the “feminization” of our education

Like most people, I have a morning ritual– I drink a cup of Lady Grey tea, check my emails, and read a few online newspapers. I usually enjoy the London Times (I prefer English newspapers to American, I find them less biased) but when I came across an article entitled Don’t Teach Boys to be like Girls …well… I slightly dreaded reading it because I already knew what rhetoric the article would sprout. And, of course, it didn’t disappoint.

Boys are failing in school–they’re more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, need more assistance with reading, and are falling behing in (gasp!) even “traditional male subjects” such as math and science. And do you know what, or rather who, is to blame? Feminists, naturally.

Apparently in the past 30 years education has lost the boys:

Some people blame this nosedive, first noticed in the mid-Nineties, on the “feminisation” of education – too many women teachers, girl-friendly classroom environments and modular exam systems that suit girls’ study skills but disadvantage risk-takers […] The current generation of teachers, though, were born and raised in an atmosphere dominated by women’s liberation and “non-gender-specific” education that began in the Seventies. Barbies were banned, most protagonists in books were female and there was no tolerance of war or superhero play. As a head teacher, Palmer remembers making her reception teacher remove all the cloakroom pegs that depicted tractors for boys and bunnies for girls.[…] “I really think,” she says, “that the almighty cock-up of the sisterhood in the Seventies was that we believed we could turn boys into girls.”

Okay, first off, where did these people go to school?? Granted I was in elementary school back in the early nineties, but still our readings, our lessons, our history, our recess for chrissake were all male-centric. One of the many aims of second-wave feminism was to break this male-centricity and create a more gender-neutral environment. The aim was not to make education (or politics or anything else for that matter) strictly female-centric because this defeated the whole purpose. Aims for a gender-neutral society, one that steps away from the male and towards the female in a neutral position, does not mean it is female-centric!! Feminists don’t want boys to be girls, they just don’t want children to be raised in a “this is what boys do, this is what girls do” society, or one, which this author clearly applauds, that claims boys are girls are different based upon biological traits.

Palmer says that most women are not natural risk-takers, so for teachers who have not helped to bring up brothers and who don’t have sons, boys’ behaviour can be frightening […]  “Games are only about inclusion, with no winners allowed.” This is disastrous for boys, who need to compete to establish their place in the hierarchy, which is how they organise their friendships and something that they understand from nursery age onwards. It is also bad for sport. Palmer adds that “self-esteem” arrived from America and now no child is allowed to “lose” at anything. Palmer is not suggesting that boys should be allowed to behave in any way they want. What we need, she says, is to celebrate what makes them boys and help them to understand the things that don’t come naturally to them. That means getting them outside more, particularly as space gets squeezed in urban schools. “Not letting boys be boys is not only detrimental to them but also to girls, many of whom become overcompliant with what is considered ‘good’ behaviour and could do with a shove outdoors to take more risks,” she says.

Where to begin! First of all, I’m female. I’m a risk-taker. Does that make me (a) less of a female (b) more of a man (c) a monster (d) all of the above? By white-washing an entire gender with this docile description, the author is adding to the socialization of girls that directly causes them to be less-risky. I do not under any circumstances believe that because I have female genetalia I am biologically disposed to be less of a risk taker–it’s all socialization, and that’s what this author fails to see. It’s not that “boys will be boys” and be more physically active or aggressive or want to poke that frog with a stick strictly because of their sex, it’s because they’ve been taught (by parents, books, tv, teachers, grandpa, neighbors) that this is what little boys do. And we sweep it allllll under the rug of “boys will be boys!”

So what’s the deal? Is Palmer at best misinformed or at worst crazy? Or am I foolish for wanting to first of all factor in how we socialize our children as being separate from biology and second of all rejecting that our education forces boys to be like girls but rather aims for a gender-neutral environment? And if our education is aiming for a more gender-neutral education environment, is that a bad thing? What do you think? (Any elementary ed teachers out there???)


8 responses to “the “feminization” of our education

  1. You are being foolish. I have been teaching now for almost 20 years. The change over the years is obvious. Were to begin ? —
    a.) We have shifted from a success oriented culture to one of being cooperative and getting along (collective incompetence is apparently preferred then someone actually showing off the abilities they have)
    b.) We have shifted from a competition oriented approach to one cooperation and group work (so individual competence is not as important as developing good socialization skills) (Even sports have been destroyed — let’s not keep score, let’s just have fun attitude)
    c.) We have moved from a knowledge/applications based education to one of self-esteem
    d.) More emphasis on ability to explain then on ability to get a correct answer (if you talk to teachers you will hear them actually talk about giving credit for explaining how they got an answer (in many cases even if the answer is wrong) than getting the correct answer.
    I could go on & on & on……….

