some penises might be cnsidered more "enviable" than others*, but a more thorough discussion of that subject is beyond my pay grade (I am not a medical person) and might also land me on the wrong side of rules for what may posted be here.

As for the game Cowboys and Indians (Native Americans), I propose a new and far more exciting version, with no upper age limit, real guns, and most definitely live ammunition.

For want of a more imaginative name we'll call this new game Cowboys & Socialists (Native Americans can take a well-deserved rest). :)

*-When Mr. Jefferson posited that "all men are created equal" (Declaration of Independence) he was obviously NOT referring to individual male anatomy.

PS: What is shown above has been written in the style Donald Kaul ONCE used in writing his daily (except weekends) column, "Over The Coffee" that appeared in the Des Moines Register. Donald does not seem to have "aged well." Happens to many of us.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 5, 2013 | 10:28 a.m.

" tend to teach impressionable youngsters that all firearms are forbidden fruits"

And suddenly appears the REAL agenda.

When control of the educational system is ceded by parents to a level beyond the neighborhood (i.e., state and especially feds), elitists can teach youngsters whatever damnphool world model they wish. "Safety in schools" is the stated (and acceptable) goal for "no tolerance" activities, but the REAL and quite hidden agenda is to make "guns" a 4-letter word to youngsters and, eventually, the adults they become.

If you want to control adults, educate them to your way of thinking while they are still young.

PS: My grandfatherly philosophy for visiting grandkids is "Go outside. Do not come back until you are filthy or wet, and preferably both." I also try to teach them about poison ivy and stinging nettles, but too often they have to learn that lesson by themselves through an unpleasant experience. We keep an ample supply of cap guns/holsters around for those under 10 and if liberals ever get those banned...well, I still know how to whittle.

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Richard Saunders June 5, 2013 | 10:31 a.m.

Welcome to the world created via a century of government schools, where individualism is intentionally destroyed, all in order to create pliable "citizens."

Individuals are seen as a threat to the collectivists who know nothing other than managing the lives of everyone but themselves.

In other words, it's all about obedience to authority. THEIR authority.

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Ellis Smith June 5, 2013 | 11:20 a.m.

"Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever." - Attributed to Lenin

"Give me a child for the first seven years, and you may do what you like with him afterwards." - Reputed to be a Jesuit maxim (unverified)

"But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences." - John Stewart Mill (1859) [How about that! Mill anticipates the rise of Socialism, the late National Socialism, and the late Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics.]

"Give us the clear vision that we may know where we stand and what we stand for - because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything." - Peter Marshall, Chaplin, United States Senate (April 18, 1947) [Unfortunately, we appear to have some people who claim to stand for something but are obviously willing to fall for anything.]

(Report Comment)
Ed Lane June 5, 2013 | 11:48 a.m.

That's what happens when our education system becomes so pc. Our children and society suffer from this also. I hope the libs are happy with the result!!!!!!

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Tony Black June 5, 2013 | 12:27 p.m.

I am thrilled, actually. My grandkids no nothing of prejudice against people of other races and religions. They will learn of the Selma riots from books instead of watching it happen, like we did. Or old white men trying to control womens bodies. They are not taught that blacks should know their place or that women should be subserviant. Are there people who take things to the extreme? Of course there are. But they are not limited to liberals, And you all know that. It just doesn't fit the rhetoric.

Since you are throwing around quotes, which one of you can quote Ronald Reagans stance on semi-automatic weapons?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 5, 2013 | 3:15 p.m.

TonyB: "which one of you can quote Ronald Reagans stance on semi-automatic weapons?"

I can't. But, since you posted it, I'm gonna assume the quote is not in favor of semiautomatics.

So what? You think I'm so wedded to the guy that I don't think he did/said any wrongs? I was a Bush2 supporter, but do you think I'm happy with his drug prescription plan or some other things he did?

This President isn't holy, either. Like the lesbian woman who recently confronted FLOTUS, you'd be better off yellin' at those you've supported instead of maintaining an embarrassed silence. It's a mistake to wed your values to a president or any other leader; I should know since I've done it, but won't do it again. (Note: I did not agree with the woman's timing or place. I dislike hecklers almost as much as I dislike gawkers.).

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Michael Williams June 5, 2013 | 3:44 p.m.

TonyB: "...or that women should be subserviant."

