| Let Boys be Boys
National Post, March 04, 2003
Educators are beginning to quantify an "enthusiasm gap"
between girls and boys in co-ed public schools. The reason:
Schools, especially elementary schools, have become feminized.
Elementary school teachers and administrators who once understood
that boys will be boys, now act, at least, as though they expect
boys to be more like girls. Their hostility to the male character
-- intentional or not -- is turning boys off learning. The behaviours
that earn reward and reinforcement -- co-operation, communal
achievement and non-assertiveness in class -- are feminine behaviours.
Meanwhile, such masculine traits as competitiveness, aggressiveness
and individuality are seldom prized, and frequently discouraged
or even punished.
Little Johnny isn't happy in school, according to Leonard Sax,
an American educational psychologist, because schools "are
run largely by women and according to women's rules." To
do well under such conditions boys have to adopt "geeky"
or emasculated behaviours. Rather than do so, many boys simply
tune out and let their educations slide. So, Dr. Sax told a
convention of private-school teachers in New York last week,
don't be afraid to yell at boy students every once in a while.
Or to give them strict rules to follow. Or to challenge them
to best one another academically or to prove you wrong by giving
them an initially harsh assessment of their work or abilities.
Most boys' brains are "hard-wired," he explained,
to respond to such "confrontation" with elevated heart
rate, increased adrenaline and enhanced alertness. Aggressiveness
just naturally draws the best out of boys. "They enjoy
it," Dr. Sax claims, whereas girls react to the same stressors
with nausea, dizziness and withdrawal. Teachers shouldn't yell
at all boys, and they shouldn't yell all the time. School, after
all is still school, not boot camp, and boys are still children,
not soldiers. Yet teachers shouldn't be afraid to display their
displeasure, or even anger, with a misbehaving or underperforming
boy. As long as their displays are rational, controlled and
part of a clear, authoritative discipline policy, boys will
instinctively understand their teachers' aggressiveness is in
their best interests.
How to draw the line against teacher-student bullying? Common
sense and consistent application -- and reasonable oversight
by principals and superintendents. Too often senior administrators
spend their time searching for the perfect, cover-all policy,
rather than managing and directing teachers in how they are
to act. Parents, too, need to be supportive of schools that
deal with boys more assertively. Teachers could follow Dr. Sax's
advice and be a bit more domineering, but their efforts would
be derailed if overprotective or pacifist parents complain the
first time Little Johnny's Grade 4 teacher raises her voice.
The generation-long push to solve perceived social ills such
as war, domestic violence and avarice by deprogramming maleness
in boys at an early age and in lower grades has failed.
Boys cannot be made to be girls by pretending their innate masculinity
does not exist, or by attempting to suppress it with zero-tolerance
violence policies; no-winner, non-contact games; or doll play.
Men and boys are naturally assertive. If they cannot find socially
acceptable ways in which to direct that assertiveness, they
will channel it into anti-social outlets. Schools need to deal
with this reality, rather than closing their eyes and hoping
masculinity will go away.
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