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The Boy Problem

Educating Boys in Urban America, 1870–1970

Julia Grant

Publication Year: 2014

Contemporary debates about the tendency toward poor academic performance among boys of color point to inadequate and punitive schools, poverty, and cultural conflicts. Julia Grant offers a historical perspective on the "boy problem," revealing it as an issue that has vexed educators for more than a century. Since compulsory schooling was enforced, immigrant, poor, and boys of color have constituted the most school-averse population with which educators have had to contend. Public schools developed vocational education, organized athletics, technical schools, and evening continuation schools—contributing to a culture of masculinity that devalued academic success in school. Urban educators sought ways to deal with the many "bad boys"—almost exclusively poor, immigrant, or migrant—who skipped school, behaved badly when they attended, and sometimes landed in special education classes and reformatory institutions. The problems these boys posed led to sustained innovations in public education and juvenile justice. This historical perspective sheds light on contemporary concerns over the academic performance of boys of color who now flounder in school or languish in the juvenile justice system. Grant's cogent analysis will interest education policymakers and educators, as well as scholars of the history of education, childhood, gender studies, American studies, and urban history.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

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pp. 1-13

For decades, scholars and pundits have been calling on the American public to act on behalf of boys. Christina Hoff-Sommers issued one of the first such clarion calls in her provocatively titled book The War on Boys, when she charged that boys were the real “second sex” and blamed feminists for redirecting attention from the problems boys faced in school to issues of equality...

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1. Schooling the “Dangerous Classes”: Reforming Boys in Nineteenth-Century America

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pp. 14-37

“At ten years of age the boys are all thieves; at fourteen the girls are all prostitutes,” a journalist charged in an article entitled “The Street Arabs of New York,” published in 1873.1 Beneath the sensationalist reportage, there lay a grain of truth: crime in New York, including pickpocketing and prostitution, had increased exponentially during the previous two...

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2. The Nature of Boy Nature: Education and Recreation for Masculinity

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pp. 38-66

“Being a boy,” popular writer Charles Dudley Warner concluded in his book of the same title, first published in 1877, was something to aspire to. Some were fortunate enough to live in the country, where they could express their “animal spirits,” enjoying halcyon days of fishing and tramping about the woods or engaging in such manly activities as pushing...

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3. The Perils of Public Education: Truants, Underachievers, and School Leavers

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pp. 67-92

In 1905, Frederick, a destitute ten-year-old likely of German parentage, was committed by the juvenile court to the Chicago Parental School, a residential institution run by the board of education for truant and incorrigible boys. His secondgrade teacher described him as bright and well behaved; her only complaint was that he always lagged behind...

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4. Bad or Backward?: Gender and the Genesis of Special Education

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pp. 93-117

When a Chicago Italian gang leader, the Cat, recalled his school experiences in the 1920s, he remarked disdainfully about his placement in a class for “subnormals.” Cat and the other kids had heard rumors that “the sub-normal room was where the guys was off their nuts,” but in his opinion “the ones in this room were just the ones that won’t listen...

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5. “The Boys’ Own Story”: Masculinity, Peer Culture, and Delinquency

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pp. 118-148

By the age of seventeen Barney already had a distinguished “delinquent career.” It started at the age of eight, when he tried to snatch a purse at a Chicago department store. His immigrant father, a day laborer and a bootlegger, accompanied him to court. When the judge asked him how the boy should be punished, his father responded...

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6. Black Boys and Native Sons: Race, Delinquency, and Schooling in the Urban North

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pp. 149-176

In his memoir Black Boy (1945), Richard Wright recounts the experience of growing up in the South during the 1910s, as well as his subsequent migration to Chicago in the 1920s. The book, originally titled American Hunger, echoed some of the experiences of other marginalized and disempowered boys; yet the unremitting racism endured...

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pp. 177-186

In 1965, Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan released his unforgettable report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.1 Moynihan’s claim that the distorted structure of the black family was at the root of racial inequality was not new. Yet the drama the report exuded, as reflected in its use of language and call to action...

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pp. 187-190

Admittedly, writing this book took far too long. I wrote this book on the back porch in the summer when the kids were at day camp, while my father slept in his hospital room, and in between teaching, raising two daughters, and becoming an administrator at James Madison College. Thus, I have much gratitude for those who have supported...


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pp. 191-224


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pp. 225-230

E-ISBN-13: 9781421412603
E-ISBN-10: 1421412608
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421412597
Print-ISBN-10: 1421412594

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2014