One of the most striking things about my visit to Gallions Primary school in Newham, which I've already written about here
, was the ways in which the school nurtured a love of dancing, singing and cooking amongst the boys. This for me is a very important issue; we live in a culture which promotes very strong gender stereotypes in a multiplicity of ways. Many boys quickly fall into stereotypical behaviour, attitudes and mind-sets, learning from our culture that contentious issues are settled by violence, that the "arts" and reading are for "girls" and so on. Michael Gove pilloried academics who study these sorts of gender stereotypes in a recent Daily Mail article
, mocking an academic who studies "‘how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice". I'm not quite sure who this academic is (Gove, of course, doesn't provide a proper reference) but I know an amazing academic, Dr. Carrie Paechter
at Goldsmiths College, who does precisely this. Her book, Being Boys, Being Girls
, really opened my eyes up to the ways in which so much of the behaviour of boys is socially constructed. Paechter shows that schools play a big role in constructing these gender stereotypes in both overt and covert fashions, from the ways in which they insist upon different types of uniform for the sexes, to the messages teachers send in and out of the classroom. Her book is subtle and open-minded, refusing to pin down gendered behaviour to one particular source, but rather showing that gendered behaviour emerges from "communities of practice", that is to say, emerge from a complex network of collective behaviour within the communities that children grow up in, which includes the home, school, and the wider culture. She shows that schools can't challenge these stereotypes by having "bolt-on" lessons about gender stereotypes, but need to consider their overall aims and purposes. One such school that has done this is Gallions which clearly has a passionate concern for gender equality; making boys dance, sing and cook from Day 1 is one of these. A knock-on effect of this approach is that they've managed to change cultural attitudes towards gender stereotypes in their very deprived area; the "arts" and reading are not the province of "girls", they are for boys too. They've managed to combat much gender stereotyping that you find on the media, which can be very influential, but inducting children into new "communities of practice", to use Paechter's phrase. In the video, the headteacher Paul Jackson, explains how they've managed to do this.