Do we need to re-think the way we educate and socialise our boys?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Great article by academics Ann Oakley and Cynthia Cockburn in the Guardian today which really takes a step back from some of the "micro" arguments about the summer's riots and offers the bleak, big picture assessment that it's male violence that is the real problem. The article doesn't really look that hard at education but everything in it carries implications for schools and educators more generally. This paragraph really struck me:

"On the road, men commit 87% of all traffic offences and 81% of speeding offences. More people are killed and injured in road accidents than anywhere else, and Home Office data reveal the bearing of masculinity here too: men are responsible for 97% of dangerous driving offences and 94% of motoring offences causing death or bodily harm. A World Health Organisation report in 2002 on gender and road traffic injuriescautiously broke the code of silence by remarking that masculinity "may be" hazardous to health."

Driving instructors take note! Perhaps, men need to learn to deal with their aggressive instincts during their driving lessons? As a cyclist in London, I see first-hand everyday the crazy things male drivers, usually because they are being too aggressive.

Oakley and Cockburn briefly examine the situations in schools by saying: "Some of the costs of masculinity are paid individually. Boys are "permanently excluded" from school at a rate four times higher than for girls and attain fewer GCSE and A-levels than girls. But what of the overall costs to society?"

As a teacher, I've noticed that some boys, particularly from poorer backgrounds, react to the high stakes testing regime in schools by rebelling. They feel that they'll never succeed. This current government is intent upon making things even more punitive and "high stakes" than they already are. This "adversarial" approach which is so obsessively competitive is having serious knock-on effects I think; it engenders an attitude of aggressive rebellion in some boys, and doesn't seem to do girls that much good either. I've noticed that they can become extremely anxious even if they conform.

As Oakley and Cockburn show, we've "constructed" these masculine role models as a society; they are not "innate". They are by-products of a vicious, "masculine" culture which has arisen by the inter-play of many economic, social and psychological factors. Many state schools do try and address these issues but without real structural reform, I have a feeling that many men will continue to drive very dangerously, beat too many people up and riot when they've got the opportunity.

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Julian's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 11:35

Being a bit of a nerd, I can't deny my frustration at the way the stereotype violent male macho nutter was always the focus of attention of the females. Perhaps that's why I think that re-programming solely of males will have no positive effect and, given the cudos transgression of the rules acquires, probably a negative one. One could then postulate a type of education aimed at both sexes, I suppose.

But, in any case, you would then be trying to pursuade the students to disobey what are surely their natural instincts, the pursuit of power, protection and so on. My belief is that no progress will be made while the middle classes, responsible for education policy, find the concept of natural instinct ideologically inconvenient and distasteful.

But I am pessimistic to the extent that I think that if fashion were to change, and the concept become understood, it would be realised that, as a matter of fact, no progress would be be possible.

Pissing into the wind.

Julian's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 11:42

"was always the focus of attention of the females" ... I'll come clean, then, I'm fifty three.

Warwick Cairns's picture
Tue, 06/12/2011 - 12:15

I think sometimes you just have to accept that men and women are born different, and that some men are born different to other men, and that young men are different to older men. The best you can do is provide safe outlets for energy and agrression, rather than trying to engineer them away. A combination of being born male, born a risk-taker (through a variant of something called the dopamine receptor gene), and being young enough to have high testosterone levels means that you'll have a tendency to do foolhardy things. And if you're in the wrong situation with no positive channels for your energy you could end up being very destructive. As your hormone levels change with age, you'll calm down - which is why older men don't tend to get into so many fights. But I think there's certainly something in the Baden-Powell approach to young men - get them outdoors doing challenging and risky physical tasks and they'll be happier and more fulfilled in life, and less likely to engage in spontaneous violence. And speaking as a lifelong skateboarder I find that serious, committed skaters tend, as a whole, to be nice kids who have a sense of pride in their skill, a stoicism in the face of quite nasty injuries, and they don't tend, as a whole, to be troublemakers.

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