So where the hell were you in the Bill Clinton years when feminists concluded you get the equivalent of one free grope? Or a woman was denied justice and her day in court? Or we were trying to decide what "is" means? Or when some liberal commented on what kind of trash you can attract if you drag a dollar bill through a trailer park?

Did your grandkids learn about that, too? Did you teach them?

If you were silent during those events, then your comments today about women not being subservient are just so much blah, blah, blah.

PS: It sounds to me like your grandkids are being taught the art of victimhood instead of more important things like how to identify poison ivy and stinging nettles.

PSS: Back to bringing-up-boys. I read a book once that said (paraphrased) that men get into more trouble NOT being male when it is important to do so, than NOT being feminine when they should have been.

Similarly, women get into more trouble NOT being female when it is important to do so, than NOT being masculine when they should have been.

(Report Comment)
Ken Geringer June 5, 2013 | 3:44 p.m.

Dear Missourian. I believe your comments section has outlived its usefulness. Now only seems to display to the interweb the quality of our mid-Missouri thinkers. And it ain't pretty!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 5, 2013 | 3:58 p.m.

Ken: Well, liberals should join in! We need help lowering mid-MO's IQ even further.

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Tony Black June 5, 2013 | 4:56 p.m.

Great comeback there Michael. Why shouldn't I think so? You think all Democrats agree with everything Obama does. None of us (well maybe Frank), agree with 100% of our parties ideology. But you sure couldn't tell by what you and others have to say about liberals.

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Tony Black June 5, 2013 | 5:13 p.m.

Wasn't much internet back in the Clinton days, so no I didn't comment about it. And now, in typical rwnj ideology, you profess to know what my grandkids are learning. It escapes me how you can insult my family and not get blocked. I showed them poison ivy just 2 weeks ago, so they would learn. You, Michael, are exactly whats wrong with society today. You can't go back, so you insult and profess to know all. You can live in the past forever for all I care. I chooe to live in a world of diversity and togetherness, instead of a racist, mysogonistic, backward past.

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Tony Black June 5, 2013 | 5:13 p.m.

I guess you just joined Frank, in my opinion.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 5, 2013 | 6:04 p.m.

TonyB: All I learned from your post is that, yes indeed, you were silent....because there was no internet. Huh? Was communication invented only 20 years ago?

The reason I think "all Democrats agree with everything Obama does" is because I never hear anything different. I do hear a lot abject silence that I can only interpret as approval, tho.

As for me being the epitome of what's wrong with society today.....society could do a whole lot worse than following the philosophies and outcomes I've followed. And me, misogynistic? Perhaps you should check out my comments on "equal pay for equal work" in this newspaper today.

And it still sounds to me like your grandkids are learning the art of victimhood; but, kudos to you on the poison ivy thingie. Try for stinging nettles, too.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller June 5, 2013 | 6:49 p.m.


I shave once a week whether I need it or not. I learned that from my dad who, as a farmer, saw no reason for that foolish waste of water and time. Having spent more than forty years of everyday shaving, I am enjoying the scruffy look of movie stars and athletes.

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Ellis Smith June 6, 2013 | 8:03 a.m.

Tony Black Said:

"Since you are throwing aound quotes..."

Rest assured there will be more quotes, but as with the ones you are apparently referring to they won't be just "thrown around" but will be carefully chosen to illustrate points.

I agree with you about improvements made in the status of minorities in the United States, but not with a number of other so-called "improvements" that have also been made. However, I am skeptical that while "public accommodations" and employment situations have improved, that racial and ethnic prejudices have come anywhere near being banished.

As [then] Senator Barry Goldwater put it, "You can legislate civil rights but you cannot legislate racial tolerance." Barry didn't come close to being elected President, but consider the consumate LIAR who was re-elected in 1964. Truth is ofen the least popular of all alternatives. Who said that? I just did.

Karl: Women shave too - legs, underarms. Well, some do. In 1960 when we were building Missouri's first nuclear reactor on the MS&T campus we received uninvited tourists from around the USA, many of whom - both sexes - were visually unshaven on any bodily surface and (based on body odor) unbathed. They busied themselves explaining to us and to Rolla citizens how Rolla and Phelps County were about to be turned into a vast nuclear wasteland.

Anyone familiar with the size and design of this particular reactor and having a scintilla of knowlege of nuclear physics would laugh at some of the statements these people made, but they obviously weren't interested in being educated; fortunately, Rolla citizens WERE interested. The reactor has now operated without incident for more than 50 years.

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