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???)