Widespread concerns about boys’ education being articulated in many countries. These concerns began in the 1990s and continue to have purchase today. They have often been articulated within the media, and then gone on to be translated into policy documents and into school practices, with very real consequences. Some of the concerns have been justified. However, others have been framed within an anti-feminist approach which suggests that all is now fine for girls in schools and that boys are the new victims. Unfortunately a number of very popular texts that work within this latter framework are portrayed as containing “the” answer to boys’ education. Prior to suggesting some useful resources, it is perhaps important to indicate the problems with these texts.
- Containing anti-feminist and, what Eva Cox calls, “competing victim syndrome” in which educators argue over whether girls and boys are the most disadvantaged in order to compete for scarce resources.
- Treating the issue of boys’ education as a zero sum game in which we either support boys or girls rather than seeing the common interests of all in promoting gender equity.
- Constructing all boys and all girls as homogenous categories – in other words acting as if there are no relevant differences between boys and no relevant similarities between girls and boys.
- Ignoring the ways in which social class, race and ethnicity, sexuality and physical abilities and special needs impact on the ways boy (and girls) see themselves and are seen but others.
- Constructing boys as deficit by suggesting that they can only learn in one way (usually by suggesting that they are kinaesthetic learners) and that they are incapable of certain activities such as extended writing.
- Focussing on biological, including brain, differences between boys and girls, thereby suggesting that gender is fixed rather than constructed within sets of relationships.
Whilst these texts often make appeals to “common sense” they have often little research evidence to support their claims.
The following sets of resources are all grounded in research, and provide a nuanced account of issues to do with boys’ education. They also suggest ways of working with boys that take into account the overarching gender system (what Raewyn Connell has called their “patriarchal dividend”).
Generally these resources suggest:
- A focus on teaching and learning: Rather than using different pedagogies with boys and girls research shows that the key thing is to give students and teachers a vocabulary for understanding learning so that all students can become more aware and autonomous and feel respected/valued and teachers can become more creative in their teaching, planning and assessment.
- The careful use of single-sex classes can support boys and girls but only if used in such a way as to not normalise one way of being a boy or a girl (e.g. by using examples based on football with boys and examples based on fashion with girls).
- Tackling sociocultural factors for example the way that, in many schools, hard work and academic success and related to femininity.
Addressing the Educational Needs of Boys: Australian research by Bob Lingard, Wayne Martino, Martin Mills and Mark Bahr: This report was conducted for the Australian Commonwealth government at a time when there was a significant policy push to address issues in boys’ education in Australia. It rejects much of the ‘what about the boys?’ debate and provides a detailed analysis of how the issue was being taken up in schools across Australia.
Young Men’s Attitudes to Gender and Work: UK research by Trefor Lloyd: This study – the eighth in the Work and Opportunity series – explores young men’s views on and experience of the current employment market, and their attitudes towards ‘gendered’ work (work perceived as being more suited to either men or women). It looks at whether young men are being prepared for the contemporary workplace, and whether their, or others’, gender assumptions are affecting their experience and expectations. In addition, it examines young men’s attitudes to school, how well they thought they had been prepared for work, their initial experience of jobs and how this changed their views about employment, and the influence of race and racism.
XY is an online profeminist magazine that contains reading lists, resources and announcements about all issues related to gender. There is a very detailed and extensive section on working with boys and men.
Bullying no way: This Australian website with resources for students, parents and teachers, has a significant section that explores issues to do with the relationship between bullying and the construction and policing of gender.
Archer, L. (2003) Race, masculinity and schooling: Muslim boys and education. Maidenhead: Open University Press: This book explores the complex ways in which race and masculinity intersect in schools. There is a particular focus on British Muslim boys. This book is essential reading in an era shaped by concerns with global terrorism within which Muslim boys are constructed as threatening and dangerous.
