Saturday, 19 April 2008

Boys will be boys - if we let them

I ran into a couple of interesting articles which illustrate a pretty obvious problem when considering what sort of an equal society to strive for.


- The problem

But increasing numbers of educators believe this is natural boyish behaviour - and boys urgently need to be allowed to be boys.

A decline in the number of male teachers, and the feminisation of our playcentres and classrooms, is suppressing boys' natural behaviour, they say.

Too often boyish boisterousness is being misread, discouraged or frowned upon and as a result, boys can become alienated.

Boys are not only struggling academically, they also account for more than 80 per cent of those defined as having behaviour problems at school. They represent 75 per cent of those who appear in the criminal justice system, form the majority of those who develop serious mental health conditions, and account for the majority of youth suicides.

- The cause

At preschool, a male teacher is like a needle in a sandpit. Of the 15,000 early childhood teachers, only 167 are male.

At primary school the male teacher is also an endangered species. Latest Ministry of Education figures show just one in five teachers is male, compared with 42 per cent in 1956. Some primary schools are now staffed entirely by women.

Reverse the genders and the behaviours menetioned, and comments like this below wouldn't be controversial at all - businesses, for example, have benefited a great deal by encouraging diversity and questioning a "male" approach to doing things:

In a recent article he wrote: "When topics like this get identified many and various hackles get raised. This is an issue that needs to be discussed and debated and none of us, either male or female, should be afraid to do so. Frankly, it is dangerous for a society to ignore issues of importance because the dominant view at the time happens to see them as unfashionable."

"It's fair to say we have a way to go with women teachers knowing what is okay male behaviour," he told the Herald on Sunday.

The subject is a political hot potato. Some argue the lack of men is a non-issue - good teachers are what is required and if most of them are women, no problem. They can fully cater to the needs of both sexes - if indeed they have different needs.

"Why is it so bloody hard to accept - given the physicality involved - that the needs of boys and girls overlap in certain places but there are things that are just different?" asks Langley. [...]

"Men relate to children differently," he says. "Men tend to be more physical with children. If a male and a female teacher observe conflict, a male is more disposed to stand back and let the kids work it out. Women are more likely to intervene and to see it as violence, as aggression."

Ballantyne also believes men encourage risk more than women and that children benefit from being encouraged to go beyond what they believe is safe. "Risk-taking is almost being managed out of our centres and I think we urgently need to look at what we are doing within our educational environments if we still want to be an innovative and creative country," he says.

This is a square peg which can't easily be pounded into convenient little ideological round holes such as "the patriarchy hurts everyone" or "men are responsible for everything bad in the world". That's why I suspect it's not even going to get mentioned, at least on the left. But it's still there, and it is not going away.

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