    How do we solve such problems. Educators have special ways now–
    a.) give surveys to the students to see if they are “enjoying” their education (this apparently shows some success)
    b.) give lots (and lots and lots….) or extra credit excercises
    c.) change the nature of standardized tests (look at the history of the SAT)

  2. okay, so i was incorrect, education has changed. the way you describe, i thas become less about competition and more about cooperation. so is this a “female” shift? and whether it is or not, is it a bad thing?

  3. steffan,
    it sounds like you’re pretty cynical about the current state of education today, and from the way you describe it– i’d have to agree with you. i’m not an educator, but from the discussions i’ve had with current students and teachers, i am disheartened about the state of education we’re in. it greatly concerns me that we reward “the process” as opposed to correctness and we concern ourselves more with whether our students enjoy themselves and feel warm and fuzzy as opposed to actually getting better test scores– but is this something that can be blamed on a female influence? as a woman, i find that viewpoint offensive. I, for one, think that some level of competition through high school sports is healthy, when not taken to the extreme. (My sister’s swim team was required to perform one organized cheer for the other team for every 3 cheers they did for themselves– and i’m like, wait: shouldn’t we be trying to win? i was gently reminded that winning isn’t everything- it’s more how you play the game! then i threw up.)
    I also think that right answers, in addition to sound theory, should be what is rewarded and that standardized testing, while it isn’t for everyone, shouldn’t be thrown out the window until we find a way to test students’ abilities in a way that is conducive to everyone’s learning styles. I don’t think the changes you describe are the fault of women; I think they’re the fault of a culture that has become too politically correct and too precautionary. Teachers are generally women, and they have been generally women for quite some time; to blame this sudden shift in elementary and secondary academia is scapegoating and an irresponsible practice.

  4. I teach middle school. It is interesting to me that people always try to put sex/sexuality into everything. It’s all about economics. School is designed to educate children well enough to put them in jobs. Read a People’s History of the United States.

    Pretty much, America is about service jobs these days. We don’t want an intelligent, educated population. That’s why all the standardized tests. The goal is to get each child to get the same answer to everything, all the time. Back in my day, if all the kids thought the same thing, our teachers would have thought they were failures. Thinking was encouraged. Group identity and mass processing is what is wanted now.

    Good teachers don’t follow the rules, just like they didn’t back in my day. When I went to school in the 1960s there were teachers telling girls it was okay to compete and win. There have always been great teachers thinking outside the box. But if you don’t like how education is going, blame the people with power. Last time I checked, there weren’t too many feminists running the country or even the local school boards.

    I still teach my students to think, question and be skeptical.

    I’m a woman. I’m 49. I teach reading to students who are “at risk.” I love my students, both male and female. I find less gender difference than just individual difference.

    The only reason we don’t want “boys to be boys” is because we can’t have all that testosterone flying around. Schools are over crowded. It is more about crowd control than anything else. Both males and females are on meds for ADHD because there are just too many kids in too little space.

    Anyway, I have a ton of theories. If any one wants to continue the discussion, feel free to respond.


  5. If you don’t want all that “testosterone flying around” (nice misandry, by the way) then you should help boys focus their energy on learning. You don’t do that by telling them to settle down. You give them a reason to learn. That’s your job. It’s not your job to look down on males. But apparently it’s OKAY to have estrogen flying around.

  6. @Jay– there is more to be distracted with. Boys do better in militant, structured learning facing the teacher. Girls do better sitting in circles talking about things.

    The simple reality is boys and girls are different and succeed in different environments. Once people understand that, then and only then can a comprehensive solution emerge. If we keep pushing the pendulum back and forth and treat all kids the same there cannot be success.

  7. Interesting discussion. I used to teach middle school and find it to be pretty feminized. I am not happy about the current state of ed in this country but who could be? I am glad that there is a move to be inclusive and that most of the talk on differences is no longer centered around the tabula rasa sociology paradigm of the 60s 70s. I will say I did not find it to be an easy place for someone of my temperment. It occurred to me a few years ago that I was the first male teacher that some students had. Conisdering that almost half of the students don’t see their fathers on a regular basis, I thought “Ok…school is beholden to the parents (mom) and it follows suit. Boys and girls leave mom in the morning, to go to female teachers and then mom picks them up after school….I was not happy about the pervasive atmosphere of coddling and touchy feely drama that went on. Most of the male teachers learned to keep their mouths shut in faculty meetings. Not to say that all the women teachers were happy with the situation or visaversa. But just like a football team or frat house begins to reek of hormones, so did the school where I worked.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s