WHY THIS WORK IS NEEDED
All indications point to a critical crossroads looming in the United States with regard to young men. The Boys Project presents startling statistics showing that boys in the United States have significantly higher rates of emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, school suspensions, expulsions, suicide, incarceration, and homelessness than girls.
They are also falling behind in school and losing an understanding of the importance of school. This is not just a problem related to race and class. Careful analysis of the 2006 National Assessment of Education Progress found that one in four 12th grade white males with at least one college-educated parent in the U.S. read "below basic" by the time they graduate. (Statistics are closer to 50% for black and Latino young men.) Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, sees a major problem in how we educate boys from an early age. He cites compelling research that boys develop their language centers later than girls, and that pushing them to read as early as we do in most schools sets them up for an experience rife with repeated failure, shame, and subsequent withdrawal.
Since 1970, the share of college degrees earned by males has declined from 57% of Bachelors and 60% of Masters degrees to 43% and 41%, respectively. Qualitative analysis of interviews with high school seniors has shown that far more young men than women dislike school, have little knowledge of the labor market and how to attain their "dream job," and that there is a persistent stereotype amongst both young men and women that "boys are lazy."
Boys repeatedly mention in research on adolescent romantic relationships their desire for guidance, for their romantic feelings to be validated, and to know about girls' perspectives, but are often not taken seriously by adults or not given the proper supports in school or at home for this to occur.
Media messages that show men as 1) either winners or nobodies, 2) succeeding through being aggressive and confrontational without a moral code, and 3) only interested in sex, wealth and power are also cited as a reason for a generation of directionless "slackers."
Finally, and most alarmingly, young men are increasingly avoiding what they see as the looming "trap" of being a responsible adult man. In his interviews with over 400 young men in their late teens to mid 20's, sociologist Michael Kimmel discovered a haunting pattern (emphasis added):
"... Many of these young men, poised between adolescence and adulthood, are more likely to feel anxious and uncertain. In college, they party hard but are soft on studying. They slip through the academic cracks, another face in a large lecture hall, getting by with little effort and less commitment. After graduation, they drift aimlessly from one dead-end job to another, spend more time online playing video games and gambling than they do on dates..., 'hook up' occasionally with a 'friend with benefits,' go out with their buddies, drink too much, and save too little. After college, they perpetuate that experience and move home or live in group apartments in major cities, with several other guys from their dorm or fraternity. They have grandiose visions for their futures and not a clue how to get from here to there. When they do try to articulate this amorphous uncertainty, they're likely to paper over it with a simple 'it's all good.'"
To change young men's trajectories, families and schools need a carefully implemented program to guide boys out of their fog of shame, fear, anger and withdrawal and illuminate a clear roadmap for lasting fulfillment and peace of mind.
Further, because schools do not have the resources or space in their curricula to teach these things and parents rarely have the social and psychological capital with their sons to address them honestly and comprehensively, young men need a safe, structured and accessible way to learn the perspective, skills and mindsets necessary to change their life trajectories.
Young Men's Nation's mission is to provide the most impactful, scalable and continuous experiences for young men so that they can achieve lasting peace of mind and professional fulfillment on their journeys to solving the most pressing issues of our time.
This will be a community space for reflection, growth and change that promotes an alternative narrative, gives wise perspective, and provides a safe place for young men to ask troubling questions.
We strive to provide an authentic voice for young men who aspire to have the courage, patience and curiosity necessary to contribute to the flourishing of sanity on the planet.
Young Men's Nation will address the growing gender and opportunity gap in education and employment through a mobile-first, real-time, blended learning platform that will teach boys essential character, literacy and life skills through a mixture of in-person and online mentoring and guidance.
Our online magazine will be the culminating place for young men to showcase their work as they progress in the program from middle school through their first professional jobs.
We will provide an immersive, secure, online community that will support young men to lead lives of character amidst a popular culture that glorifies the opposite. We will counter destructive narratives through media campaigns, expert advice, peer support, online and in-person curricula & celebrity endorsement.
Young Men's Nation will be what all other comprehensive programs for boys have not had the resources or political breathing room to create: It will stay consistently tapped into popular culture while being constructively critical of it, guiding young men through game-like, immersive lessons in the moral, financial and emotional development necessary for long-term contentment while providing a constant stream of high-quality media content, from podcasts to short documentary films to celebrity interviews, that will reinforce the main messages of the philosophy and approach to a life well-lived.
Our ultimate vision is for the world to hear new voices in the fight to solve pressing social problems by training the next generation of young men to use online, new media for good.
