school

We can't ignore little boys' problems just because they are going to become men.

In a column today called How to help boys do better at school: stop giving them a leg up in the outside world Jane Caro argued we should not be invested in the underperformance of boys at school because, basically, they “win” at life in the end.

The argument follows this line of thinking: these boys who are underperforming at school go on to be men, and these men have much better career outcomes than women: they fill the top echelons of business, law, politics, medicine; they are the winners in the gender pay gap (for every $1 a man makes a woman earns 83c); they also are the winners in terms of lifetime earnings (women will earn around 40 per cent less than a man across a lifetime).

All true. But does that make it okay to dismiss investigating why boys are finding school harder than girls?

“Boys do relatively poorly at school and university not because they are dumber than girls or because they find it harder to sit still (board tables, executive suites, parliamentary chambers and cabinet rooms seem untroubled by men unable to sit for long periods of time), but because they can,” Caro writes.

“Think about it. Boys are not stupid, they look at the world and they see that their gender gets a relatively easy ride thanks to patriarchy. They kick back at school a bit because – quite sensibly – they see that they simply don’t need to work as hard to get ahead.”

I don’t have sons. I have three daughters. I haven’t had to think on a parental level about learning for boys or why boys don’t do so well as girls in terms of academic results at school and university. The closest I have come to understanding what school is like, day-to-day, for boys is being lectured by a teacher that one of my daughters “can’t sit still, she has boy energy”. It stung that her “energy” was not right for the classroom. I can only imagine what it is like to have this unwanted “boy energy” in the classroom year after year.

It stung that her "energy" was not right for the classroom. (Image via iStock.)
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It's true that we live in a patriarchal society but should this reality be the reason we ignore what is happening to boys at school? A kind of socio-cultural tit for tat. Are these boys in the classroom really "kicking back" as Caro says or are they finding things tough? Shouldn't the very basic expectation of education in a developed country be that it works as best it can for both genders - irrespective of what life is going to look like in 35 years time?

Caro is right about girls slogging their guts out to do well at school. I would say they put way too much pressure on themselves to perform, to be good, to do it all, which gives rise to a whole host of other serious concerns such as mental health issues that will go on to colour their lives - but because the girls are getting "good results" and "beating" the boys we stop the conversation there. We don't look into what is really happening to our girls to get these superior results.

By Caro's logic we shouldn't investigate the worrying, less obvious, trends with girls and education. Because girls are "winning" at school.

And if you are the gender that is "winning", you are on your own.

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