Boys, oh Boys

I am growing increasingly tired and irritated by the continuing calls for “something to be done about boys in school.” I wonder about the underlying motivation of the movement. I think it is really a desperate attempt to hang on to male domination?


As a boy at school I wasn’t “a body in perpetual motion” (see Peter West’s article in Melbourne’s ‘The Age’). Yes Peter, the boy culture does say “be tough, have muscles, don’t do anything girly.” But what if you are a boy and you’re not tough, you don’t have muscles and some of the things you like doing (like playing classical piano) are regarded by the tough minority as being “girly”. I can tell you from personal experience it is awful. Yes “Boys energy was once validated” and, I add, given relatively free reign to the detriment of many. Let’s kill this romantic fantasy that schools in the 60s were a nice place to be. Bully’s ruled and bastardisation was rife.
Thinking about my early high school days, there were probably only about four boys in each class who fell into the typical “boy” stereotype that West describes. That left about 12 of us who were intimidated by the big strong, muscly, tough, macho non-crying boys.
No we don’t need a return to the past and we don’t need to stereotype our boys and our girls.
I’m sick of this notion that we need more male ‘role models’ for our boys. A good female teacher can engage in boys banter just as well as a male. She can challenge boys to excel at everything they do whether that be by being part of the coaching panel at the football or by teaching him to dance. I’ve many times seen a magical relationship between my female colleagues and a group of boys.
During the late 70s and early 80s I tought high school physics for about ten years in a row. The boys were always in the majority in those days. One year I had a class with about 12 boys and one girl. Lisa was one of the brightest people I ever taught and the boys didn’t like it. Every time she answered a question correctly she got ribbed by the boys. She ended up getting a creditable but not brilliant result because it was just too hard.
I believe that girls have always done better at school than boys, but in the past we put artificial barriers in the way of girls’ success. Girls were only ‘allowed’ to do the soft subjects. They were positively discouraged from staying on through the later years of secondary school and view their fulfillment in terms of marriage, motherhood and home making. As these barriers have been torn down, mainly by determined and courageous women over the last century, girls natural superiority at the game of schooling has shone through. Just as my year 12 physics boys didn’t like the one girl to show them up, now hoards of men are trying to put the lid back on Pandora’s box.
Of course we must be concerned wherever we find a group of people underperforming at school. But the answer doesn’t lie in encouraging our boys to be more macho, more tough, more muscly and more insensitive. Besides the fact that there are lots and lots of boys for whom this stereotype simply doesn’t fit, these approaches will never lead to academic success – let alone to developing good citizens. Just as certainly we don’t want to try to turn our boys into girls. While finding legitimate outlets and validation for the excess energy that some boys have, we want also to encourage thinking people who can see the broader issues facing our fractious world, who can contribute to the development of a strong community, who can love and be loved and can have fun without taking it from others.
This leads us to seek a new vision for education. Schools where every child and young person can find self expression regardless of gender, race, interest or academic ability. We need schools where we encourage and support our teachers to walk up and down the classroom, look into the eyes of every student and ask “are we doing everything we can to develop the spirit of this young person?” Will only that our macho male dominated society will let it happen.