Thursday, March 28, 2013

Who's Making War Against Those Boys?

Yeah, it's the Patriarchy.

Color me shocked.

Over here at Feminste, titog walks us through a report from the Council on Contemporary Families that looks at research on how and why boys are doing well or doing badly in schools these days, and discovers that the problem is not (as some of us have already guessed) that evil feminist teachers are trying to turn little boys into girls; or that boys are being drugged into submission; or that boys are not being allowed to play with toy guns on the playground.

No, in fact, it's the anti-intellectualism of the patriarchal culture which is telling boys that when they study or when they engage with school or when they like intellectual pursuits that they are acting like girls.

In fact, boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama, and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these cultural activities are often denigrated as un-masculine by pre-adolescent and adolescent boys — especially those from working- or lower-class backgrounds. Sociologists C.J. Pascoe and Edward Morris relate numerous examples of boys who strive for good grades as being labeled “pussies” or “fags” by their peers.

Significantly, the report notes, separating boys from girls -- putting boys and girls into same-sex schools so that they can be taught in different ways according to their gender-essentialist needs (the separate-but-equal cry of certain far-right educators) -- is precisely the wrong move.

Commentators who emphasize boys’ special needs usually propose that we make schools more “boy-friendly” by offering single-sex classrooms where “boys can be boys,” by recruiting more male teachers, and by providing more rough and tumble activities. Our research shows that, contrary to what is rapidly becoming “conventional wisdom,” this is precisely the wrong strategy. Most boys and girls learn more in classrooms where girls are present. In classrooms with more girls, both boys and girls score higher on math and reading tests

In fact, what actually works is to improve schools for both girls and boys.

The win-win news is that the same reforms that help more boys achieve college success help girls as well. For example, schools with strong science curricula not only promote male achievement but increase girls’ plans to major in science and engineering. Schools that promote strong academic climates reduce gender gaps in grades and promote healthy, multi-faceted gender identities for both boys and girls.

It's not, the report notes, a zero-sum game (if we help girls we're warring against the boys!  If we help boys we harm girls!) but quite the contrary.  Helping either sex can help both.  Which -- frankly -- is exactly what feminism is about, and always has been.

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