[BOYSED] Respecting boyness can get boys back to books

AnneM (AnneM@edc.org)
Wed, 13 May 1998 08:42:44 -0400

Forwarded from BOYSED
Subject: [BOYSED] Respecting boyness can get boys back to books
From: boysed@pnc.com.au at Internet
Date: 5/13/98 10:28


The Age - Melbourne, Australia
Wednesday 13 May 1998

Respecting boyness can get boys back to books

By Christopher Bantick

The relationship of boys to school and literacy is one of the most
urgent issues facing educationists today. Both anecdotal evidence and
research suggest boys are not performing as well as girls, and are
uninspired by reading.

The Kennett Government's allocation of $76 million for literacy in its
recent Budget, while a good initiative, reveals something of the size of
literacy problems in Victorian schools.

In the 1996 national school English literacy survey, 66 per cent of year
3 boys passed the reading standard, compared to 77 per cent of girls. In
writing, 65 per cent of boys passed and 81 per cent of girls.

A strong determinant of boys' literacy is how they perceive English as a
subject. Increasingly, boys' views of English may be affected by the
feminisation of English courses and syllabuses. According to a 1995
Australian study, Boys and Schools (edited by Rollo Brown and Richard
Fletcher), which undertook extensive research on year 10 boys, "English
is perceived as requiring . . . capacities which boys consider to be
more suited to girls and conflict with their viewsof masculinity."

In Britain, a government study into boys' literacy reported that works
of fiction "exploring character, relationships and emotions are more
popular with girls than boys who see them as 'cissy', and are less
willing to explore their feelings". The study, Can Do Better, released
this year, found that the gap in English between boys and girls widened
as they moved through school.

In Australia, English is overwhelmingly taught by women. Inevitably, this
affects the kind of material presented in the classroom. Research is
beginning to show that the gender of teachers, together with the
feminisation of curriculum, may be in large part responsible for boys'
declining reading standards. A Welsh study of primary school children
released this year - The teacher as role model: the effects of teacher
gender on boys' versus girls' reading attainment - found that boys might
do better if there were more male teachers.

An easy explanation for boys' falling standards in literacy is that they
are often loud, physical and sometimes aggressive. Perhaps, to put it
bluntly, some women teachers can't cope with boys. Perhaps Sir James
Darling, a headmaster of Geelong Grammar before it went co-educational,
had it right when he said of boys: "If you're going to be any good (as a
teacher), you have to like the little swine."

Popular children's author John Marsden confronts the subject in his new
book, Secret Mens' Business, Manhood: The Big Gig. Marsden thinks the
feminisation of schools may have worked against boys.

"Schools have a culture where you sit down doing studious things. Girls
are better at this and it is an activity much praised in schools. Maybe
it is a female thing to sit quietly in class and pay attention to an
authority out the front."

There is now a push in primary schools to make boys more sensitive. Yet
the very boyness of boys needs to be understood, and even respected.

John Bednall, headmaster of Perth's Wesley College and the only
non-American on the Board of Trustees of the International Coalition of
Boys' Schools, says: "For years, teaching method has favored feminine
styles of learning. Teachers who are heavy on `talk' and light on
`action' will keep most of the girls with them but lose most of the boys.
What is beginning to be suspected is that some of those noisy,
boisterous, disruptive behaviors in class by boys are actually thwarted
learning styles dismissed as disciplinary problems."

In a sense, the solution is simple. More men, unapologetic about their
masculinity and able to convey an enthusiasm for language and reading,
should be teaching English. And schools need to reconsider what and how
boys are taught, and by whom, before boys are accused of

Christopher Bantick writes on educational issues. Email:

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