Connell, R. W. (1995) Masculinities. Allen & Unwin: St. Leonards, Vic: This book provides a sophisticated analysis of the politics of masculinity. It is perhaps the most cited and most influential (although not uncontroversial) book dealing with differences amongst men and boys.
Connolly, P. (2004) Boys and schooling in the early years. London: RoutledgeFalmer: Whilst the focus on the book is on the early years, the first section of the book provides a very sophisticated analysis of the achievement debate in the UK. The case studies of very young boys makes this book a critical reading for those working in the field of gender and early years education.
Francis, B. (2000) Boys, girls and achievement: addressing the classroom issues. London: Routledge: This book also provides an excellent account of the ways in which the gender achievement debate sparked concerns about boys’ education. Through interviews with students the book details the ways in which young people construct themselves as learners, in the process it provides teachers with strategies for addressing boys’ engagement.
Lingard, B. and Douglas, P. (1999) Men engaging feminisms: pro-feminism, backlashes and schooling. Buckingham: Open University Press: How men engage with feminist debates has been a complex issue of gender studies. The complexities are well covered here. The book also provides a very good account of the debates that began the concern with boys’ education.
Lingard B., Martino, W. and Mills, M. (2009) Boys and schooling: Contexts, issues and practices. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke: This book brings together a critique of a range of practices commonly employed in schools to address boys’ education e.g. the hiring of male teachers, creating boy-friendly curricula and single sex-classes.
Keddie, A. and Mills, M. (2007) Teaching boys: Classroom practices that work. Sydney: Allen & Unwin: This book draws on interviews with and observations of teachers who have demonstrated classroom practices that engage boys without treating them in deficit ways and without engaging in a zero sum game in relation to boys’ and girls’ education. The book is not a “tips for teachers” text in that it recognises the good work undertaken by teachers and values the professionalism of teachers. However, each chapter contains activities and discussion topics for staff and classrooms.
Mac an Ghaill, M. (1994) The making of men: Masculinities, sexualities and schooling. Buckingham: Open University Press: This UK ethnography was one of the first profeminist works produced in an era sometimes characterised by “backlash” politics. It explores the ways in which practices in schools contribute to the production of masculinities. There is a particular focus here on the complex interactions between boys, and others, and the ways in which boys police each others’ behaviours.
Martino, W. and Pallotta-Chiarolli, (2001) Boys stuff: boys talk about what really matters. Sydney: Allen & Unwin: This book provides a diverse set of boys speaking about their experiences of being male. It is extremely powerful and offers educators insights into the complexities of the masculinity politics within which boys are located.
Martino, W. and Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2003) So what’s a boy?: addressing issues of masculinity and schooling. Buckingham: Open University Press: In opposition to much of the literature that constructs boys as a homogenous category, this book provides, through extensive interviews and by asking the question “So what’s a boy?”, an account of boys’ diversity.
Mills, M. (2001) Challenging violence in schools: an issue of masculinities. Buckingham: Open University Press: This is a profeminist book that explores the ways in which the politics of masculinity play themselves out in schools to valorise those forms of masculinity that are linked to violent behaviours. It constructs violence as a gender issue.
Salisbury, J. and Jackson, D. (1996) Challenging macho values: Practical ways of working with adolescent boys. London: The Falmer Press: This text contains many practical activities for use in classrooms, workshops and school camps. Again this book is not a collection of “tips for teachers” but instead provides a sound theoretical basis for the activities.
Skelton, C. (2001) Schooling the boys: Masculinities and primary education. Buckingham: Open University Press: Many texts concerned with boys’ education have focussed on secondary schooling. This book is of great significance for those concerned with the ways in which primary schools contribute to the making of masculinities. It deals with some of the “hot topics” in boys’ education in the primary phase, for example concerns about the lack of male teachers in primary schools, in thoughtful and accessible ways. The case studies in this text will have great resonance for those working in primary schools.
Page author: Martin Mills
Updated: 15th January 2013