Can I lead a life of character in a modern culture that glorifies the opposite?
This is the central question that we return to over and over in our work with young men.
We’re not satisfied to allow boys to follow in the footsteps of the self-centered, angry, violent, or emotionally stoic men we still see exalted in our popular culture. But we're just as unwilling to endorse notions of manhood that swing too far toward unrestrained emotional sensitivity or kindness at the expense of one's authentic voice.
Yes, “nice guys” do finish last. But so do thugs, bad boys, players, and all the other stereotypes that boys often think are the right ones to emulate. Wait long enough and these kinds of men end up isolated, angry, and weighed down by the harm they’ve caused others.
Instead, we teach a middle path. The YMN challenge is to become a man who is:
Confident yet caring,
Assertive yet respectful,
Attractive without being mean and
Successful while remaining ethical.
Our motto in pursuit of this balance is: Do what's right. Success will follow.
In all that we do, from designing our services to crafting the community experience to public relations with those who may disagree with us, we insist that the following values guide our work:
Compassion - We start from a place of compassion for the tragedy and complexity of the human condition and the inherent flaws every person will always possess.
Truth - We seek to find the objective truth about how the human condition interacts with the peculiarities of modern society to disincentivize, limit or block young men’s attempts to achieve personal excellence and realize lasting harmony between the sexes.
Nuance - We research and think carefully to ensure we're coming from a place of independent thought stripped as much as possible of confirmation and reference bias, political maneuvering, and psychological projection. We aspire to craft products and services that transcend dualistic and in- vs. out-group worldviews.
Courage - We will unflinchingly yet compassionately address the questions, frustrations and confusion of young men that parents, schools, media organizations, religious institutions and online communities are currently unable to with the proper amount of respect and dignity for people with differing experiences than their own.
Honesty - We respond to the issues young men face with the full breadth and depth of our current thinking, admitting when we don’t know the answers, or when we are uncomfortable with our current thinking.
Humility - We accept that we will occasionally miss the mark with our responses to young men, but we agree that action is better than rumination, and arriving at lasting solutions can only come from persistence beyond failure and a free flow of diverse opinions and ideas based on careful thinking and rigorous research.
We are experienced educators, technology and neuroscience evangelists, ed tech marketing experts, and budding moral philosophers on a mission to change the trajectories of young men on a massive scale. We care deeply for kids and believe they deserve both the truth and the best adults can give.
BEN KEELER | Founder & Chief Strategist
Ben has spent over 15 years in school-based roles as an administrator, teacher, coach and mentor. He spent eight years teaching and coaching in Washington, DC and the United Arab Emirates before earning his Masters in Education at Harvard in a self-designed program studying the social, emotional and moral development of young men.
He then spent five years at an education consulting startup developing smartphone-based tools to collect data on attitudes, behavior and character over time. He co-developed a 25-hour male leadership curriculum with YMN’s Matthew Branch, assisted for four years with a Harvard research project investigating ethical behavior in college students’ romantic relationships, and has worked since 2010 to build the mentoring program at a Boston-area charter school.
MATTHEW BRANCH | CEO & Chief Academic Officer
Matthew Branch is an avid outdoorsman, an Eagle Scout, and a former wild land firefighter. He has been working with youth in and outside of the classroom for over a decade as a coach, mentor, tutor, and teacher. Matt earned a Bachelor’s degree in literature and a Master’s degree in education from the University of California at Santa Cruz. More recently, he spent two years living and studying in Boston, Massachusetts where he earned a Master’s degree in writing and publishing from Emerson College and met YMN’s co-founder Ben Keeler. Together they developed a 25-hour male leadership curriculum and founded Young Men’s Nation.
Matt teaches 8th grade Language Arts at a charter school in East San Jose, California.
WILL VITALE | Chief of Product & Evaluation
Will’s background is in the intersection between education and psychology, and he is always looking for new opportunities to help kids and teenagers discover their strengths and passions. Will first met Ben and Matt while working as an instructor in Boston after completing a M.Ed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. When he's not at work, Will can be found climbing rocks, writing songs, or worrying about the 49er's quarterback situation.
RYAN INGRAM | Chief of Branding, Marketing & Outreach
R. A. Ingram is a San Jose, CA native with a passion for social justice and the arts. He is an educator and artist who crafts stories with the goal of empowering young people. His ultimate goal is to make waves in the YA Fiction genre by writing stories that empower youth of color by creating characters who look, feel, and think like they do.