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Boys in Education

July, 2007
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Before I set myself a task now, I find myself thinking about how it will work for the boys, I didn’t do that before …….Is this fair, or seemingly  preferential treatment? I am not sure how I can defend that idea, but I do know that it is necessary to think about the boys. What I have found as a teacher is that girls generally tick along nicely despite the teacher or school, however, boys do need help and guidance.

  Why should we worry about boys? As parents, know you are going to have them at home until they are 28 years of age ( if we go by current western trends). In fact, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistic Report (ABS) indicated a shift to 29 years.

  What we do know is, over the last 15 – 20 years, western countries in particular have seen a steady decline in boys’ academic performance, social behaviour, self-esteem and emotional health. This has resulted in increased isolation and alienation of boys in schools. It is of note that the middle years are most certainly the most “at risk” years in a boy’s schooling life. It is during these “roller-coaster” years that parents and schools need to be working closely together to maintain open lines of communication.

  At the risk of over-simplifying a boy’s world, there are essentially three main influences in their lives: biology, environment and their mates (boys and girls). We must move beyond the polarized debate of “Nature Versus Nurture” by acknowledging the diversity of degrees of influences of both biology and social determinism. I think we are all a bit different in relation to these influences. Suffice to say that the one universalistic assumption we can make about these influences is the fact that, in the end, they are impacting on boys academically and socially at school.

  The swinging pendulum theory is apt to summarise the changes in boys and girl’s performance in school. In the beginning, females in many ways had limitations placed upon them, whereas boys enforced their own. Obviously, the argument here is the notion that females were once conditioned to behave in particular stereotypical ways. The conditioning of females brought about a set of social values that could, at times, consciously or unconsciously restrict a girl’s potential. In contrast, boys have never experienced the same social engineering. As a result of these changes, we see the pendulum swinging in the field of education so that now girls are often out-performing boys in the academic arena.

  Of course girls are subject to conditioning behaviours (much like boys), but the essential difference is that their conditioning allows them to retain more capacity for emotional release. Girls are allowed to be sissy, to cry, to be silly and to make silly faces. The conditioning of males is enforced by the constant threat of violence or humiliation for non-compliance. It is installed by means of fear (I.Lillico)…..but that fear must never be shown. They should not even notice they are scared. Nor should they show grief or sadness. Anger is an emotion that is permitted, but it must be monitored. Steve Biddulph tells us that, “unfortunately anger has become the common pathway for boy’s feelings; anger is the emotional funnel through which boys express their vulnerability and powerlessness.”

  Of course it is not all about anger, we know that boys also use humour as a way of dealing with a threat or fear. Humour is a successful tool for dealing with a threatening situation, such as an oral or classroom presentation. More importantly, humour is an acceptable code of behaviour for boys, it is sanctioned.

  Social conditioning is a part of our makeup that will not go away, but can be changed. I try to keep in mind three things when I teach boys:

  • Show them I like themIMG_2674
  • Listen to them and encourage them to articulate their thoughts
  • Remind them regularly that they are fundamentally good people

  In my experience, if boys know that you care, they will work for you. It is a demonstrable fact that boys work for teachers, not subjects. They do think differently and do process information differently, and it is necessary to keep their learning style in mind when planning a curriculum. In the next issue we will continue to discuss the issues of boys in education.

By Laraine Reason, Beijing BISS International School

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